It didn’t take me long when playing a near-final version of this year’s GRID to decide I needed to rename my profile after Danny Ricciardo. While the real world driver made a name for himself with last-gasp overtaking moves, he’s spent most of this year’s F1 season battling in the middle of the pack. My racer, Danny Avocado, combined the best of both world. The action of battling in the mid-low pack after not bothering to set a qualifying lap, and the hotheaded overtaking manoeuvres… with a bit of crashing, bashing and corner cutting thrown in for good measure. The game’s penalty system is lenient with shunts and cutting an apex or two, but can flag up and potentially penalise some other off-track shenanigans.
The game’s difficulty can naturally be adjusted to suit your tastes, with the Medium featuring things like a racing line through corners and with ABS, Traction Control and Stability Control at their highest, but a step up to Hard strips some of that away, leaving those assists at half strength, and Very Hard taking them away entirely. I stuck it on Hard and didn’t bother with setting any qualifying hot laps and, combined with tougher AI, that led to some great battles while trying to fight through the grid. Some of the challenge seems to depend on what you’re racing and where, with different racing categories like Tuner, GT, Touring and… Fernando Alonso. Within that there’s obviously a lot of leeway to feature different types of vehicles, and I found that I could cut through to the front with ease in a WV Polo on a street track, while stock cars around a race circuit provided a fair bit more difficult to cut through (without cutting corners).
There’s a decent variation between the car handling, but the Hard presets assists meant there was more than enough common ground to have that intuitive almost arcade ability to just pick up and play the game. That could leave some cars feeling just a little bit unremarkable, but it’s made up for by the fun, Hollywood racing where it’s almost as though the action has been turned up to 110%.
I could talk about racing the championship winning Renault R26 in the Fernando Alonso category, as being able to almost power slide through corners in a formula one car is easily one of the more sensational extremities of the game’s handling model. That’s its own kind of excess, but I think the best way to explain what I mean is via the multiplayer.
We played locally with half a dozen of us all grouped up. With some classic 90s BTCC tin tops, the differing power and characteristics of the cars meant that the hilarious Volvo Estate had more straight line grunt than the Alfa 155 TS, but racing on a street circuit and without the power of a modern race car, the sharp 90º corners meant that really it was all about the cornering and exit speed. The chap in the lead wasn’t making any mistakes, and yet the driver behind him was reeling him in through the lap just by getting better exits, and as they then started to battle and lose time, I went from viewing the action in third to being right on their tails and ready to take advantage. It was similar around the Silverstone National Circuit variant, where we went with five of us still in contention for the win, clumped together as we jostled through the last few corners – in truth, this was only because the leader on the final lap ran wide through Stowe and allowed the chasing pack to catch up in the tricky wet conditions.
Of course, in the single player racing, the sensationalised elements are in part thanks to the Choreographer, an AI system which massages the racing action and occasionally spices things up. The Choreographer is more to do with throwing up a few interesting events than shaping the outcome of the race, whether it’s a car running wide and giving you an opening to pass, making it feel like you exerted some pressure on them, or more sensationally leading them into a spin or spectacular crash. A new damage model was on show in this build, keeping the shape of the vehicles better, but showing deterioration and letting bonnets fly off the cars.
The game really does feel like the reincarnation of the original 2008 GRID, right down to the feel of the game’s lighting, where it so often seems to either be sunset or lashing it down with rain. There’s the same kind of realistic looking racing as well, but it’s not really gunning for absolute realism, with pulpy, action-packed, and simply fun racing underneath.