The Switch is undoubtedly the console of the moment. While Microsoft and Sony wind down as they prepare for the next generation, Nintendo have filled their own release schedule with quirky indies, amazing new IPs and fantastic first-party content, making Nintendo’s hybrid a virtual necessity for gamers in 2019.
A key component of the Switch’s success can also be handed over to the appearance of the previous generation’s best games, finding both a new audience and a new way to play, and whether it’s been Dragon’s Dogma or Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker they’ve enriched the plucky young console’s catalogue no end. Codemasters have seen a gaping, sim-racer shaped hole in that line-up though, and here, thanks to the efforts of Feral Interactive, they’ve built a GRiD Autosport-shaped bung to plug it with.
GRiD Autosport is the best sim racer on Switch. In part that’s due to the fact that it has zero competition, unless you’re possibly counting the dire racing experience that is Gear Club Unlimited and its sequel (and you definitely shouldn’t count or play them). That said, if this is a Codemasters not quite at their best, it’s certainly still a decent outing and it’s a great choice for serious racing fans who want a serious racer to play on the go.
As one of Codemasters’ final racing releases of the 360/PS3 era, you have to assume that it was a better and easier fit for the Switch than some of their more recent efforts and Feral Interactive have done a great job of bringing the game to Nintendo’s system. They’ve even added a bunch of improvements that make the most of the console’s strengths, while adding a little bit of modern development knowhow to make this feel more like a modern release.
First up is the ability to choose between Performance and Graphics modes. Performance offers a great-feeling 60fps refresh rate, while Graphics bumps things up visually, with improved lighting, anti-aliasing and FOV coming at the cost of dropping down to 30fps. Alongside those two, there’s also an energy saver mode for handheld play that pulls back all of the visual enhancements and locks the game to 30fps. They’re all perfectly decent options, though I found myself leaning towards the Graphics setting on the whole, and I found 30fps to be perfectly fine for the type of racing GRiD Autosport offers.
The cars certainly look the part, though you’ll need to make sure you’ve downloaded the separate Hi-Res car textures from the eShop. It definitely makes a difference. The tracks meanwhile are crisp and straightforwardly built, lending things a simple and clean look, and it all hangs together really nicely, outside of some dodgy crowd models. There are a couple of moments of pop-in here and there, and a few stutters when there’s a packed field of racers colliding in front of you, but both are minimal enough not to diminish any enjoyment.
There’s certainly plenty of content to fuel thirsty Switch racing fans, and you’ve got five main disciplines spread through the Career mode; Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner and Street, with further previously DLC-exclusive event types available on top of that like Demolition Derby and Drag racing. GRiD Autosport pulls off the trick of making each of these just distinctive enough to feel different, though it would have been nice to see Street events actually out on the streets rather than tethered to the track.
No matter which discipline you tackle, the handling feels immediate and manages to straddle the line between razor-edge sim controls and overly forgiving arcade ones. Herein lies the biggest problem with GRiD Autosport though – and it’s not even the game’s fault. While there’s analogue control for steering, neither the Joy Cons nor the Pro Controller feature analogue triggers, with purely digital inputs available. For anyone that’s played any semi-serious racing game since Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast, you’ll know the importance of analogue throttle and brake control, and not having them takes some getting used to after all these years.
There is one little ray of sunshine though, with Feral Interactive allowing a host of different controller options. One of several presets pops acceleration and braking onto the right analogue stick for finer control, and the game even includes the ability to use the original Gamecube pad; analogue triggers and all. The GC pad is a great option for racers and it works perfectly with GRiD Autosport. It’s also an added bonus that it gets to come out to play for something other than Smash Bros. At the other end of the spectrum there’s also motion controls available as well, though they’re distinctly less precise that most will be wanting.
Besides the different controller options there’s a ton of fine tuning that you can do to get things feeling just right, and for once it feels like nothing has been dumbed down for a Nintendo release. The presentation feels a touch basic, but it does have the advantage of making things easy to comprehend whether you’re playing on the big screen or on the Switch itself.
The main problem then isn’t so much a technical one, as it’s perfectly adequate on all fronts, but it’s one of soul. Grid Autosport wasn’t the one of the most dramatic releases of 2014, but in a world where Dirt Rally 2, Forza 7 and GT Sport exist it feels like a rainy day at the seaside; there should be excitement here, but it’s turned out to be a little dreary instead.