GRID and me go way back. There’s history. The year is 2008, and the long-awaited new title in the revered TOCA racing series has just been released. I can still remember the feeling of wonderment upon loading Race Driver: GRID for the first time and selecting an audio name which the game would use throughout my career progress.
Collecting my first licenses, selecting sponsorship offers, working my way up the ladder. Then there was the online racing, including my first interactions with TheSixthAxis through an online tournament. I still race online every Monday evening with people met playing the first GRID game.
Fast-forward 11 years and we have a new game in the franchise, the fourth, which is simply entitled ‘GRID’. In some ways, this is a reboot, in other ways a sequel, but mainly GRID (2019) is a curious collection of elements from the previous games with some new content sprinkled on the top. Think of it as an ageing Hollywood actor, reliving their youth by getting a facelift, a tummy-tuck and creating a long-awaited sequel to a much-loved film.
The formula is relatively simple. GRID has a broad collection of cars and tracks that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played the three previous games, taking the BTCC cars from the GRID Autosport DLC – recently released on Switch– and the fictional Japanese Okutama track from the first game, for example. There are then new additions such as DPi IMSA prototypes and Aussie Supercars to go alongside the Chinese Zhejiang circuit.
The career drops all of this into different categories with your main aim to win at least eleven events in four categories to gain access to the GRID World Series grand final. There are six categories in total: Touring, Stock, Tuner, GT and Invitational, plus a Fernando Alonso category, which is nice on paper but a missed opportunity in execution. A video or introduction to the greatness of Fernando wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The game starts out with a brief TV-style introduction which gives you a little taster of a handful of events and then you are away, entering races, earning cash and racking up the oh-so-tasty XP.
On the track, some of the ways of gaining said XP are slip-streaming, overtaking, drifting and keeping to the racing line. It’s a system that reminds me of Driveclub and that really sets the tone. This game is full of authentic racing vehicles, but it doesn’t drive in a particularly authentic fashion. That’s fine, so long as you are aware of that going in.
The racing game environment has changed enormously over the past decade, but GIRD sticks resolutely to a tried and tested handling formula. Using a controller with liberal use of assists and automatic gears, you will have a good time sliding cars around, braking later than rivals and rubbing against walls. The steering isn’t particularly precise, the oversteer isn’t that realistic. If you dust off your steering wheel controller, you’ll find that while it works, this isn’t really a game for getting your esports on.
But hey, that’s okay sometimes. There’s a detailed damage model involved here too, but by default, you can be a little liberal with the paint exchanging before anything serious happens. This combined with the pad-focussed handling means you can simply sit back and enjoy several laps of not-so-serious car racing. A little bump here, a late dive under braking there, maybe even the use of the rewind system a few times and you’ll probably grab a trophy at the end of it.
As you progress through faster cars, purchasing them with your in-game earnings, you get to experience the neon lights of downtown China at night, heavy rain at Silverstone and the undulating streets of San Francisco. At times this game looks on par with some of the best racing games of this generation, in particular when it’s a new car and circuit made for this game. Driving a classic Toblerone-livered Porsche in the rain is impressive. At other times, mainly at Sepang in the sunshine, it looks like a PS3 game with a bit of spit and a polish. On the base PS4 version, the rear-view mirror has serious framerate issues, too.
There is online multiplayer alongside the career. Racing here gains you XP to boost your overall game level and there’s a choice of Quick Race, which throws you into mini three race tournaments, or Private. Sadly there’s no lobby list if you want something in between. The waiting area for each race is actually the Wreckfest-style demolition skirmish, so you can smash into rivals while you wait for the game to load. It’s a nice touch.
Not so nice is the mandatory inclusion of AI cars to pad out the lobbies in the Quick Race mode. A packed grid and tight city streets equal a massive crash at turn one. Still, at least lapped cars ghost so losing trolls can’t interfere, which is something Codemasters omitted from F1 2019.