Codies are back in the game, re-earning the ‘masters’ title.
The racing/driving scene on PC has gravitated heavily towards the sim end of the realism scale, in recent years. Almost all of the new releases for PC, and those on the boil, have had a hardcore sim theme, leaving simple arcade thrashing to older titles like the fabulous Dirt 3 (also Codemasters). This hole needs filling!
Now that Codemasters has turned all game development over to the racing genre, the outfit has been able to deliver some proper quality, whereas before Codies games almost always had something amiss, like the netcode in the F1 games.
GRID Autosport wraps up the desire we all have to fang fabulous cars in a package that’s polished and, well, damn good fun. Gone are the terribly designed menus, replaced with a classy and austere functionality, set to cool ambient music instead of crashing Euro-disco or glam rock. The old voice over bloke, who couldn’t get a job as a game show host, is replaced instead with a lovely sounding lady and her soothing encouragement. As before, there’s a somewhat massive list of real names to choose from, which probably includes yours, unless it’s Shia or LeBron, and I always get a bit chuffed when lovely voice lady tells me “great race, Ben!” after I win.
There’s still no mouse cursor to be seen, alas, but Codemasters games have always been rooted in consoles. Another lose is having many functions mapped to your controller buttons, and with that a bit of trial and error to figure out which one is ‘button 7’, for example.
But that’s all ok. On balance, the new good and the old bad balance out, and we haven’t gotten started on the nuts and bolts yet. Which is fabulous. Driving is, well, I’m almost reluctant to say this because deep inside me a voice is shouting that I must be wrong... but it is indeed the most fun I’ve ever had on a race track (and I’m the biggest hardcore sim junkie there is).
It’s all down to what we call the physics model, or, the way cars handle. Codies has totally nailed the fine line between intuitive handling, and dampened down extremes of what a car should be doing at the limit, so that even the craziest over-powered supercars are still enjoyable to drive straight out of the garage.
It’s all about induced oversteer. You can trail brake into even the tightest corner and the nose tucks in eagerly. Tap the brakes and the pointy end points in even further. Hit the gas -- even well before the apex, and the front end agreeably tightens into the turn. Now, this is bending the rules of physics just a bit, or exaggerating what should be happening, and almost all arcade games do this to varying degrees, but in GRID Autosport it just feels more right than ever before. It’s as if you were driving a car hard when you were a kid, before you really understood car handling and thought you could just throw it around like a hero. But – and this is important – the cars still have enough of a connection to reality that you’ll be able to apply your driving skills and get a better time.
Best of all, all this gels the moment you drive the game for the very first time! There’s no ‘learning the game engine’ required, just start her up and go hard. It’s terrifically exciting, instantly intuitive and very moreish.
Tackling the actual game modes gives you the traditional career mode, or just racing (or practising) on a single track. There are five disciplines (Touring, Endurance, Tuner, Open Wheeler and Street), and within each are enough cars to satisfy for a long time, and have you excitedly curious to try them all. The career mode is also structured around the disciplines. There’s a bit of unlocking to do but you can mostly pursue the class you like best over several career levels.
Overall the experience is fantastic. Whether you want to go hardcore in an open-wheel formula around an F1 track like Sepang or Spa, or go mental swinging a Zonda through the fantasy Paris track it totally delivers a challenge that’s not intimidating, is instantly gratifying yet has plenty of headroom to develop your skills, and I think is a keeper for your hard drive for those times when you just need the speed.