After coming close to the most severe of missteps with GRID 2, Codemasters returns to the series with an incredibly well-rounded racer that should have enough about it to keep long-time fans happy, while newcomers could potentially find the going a lot tougher than they’ve become used to.
When Codemasters announced GRID Autosport earlier this year it took the majority of the gaming world by surprise. Not only did the studio manage to keep the game under wraps for so long, but they announced the game a mere handful of months ahead of its actual launch – something that many more publishers could do well to take note of, dispensing with the needlessly long lead ups, pre-alpha gameplay videos and wall to wall CGI clips that ultimately bare little to know resemblance to the final product.
In short, Codemasters went about this GRID the right way, but with the racing genre now offering more variety than ever, and GRID 2 suffering almost universal panning for veering a little too wildly into arcade territory, convincing genre fans to step back to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 from their shiny new next generation consoles was always going to be a big ask.
Thankfully, that’s something that the development team at Codemasters has been all too aware of, and they’ve done a mighty fine job of salvaging the series’ name with its last-gen swansong.
Autosport is a game that’s all about variety. Players are free to pursue their career however they choose for the most part (although for true completion they’re going to need to tackle each of the racing types, which might not be too appealing for some), with Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner and Street racing all available to select from.
Fans of the developer’s TOCA series will delight in the Touring mode, which showcases exactly why Codemasters are the kings of pack racing titles. There’s a real sense of speed, danger and pressure as you careen around tight hairpins wedged door-to-door between two competitors trying desperately to stick to the racing line, while the surprisingly tough AI ensures that you’re not going to have an easy time picking up podium finishes.
That AI is arguably Autosport’s best and worst feature. On the one hand, as an ardent racing game fan, it’s incredibly refreshing to have to work hard for your placings, even at the default difficulty setting, but on the other it’s easy to see how the game could put newcomers or more casual players off.
Your first few hours on the track will likely yield only a handful of decent finishes, and you’ll more often than not find yourself consigned to the middle of the pack, duking it out with your rivals for a 7-4th place finish. The studio’s trademark Flashback system makes an appearance here, but even that can prove to be insufficient on some of the more challenging difficulties, forcing you to gain intimate knowledge of your car’s inner workings in order to push on towards the front of the pack.
The game’s Open Wheel mode is a little more forgiving, perhaps thankfully so given the breakneck speed of the vehicles on offer, which includes the Ariel Atom 500 V8 and Caparo T1. Although it falls some way short of the studio’s best-in-breed Formula One series, there’s definitely a lot to be said for the execution here, and it’ll definitely appeal to fans of non-street vehicles.
Somewhat less successful are the Tuner events which task players with drifting around tracks that, for all intents and purposes, might as well be made of ice, in vehicles with banana peels for tyres. Sure, that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to drifting events, but unless you’re a hardcore fan of that side of racing you’re in for some seriously frustrating visits to the track.
Another miss is the game’s Endurance Mode, which sounds like a great idea on paper as you drive to preserve your tyres over prolonged (read 8 minute) stints. And it would’ve been a great addition, too, had someone at Codemasters actually realized that, in order to properly pull this mode off, the ability to make pit stops would have helped. Sadly, that omission does no favours for Autosport, and Endurance feels like little more than a major opportunity missed.
In better news, Street Racing feels a lot better than it did in GRID 2, perhaps because it’s not the entire focus of the game. Tight circuits through major metropolitan areas will test even the most accomplished racers, and the vehicles on offer certainly lend themselves to this particular flavour of racing.
All modes, however, suffer ever so slightly from the fact that few of the vehicles seem to punish careless driving as much as they should. While it’s easy to find yourself shunted off course disastrously by AI drivers, unforced errors are all too easily papered over, and in many cases the cars behave unrealistically, allowing for unnatural correction of over steer, under steer or spin outs. Of course, given the fact that the difficulty is so challenging, that might not be a bad thing for some, but it’ll definitely irk those out for more authentic experience.
As you dabble in each race type, testing your skills in a variety of disciplines, you’ll be offered increasingly lucrative contracts from racing teams, which plays a key role in the way the career mode pans out. Unlike most other racers, you’re not expected to dominate the grid right from the start, but rather you’re going to need to complete different team objectives, gaining XP along the way, before gradually improving your standing in the game world. It’s almost akin to grinding, but the constant rewards and team upgrades ensure that you’re almost always willing to let the game get away with it.
Like the team-based structure of the single player game, Autosport’s multiplayer is similarly focused. You’re able to create your own team, joining up with friends and online acquaintances to put your skills to the test and challenge the world, and it all works out pretty well. Stat fiends will be able to track their progress with each of their vehicles, monitoring everything from distance travelled to crash records along the way. It doesn’t have quite the same level of depth as some of the more hardcore racers out there, but it’s far from the kind of arcade faire that you might have expected given how GRID 2 panned out.
For a game that comes right at the end of the life cycle of the PS3 and Xbox 360, it’s not surprising that Autosport looks great. Compared to most other racers on the platforms, it’s an incredible achievement from Codemasters (poor crowd and internal damage models aside), and it’s even better again if PC is your chosen platform.
With GRID 2 serving only to anger the majority of Codemasters’ most dedicated fans, Autosport is a welcome addition to the series that manages to get things back on track in (almost) the best possible way. As a swansong for the current generation, I struggle to think of too many major improvements that could have been made, aside from perhaps expanding the “race your way” mentality of the campaign to be a little more literal, doing away with the necessity to compete in event types that really aren’t up your street.
GRID Autosport is a fantastic racer that’ll offer plenty of variety and challenge even to the most experienced of genre stalwarts, and only some minor gripes hold it back from being one of the premium racing experiences available today.