It’s easy to argue that Codemasters have been a leading force in racing games for quite some time now, and while there have been a few hiccups long the way the underlying quality has always been clear to see. Even in GRID2, which split opinions more than any other racer in recent years, there was a definite quality even if it didn’t appeal to fans of less arcadey racing games. One thing that makes a developer great though is taking on criticisms, listening to the audience and doing something about it. Codemasters admit that GRID2 didn’t receive the reception they’d hoped, and with cries for a handling model closer to the original GRID ringing in their ears, they came up with GRID Autosport, and the end result is very pleasing indeed.
The key theme in GRID Autosport seems to be taking things back to basics. Menus are minimalist and responsive, the single player campaign lets you attack the various racing styles in whichever order you choose, and online is as simple as picking a discipline and joining a lobby containing just those races. For a bit of variety you can go for the mixed lobbies, but either way it’s as easy as logging in, picking an option and racing. The best thing of all is that it simply works – it’s easy to hop between racing styles in the main campaign, and just as easy to do a few Touring Car races online before switching over to night time Endurance races.
But what good is ease if the racing itself doesn’t live up to expectations? In the instance of GRID Autosport we’re right back to where most people wanted to be, and while this can’t rank in the same sim bubble as the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo, it’s light years away from the drifty nature of GRID2, and the racing is all the better for it. It’s helped on by the choice of cars in the game, and with a heavier lean on Touring Car racing, as well as a range of other “proper” racing disciplines which rely on accurate braking and racing styles the series has come back to a point when those with better racing lines and clever overtaking tactics will generally end up in the higher finishing positions.
That’s generally also the case online, and certainly on the PS3 version we tested there were a lot of players intent on racing cleanly and fairly, and more often than not races were close, hard fought but ultimately fairly contested. There will always be the knobheads who want to do nothing but cause pileups, but the impact rating from GRID2 returns to make it more obvious who these players are and there’s always the voting option in the lobby to kick specific players from the game. The very nature of being human suggests accidents will happen, and the occasional bump into the gravel or a hefty thump from someone braking slightly too late can be excused, and the impact rating also seems to recognise this with a generally fair reflection on the race’s events. It would be nice if the lobbies were more insistent on keeping lower rated drivers out of cleaner lobbies, but generally it’s a good system.
Racenet is back too, bringing with it a series of weekly challenges designed to challenge you and let you compete against your friends and the rest of the world. It’s the standard offering from other recent Codemasters racers, but with the extra addition of Racenet Clubs. Set up a club and you can give it a name, short tag, logo and club livery – anyone who then joins your club (and there’s the expected open or invite only options) can apply the livery to whichever cars they own online, at which point the club’s three character tag appears in front of their name in the players list. So far, so much like every FPS game made in the last 5 years. But these stats start to add up to your club score, with the Racenet system tracking your races, podiums and wins to put you in a league table alongside all of the other racing clubs round the world. It’s a good way of getting your mates together to contribute towards a bigger cause, and having the same paint job and sponsors look great if a few of you end up in a lobby against a handful of random players.
Visually things are probably as good as they’re going to get on the ageing PS3 and 360, but everything still looks great and the framerate keeps pretty consistent through all but the most insane of pileups. It seemed like an odd decision to release Autosport on the older consoles when the new generation is up and running, but with Codemasters still perfecting their latest engine for the newer hardware it seems sensible to have gone with what they knew would work – after all, and older console can still let you have some incredible races, it just doesn’t look as pretty as it would’ve done on the PS4 or One. The often moaned about cockpit cam is back too, and while the moaners are still moaning about the graphics inside the car being quite blurred, I’d argue that gives a realistic depth of field which you’ll only notice when watching the game, not playing it. Damage is as good as you’d expect from a Codemasters title too, with doors hanging off, bumpers flying through the air and bodywork getting scrapes and dents as you nudge your way through the field. Finishing a race with a pristine car is every bit as likely as the entire field getting through the first corner without any contact, and those moments when your damage takes its toll and a tyre bursts while going round a long bend at 120mph can leave you a car which is about as easy to control as a barge in a storm.
Tyres also come into play during the Endurance mode, which takes place over a set time as opposed to a certain number of laps, and as the race progresses your tyres start to wear down as well, as shown by a small diagram in the bottom corner of the screen. The more you slide round corners or spin up the tyres with overly heavy accelerating, the quicker the tyres degrade. Driving carefully could be the difference between having to slow right down in the last couple of minutes and flying through the field to make up some quick places in the dying moments. What would’ve been great in this situation is the option of ducking into the pits to take on some new rubber, giving an intriguing strategy element to the races, but that option is sadly missing.
But on the whole GRID Autosport is a fantastic end to the racing genre on the outgoing consoles. While we wait to see just what they can come up with on the newer kit, Codemasters have delivered a GRID experience that is far closer to the likes of the TOCA games from years ago, and it’s extremely good fun. Those who had lost faith should pick this up and it’ll all come flooding back.
Reviewed on PS3