Developer: Codemasters Racing
GRID Autosport doesn't have an in-car cockpit view. It has two in-car cockpit views.
Despite releasing a scant twelve months after GRID 2, Codemasters' latest track racer addresses every criticism that fans levelled at last year's mixed effort. And then some. Awkward drift-heavy handling has been replaced by tight grippy simulation. Instead of no driving assists whatsoever, we can access every optional helping hand imaginable, letting us scale the experience to our specifications. An idiotic story about social media gives way to a freeform campaign that Milestone would be proud of, complete with five totally different disciplines and AI that fights back, preparing drivers for an enormous multiplayer suite powered by the RaceNet sevice.
In short it's everything that dedicated racing fans wanted from GRID 2... but by tuning, tweaking and expanding upon practically everything in the package, GRID Autosport is also deeply impressive in its own right.
You could even argue that it's five track racers in one, spanning TOCA to tyre-shredding street showdowns.
Be in no doubt: GRID Autosport is huge. 80 cars, 200 routes and 22 locations from the familiar tarmac of Silverstone, Bathurst and Yas Marina to the treacherous Champs Elysée and San Francisco streets play host to an enormous solo campaign that can be enjoyed on your terms. Each season you'll choose from five disciplines and a selection of car-specific contracts, all of which provide totally different experiences.
Touring Car racing brings back memories of those heady TOCA days as you thrash around the track in brutal bumper-to-bumper scraps, bullying your way around each corner and facing off against aggressive AI that desperately wants to hold its line (and isn't afraid to deliver the occasional love tap). However, Open-wheel racing demands a greater degree of precision as your twitchy fragile Formula 3 racers can't withstand any punishment and attain speeds that push your reflexes to the limit.
Oddly short 'Endurance' events challenge you to manage massively accelerated tyre wear (funneling hours of slog into less than ten minutes at default settings), perhaps sacrificing an early first place to secure a guaranteed finish, whereas the Tuning championship changes pace again by pushing you into frankly silly tricked-out muscle cars in time trials. Finally Street Racing funnels you through narrow roads and hairpin turns, hitting a sweet spot between tense physical showdowns and perfectly planning for each corner.
Brilliantly you're free to choose any discipline you fancy, whether to suit your tastes or satisyour fickle mood. Each event has its own experience progression system (unlocking special GRID tournaments), while various challenges, rivals and contract-specific objectives give you something to shoot for, rewarding mid-pack competition as richly as pole position. Whether you focus on a couple of favourite disciplines (personally I found myself religiously alternating between Touring and Street races as the beta build gradually updated into the finished article) or continually dabble, there's something for everyone... up to a point.
Sadly the campaign structure forces you to play all of the disciplines at some point if you want to unlock those special GRID events. It's incredibly galling that Autosport offers the freedom to specialise, yet will ultimately force you to undertake disciplines that you don't care for whatsoever. Some may enjoy the Tuning time trials, but for me they felt like a chore I was strong-armed into. Hopefully Codemasters will quickly patch up the global experience system to require cumulative progression in any discipline.
The macro enormity of the whole thing is impressive, but GRID Autosport gets plenty of little details right. The handling, for example, feels newly precise and realistic, refined not brutish. No longer do we have to take each corner sideways, rather deft throttle control and perfect steering is the aim of the game. Cars within each discipline handle very differently depending on their engine position, weight and tyres, while cars from separate disciplines naturally feel like they've been lifted from completely different videogames. Forza-esque optional driving aids are on station to ease you into the proceedings, everything from corner-only racing lines to traction control and corner assistance, all affecting your experience yields from each race.
Naturally the Flashback function also makes a return in both limited and unlimited flavours, letting you rewind and restart a few seconds of the race if necessary. Hardcore fans may scoff, but when an accidental collision puts you from pole to last place in the penultimate corner, a quick tap of the Y Button is far superior to a ragequit and night spent fuming. And hey, you can turn if off.
GRID Autosport's AI is also worthy of a special mention. Depending on the event in question and the difficulty settings, CPU competitors don't just stick to their line, rather they'll jostle with both you and their fellows to secure an advantage. Capable of driving defensively and aggressively as per the situation, they really help to bring a sense of life and vitality to the proceedings, blocking you one moment and providing you with a perfect window to overtake a squabbling pack the next.
Some minor yet annoying gripes make themselves known after a handful of hours. The lack of pit stops is annoying considering the detailed damage modelling; if you blow a tyre or ruin your tracking during a collision, you'll have to live with it for the rest of the race. Even if the track in question actually has a pit lane in real life! This makes endurance events feel a bit silly.
The campaign is also slightly lacking in personality and purpose beyond racing for racing's sake; open and freeform by design, but you'll effectively feel like you're driving someone else's pre-made car rather than building your own fleet of vehicles. Because that's exactly what you're doing! More to the point, Codemasters made little effort to make you feel like a professional racing driver, even when compared to Milestone's little flourishes like mid-season magazines, trailers or managers. Racing games absolutely don't need a story, but a little context can go a long way and it's annoying to see the franchise take the opposite extreme from the dudebro-tastic GRID 2, as opposed to a middle ground. At least we've still got team-mates and team orders to abuse.
Interestingly, however, you'll probably find this sense of progression and camaraderie online. This is where you'll earn money, purchase cars and tune them to your specifications, then form RaceNet clubs with friends to either race together or asynchronously earn status for the group. There's scope for serious competition, yet more casual players can enjoy bite-sized splitscreen party modes, not to mention the hilariously cathartic Destruction Derby. 'Fully-featured' is a bit of an understatement.
Visually, GRID Autosport is a peach when running at Ultra settings on my now-somewhat-obsolete Core i7, 8GB, GTX 660 test rig. A 1080/60 peach devoid of screen-tearing, to be exact, making Driveclub slightly sheepish in the process. Though Forza 5 definitely a sharper and shinier experience in raw graphical terms, GRID Autosport comes into its own in the fine detail; its cheering animated crowds, particulate matter and spectacular bodywork-shredding crashes. My only real complaints would be that engine detail is lacking once your bonnet's sitting on the side of the track, and that...
... okay, so this might sound churlish, but the cockpit views still feel like an afterthought. A distinct lack of detail is obviously masked by a blur effect, which is officially intended to funnel your vision onto the track. A cheeky excuse if ever we saw one.
But considering the sheer amount of quality and quantity on offer here, I think we'll let it slide.
- Five unique disciplines; feels like five fully-featured racing games in one
- Grippy handling, solid damage modelling, excellent competitive AI
- Massive amount of meaningful content and quality
- Impressive PC visuals
- Fully-featured multiplayer, splitscreen and party games
- Campaign can feel clinical, locks you to specific pre-made cars
- No pit stops, oddly condensed Endurance races
- People will still moan about the in-car views
The Short Version: GRID Autosport isn't just an apology to irate franchise fans; it's an enormous and polished racer that caters to fans of practically any racing discipline. From TOCA and Formula 3 to street circuits and party games, online and solo, Autosport lets you race on your terms, even if it lacks personality off the track.
One of Codies' last last-gen games is destined to be one of the biggest and best dedicated track racers of the last two years, though the PC version is likely the smarter buy.
A note on console versions: We only tested GRID Autosport on PC, so cannot attest to the quality of the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions. Though content-complete, they're locked to 30FPS and don't benefit from the optional 4K texture pack. We'd suggest picking up the PC version if you have the option, since it will likely benefit from the longest-running multiplayer base and more frequent updates.