Platform: Xbox 360
System Link: 2-12 Players
Online Multiplayer: 2-12 Players
500 KB to Save Game
Force Feedback Wheel
I seem to be enjoying more and more racing games the older I get. I don’t know if it is because of the traffic I face on my real life daily commute, but regardless being able to sit down, fire up my Xbox 360, and put in a racing game that allows me to drive with reckless abandonment without the hassles of bonehead drivers on my own roads really puts a smile on my face. The Xbox 360 has seen its share of racing games over its lifecycle. A few Franchises that come to mind are PGR, Need for Speed, Sega Rally and Forza. The styles of these games vary from diehard simulation to arcade-like. Well Codemasters has recently released Grid, their newest racing title to grace the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Grid is the successor to their TOCA series, just as DiRT was the successor to their Colin McRae series. Well having had the chance to sit down with the Xbox 360 version, and having played both offline and online, I have to say that I am duly impressed with the speed, sound and visuals that this game has to offer.
The visuals in Grid are undeniably one of the highlights of the game. Codemasters has taken the Neon graphics engine used in DiRT and tweaked it up a few notches. Of course they have renamed it too as it is now called the Ego engine. As funny as the term Ego sounds for a graphics engine I would have to give them props for using such a name as their ego should be lifted to new heights given how great this game looks.
The first thing I noticed was how solid everything appears. From the cars, the tracks, to the trackside scenery, all that is rendered is incredibly good looking. The first time you head down the track in San Francisco in an effort to qualify for your Rookie license you may be somewhat overwhelmed as you try to race and soak up the visuals at the same time. The track is incredibly detailed from the pavement, the trackside barriers and fences, the buildings, the crowd and even the other cars on the course. You will just want to stop and look around, but alas you have a race to win. This first track is just a taste of things to come in terms of the visual quality too. From the city tracks in the U.S. to the mountainous Touge racing tracks in Japan to the various real life tracks in Europe, each one is incredibly rendered right down to the minutest of details. Grid has a level of visual polish that I don’t think will be matched anytime soon in a racing game.
The cars in Grid are just as good looking as the tracks. Each one is solidly modeled and looks right at home no matter what track it is racing on. Interestingly enough Codemasters has provided five different camera views for the racer to choose from. There is the close chase cam, the far chase cam, the bumper cam, the bonnet (hood) cam and finally the helmet cam. What view you choose will really rely on your preference. I preferred the bonnet view as this gave me the most sense of speed while still being able to have something to reference my entry and exits through turns with. For those just wanting to show off the visuals of the game, and show what a realistic looking title this is, I suggest using the helmet cam as you will find yourself inside the car with working gauges, drivers hands that move to steer and shift, and of course the view of the windowsills, windows, dash and whatnot. It is quite a realistic looking view and is bound to make any casual fan of videogames awe at the level of detail that is provided.
Technically speaking this game is just as incredible. The lighting and shadowing is superbly done. This is very evident in the Okatama Grand Circuit track. You take a right turn into a mountainous section of the track and the visual effects are stunning with light coming through cherry blossom trees and shadows on all the cars and track from the sun hiding behind certain sections of mountain. It was this track, along with the first track that I raced (San Francisco), which really hit home how much technical work went into the game. Of course Grid is also very fast. The speed is amazing and once you get into the higher ranked tracks with the faster cars the speed can almost be unnerving. The amazing thing about the speed is that everything happens without a hiccup occurring. I didn’t see any slowdown, any clipping, any noticeable draw-in or any other graphical anomalies. Yep, Grid is that technically solid.
The audio in Grid is a prefect compliment to the rest of the game, however there is a noticeable dent in this area (Get it? Dent in a racing game). You will notice that there is a lot, and I do mean a lot, of chatter in Grid. You have your business manager, your team spotter, as well as your teammate who all have input to provide during various points of a race or the game. It really does help provide a much more realistic experience as you make your way through the Grid World mode. The first time I heard my spotter tell me there was a crash ahead it made me realize how in-depth the sound can be. However, on the flipside, as you progress through the game you come across a lot of sayings that just don’t make sense. You get notification of a crash that you already witnessed after the fact, or you get notice of a spinout or crash that actually never even occurred. As well, the same sayings are used for everything too, which indicates that there are only so many lines of recorded speech in the game. But don’t worry, it is not as bad as it seems though, it is just a little bit noticeable after awhile.
As for the rest of the game, the audio is a very solid effort. Each car manages to have a sound of its own and there is no generic engine sound used on repeated vehicles. With each vehicle sounding somewhat different it adds a bit more realism to the cars. Also worth noting is how the sound of your vehicle changes depending on which view you are using. Each of the five different camera angles sounds distinctly different giving each of these views a more immersive feel to it. In terms of sound effects while on track, everything you’d expect is there. From the squeal of tires off the starting line, the banging of car bumpers in a tight pack, to the sounds of crunching metal and breaking glass as you plow into a trackside barrier at a high speed and the crowd screaming in shock while you do so, everything that would make you feel like you were at the track in real life is included.
On a bonus note, should you be playing Grid on a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround system, be prepared for even further immersion into the game’s audio. The use of directional sound is incredible and you really know when and where cars are coming from due to the use of the surround sound decoding. Good on Codemasters for including such an active surround sound field in this game.
Grid actually includes a pretty good story like experience that allows for you to get a lot out of the single player experience instead of just having to race a series of tracks to advance. The majority of your time in single player will be played in a mode entitled Grid World. Here you will begin your racing career, build a racing team and hopefully take your team to the top its’ game (editor’s note: no pun intended). You will create a character with a name and country. Next you are thrown into your first race where you attempt to earn your Rookie credentials at a license qualifier. Once you are successful at that you will than be qualified to race in any of the regions available in Grid. As you win races you get ‘reputation’ points which, when added up, unlock new licenses in each region which in turn allows you to enter more rewarding events. But the fun doesn’t stop here. During your venture for higher licenses and world recognition you’ll be attempting to earn money too. This money is applied to first setting up a team, including purchasing your first car, picking your team colors and choosing a team name. As you progress you will eventually hire a teammate to race along with you, earn sponsorship from well known companies in the racing world, and you will also purchase newer and more powerful cars. All in all the entire Grid World mode is quite fun as it is not just a simple racing mode.
Single player also includes two other modes of play. In Race Day you can set up a single race and tailor the rules/specifications of it to your liking. This is a great way to see if you can better your times on previous tracks as well as learn the ins and outs of those tracks you struggle with. In Test Drive you can test a car that you just bought on any circuit in the world. All you need to do is select the car from the View Cars mode and choose the track you wish to test it on. Here you can also set fastest lap times to be uploaded onto the Xbox LIVE leaderboards.
As noted, there are different regions for your racing enjoyment. Codemasters has decided to include three distinct regions for some crazy automobile mayhem, and they include the USA, Europe and Japan. USA is all about thunderous V8 muscle cars where you’ll race some very diverse courses on city streets. Europe is all about racing exotic cars on such famous tracks such as Le Mans, Donington Park or Nurburgring. Finally, Japan is all about drift racing which lies on the fringe of legality in the industrial areas and back streets from dusk until dawn. Each of these regions racing are very distinct given that you’ll race different types of cars in each area and have to alter your driving style for each type of track. Racing on a street circuit in the U.S. is very different from racing a closed track in Europe while both of these are VERY different from completing a Drift race on the shipping docks somewhere in Japan. Heck, for those really looking for a change of pace there are two tracks in the U.S. strictly dedicated to demolition derby style racing where it is about the on track carnage just as much as it is about just staying ahead in the race. I would have to say that there is a lot of variety in the racing for everyone out there and the game does impress in this area because of it.
I would classify Grid as more of a simulation/arcade mixed racer rather then put it in one group or another. For the diehard gearheads out there, there is no tuning, customizing or adding of performance parts to your vehicles. What you see is what you get and this may be disappointing. However, on the other end of the scale, each vehicle handles very differently, so you will have to learn, adapt and master each style of car you race. There are a total of 45 vehicles to race in Grid and although some may see this as a small number, there is quite a variety in these 45 cars. It was nice to see that the open wheel racers or exotic cars found in Europe handled very differently then the muscle cars found in the U.S. Each vehicle provided me its own enjoyment or frustration depending on if did or did not have any problems keeping it on the road. It is Grid’s ability of having the vehicles handle differently from each other that keeps this game from being a strictly arcade affair.
The learning curve in Grid is quite steep. For the casual racer, this game may be a bit daunting at first as the speed and computer AI make for some very intense racing. Now I am not what people consider an expert at racing games, but I can hold my own. During my time with the game there were quite a few moments where I found myself screaming at the screen. This was usually for one of two reasons: I either made a costly mistake or the computer AI took me out. The latter was not nearly as often as the first, but man both of these together can provide some “yell at the screen” moments. As well, the tracks are very well designed and you will no doubt come across a corner or two that will challenge your driving skills.
So one would think that Grid is not for everyone right? Well this is not entirely true. Codemasters has made sure that this game is quite accessible to racing gamers of all levels out there, just like they did with DiRT. First off there are a quite a few skill levels to choose from. If memory serves me correctly there are five. These skill levels do make a difference as there were some tracks where I was very competent and ahead of the ballgame. The game then told me that I should up my skill level in that series as I had beaten it too easily. Oh if the computer only really knew. A second new feature that Codemasters has implemented for Grid is the use of the flashback feature. This is best described as a time machine that will help you when you crash or make a mistake that may cost you a precious position in the race. To use this you’ll go into an in-race replay which will enable you to choose the exact moment you want to “rewind” to (only allows a brief period of footage) and by simply hitting the X button you can resume the race from that exact point. Yep, it is that simple. You only have a few flashbacks to use too. For the purists out there who believe that something like this will ruin a racers true experience, this flashback feature become less and less in the higher skill levels. To ensure it is not even a factor all you need to do is play the game in Pro Mode which turns off all flashbacks right from the get-go. So for those who want the true challenge, with aggressive and challenging AI and no flashbacks, I recommend that you go to the higher skill levels and turn on the Pro Mode right away.
In terms of how long the single player experience is, it really is determined by how much you really want to do. If you just want to race through as quickly as possible, you need only to set the game on the lowest skill ranking and you’ll be able to go through the game at a fair, but still somewhat time consuming, pace. However rest assured that this is not as satisfying as playing at your own real skill level, racing for the highest total of reputation points that you can, and slowly climbing the ladder for your global license and the in-game world’s highest reputation. Should you also want to earn as many single player achievements in the game as possible, you’ll want to do everything you can in the single player modes. Bottomline, the single player experience is definitely what you make it.
What would a racing game be without an online racing mode? I was somewhat worried about this aspect of the game given that Codemasters online racing for DiRT was underwhelming as you could not race on the same track with other players on track at the same time. However, upon finally getting a chance to play online, not only were my concerns alleviated, but I got more then I could have hoped for. First off, this game supports 12 players online (as well as in system link too). When I found this out I danced for joy, given that all the racing games on the Xbox 360 have been limited to just eight. There is something really rewarding about seeing all those cars in the field, and finally racing against more then the standard eight players, something that has been this way since November 2005, which was when the Xbox 360 was launched.
There are both private and ranked matches available when hitting the online arena. The main differences between the two are that in ranked you are rewarded with experience points and you also take part in the Xbox LIVE voting system when racing. Experience points will allow you to attain ranks as you reach certain numbers and these ranks are displayed by your name. The more you win the more points you get. As well, if a player is a higher rank then you, and you beat them, you get bonus points on top of the points you get for winning. As for the Xbox LIVE voting system when in a ranked game, here all the events that are chosen are done so through a voting system. This allows players to have an equal say in each event that is raced. This includes the region and then the event within that region. All in all it is not a bad thing, but you may not get to race on the track you wish for quite sometime. All the regions in Grid are opened for online racing and there are pretty much all the events that you’ll become accustomed to including drifting, grip racing, Le Mans and demolition derby to name a few.
I played online mostly in private matches with a group of online gamers who I usually play with. This made the room somewhat more enjoyable as we were all there just to race and just have fun. My time online was seamless and there was no hit the in visual or audio quality of the game as it looked and sounded just as good as when I played in any of the single player modes. As for any lag, well there was only one instance of a hiccup, and when this occured I was actually a spectator as I had totaled my car. When I was racing there was ZERO lag to be found. If I have any one complaint about the online performance of Grid it would be that when in a private room, where there is no vote for region or event, the host cannot change either of these options after choosing them. You can’t even change the number of laps. You have to race what was chosen, even if the whole room wanted it changed. I think in the big scheme of things this is a pretty minor complaint given how well the game plays online though.
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