Racedriver GRID is the long-awaited sequel to Codemasters’ well-respected TOCA Touring Car series, and has been billed as a fusion between arcade racers and more realistic driving simulators. There’s nothing particularly unusual in that – but Racedriver GRID is certainly a unique game. Perhaps its strongest unique selling point is the innovative ‘flashback’ feature which, to any perfectionist who remembers all-too-well repeated presses of the escape key and selections of ‘restart race’, really is as useful as it sounds. No longer does one major accident on the final lap of a meticulously driven race completely ruin your chances of victory. Instead you can simply make use of the function keys to jump back 10 seconds or so and retake that corner.
The major potential problem with a feature like this, of course, is that it could allow even a very poor player, through repeated trial and error, to achieve the same results as a more skilled gamer. Fortunately this issue has been anticipated and accounted for, as each event only allows players a limited number of flashbacks. You can recover from genuine accidents but each lap remains as tense as it should because the flashback feature is not an unlimited resource. Further to this, at the end of a race you’re awarded a small cash bonus for each flashback you didn’t use – an additional incentive to take your driving seriously.
Racedriver GRID also scores points thanks to its stunning visuals. I’m not much of a graphics whore myself – gameplay comes first, each and every time – but when a game looks as good as this you have to sit up and pay attention. The cars are lovingly modelled and rendered, and the tracks themselves are impressively detailed considering the speed at which they whizz by. Even the backdrops look great, and you’ll probably pay attention to those for just a few seconds at a time, if that. Best of all this comes with superbly slick performance both during races and elsewhere in the game. At no point did I experience even a small amount of slowdown, and I never had to endure any loading screens for longer than a few seconds. My system is quite beefy (I’ve included my system specs alongside the minimum and recommended requirements at the bottom of this review) but if it ran so flawlessly with its visual settings maxed out I’m optimistic about its performance on lower-spec kits as well.
GRID World, the area of the game in which you’ll spend most of your time, starts you out driving cars you don’t own for small cash rewards. This helpfully introduces you to a variety of vehicle classes as well as a varied selection of courses. It’s not long, however, until you’ll have won enough cash to form your own team and obtain your first car. From this point on you can enter your team in various events and championships in three regions, which soon sees you attracting interest from sponsors (enabling additional cash rewards for meeting certain objectives) and hiring team mates to drive alongside you. If you want to dabble or kick back a little you can still return to the no-risk low-reward races you started out with, but the real meat of the game is in establishing your own team’s reputation and gaining access to bigger and better events.
The core racing engine is solid and responsive. Cars handle as realistically as you would expect from this sort of hybrid game, rewarding steady, confident driving and well-timed braking and cornering, but punishing over-aggressive or misjudged behaviour. The flashback system proves its worth here, too, allowing you to experiment with just how far you can push a car before you lose control. The sound does exactly what it should: provide a mix of meaty and shrill engine blasts, tyre squeals and excited chatter from your mechanic (although he does sometimes get a little confused, and tell you your car took some minor damage when you’re roaring down a straight). The soundtrack, when it kicks in, is okay – nothing to write home about but decent enough. That said, when you get some pounding bass playing over the excellent replay system (it’s worth praising GRID for having replays with consistently sensible and cinematic camera positioning) having just finished a tense race, it really fits.
Negative points? Well, you’re limited to racing on tarmac, and there aren’t as many cars as in, say, a Gran Turismo game – but I’m not one for car porn myself, so I tend to just look at the stats to see if Car X can handle corners better than Car Y. You may feel, despite my assurances otherwise, that the flashback system is an unpleasant distraction from or crutch to the core gameplay. It probably won’t take too long for you to master the basics of most of the events you’ll encounter, although they remain constantly challenging. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll avoid the drift mode as much as possible on account of being utterly appalling at it. But this really is muck-scraping the bottom of the barrel – Racedriver GRID is an impressive technical achievement, a slick and aesthetically pleasing experience from start to finish, and a highly entertaining game that I have no qualms recommending.
Review System: Windows XP, Athlon X2 5200 , 2GB RAM, Radeon X1950.
Minimum Spec: Windows XP/Vista, Pentium 4 @ 3.0ghz / Athlon 64 CPU, 1GB RAM, GeForce 6800 / Radeon X1300.
Recommended Spec: Windows XP/Vista, Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.66ghz / Athlon X2 3800 , 2GB RAM, GeForce 8800 / Radeon HD 3800 series.
Full and detailed requirements can be found at www.codemasters.co.uk.