Over the course of the last 22 years and 10 instalments, Codemasters Studios‘ TOCA series has always been rather enchanting. An engaging backstory with plenty of virtual rivalries, a vast array of cars from different series and disciplines, glamorous city maps, picturesque stretches of mountainous tarmac and celebrated permanent tracks – it’s the perfect Hollywood racing title. It could easily be the brainchild of Ron Howard instead of a development company that prides itself on the increasing detail and realism in its popular annual Formula 1 series.
But GRID isn’t meant to be like the latter. It doesn’t kid itself into thinking it’s an Esports title. This is a fantastic game to zone out for a couple of hours and enjoy a rewarding career mode. Or dare to dive into multiplayer, if the ambience of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza‘s first chicane on the opening lap is your cup of tea…
GRID is the hotly-anticipated successor to GRID Autosport, as the series took a relatively anomalous five-year break to assess the positives, negatives and mixed reviews of a philosophical shakeup.
One of GRID’s main selling points has always been the choice on offer to the player. As mentioned previously, a great selection of classic and modern cars – ranging from several walks of motorsport – boosts the game’s longevity tenfold.
While I don’t want to do the majority of the content a disservice by glossing over it, the main addition to the franchise comes in the form of two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso and his FA Racing franchise. Alonso’s legendary Renault R26, the car with which he won the 2006 championship, is available in the in-game store and is useable in the final event in the Alonso challenge ladder – a showdown with the (virtual) man himself at the Sepang International Circuit. One of the tracks he didn’t win at in 2006, but not to worry.
Outside of Alonso’s category, there’s touring cars, stock cars, snarling V8 Supercars, GT cars, open wheel cars, sports prototypes and tuned beasts to enjoy too. All from some fantastic manufacturers, such as Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and many others. And you can dip in and out of the many career paths as you please, enabling you to try over 70 cars on 80 track configurations over the game’s lifespan. Alternatively, all cars can be loaned in the Free Play mode.
And the tracks, both fictional and existing, are fantastic too. The street circuits are tight but fast, and reward total commitment across the pavements, cobbles and potholes of Havana, Barcelona, San Francisco or Shanghai – while getting as close to the rock-solid concrete barriers as you can. The permanent tracks are recreated to a good standard too, with the Silverstone International Circuit even having the 1994-2009 layout as an option alongside the existing layout and the various national mini-circuits; which means that Bridge corner returns – that’s worth the price tag by itself.
The more-ish Career Mode is where I spent the majority of this test. Having completed the introduction rounds to progress to the qualification ladder for the GRID World Series, I found 100,000 credits in my account to spend how I pleased on a starter car. I wanted to start chipping away at the Alonso section, so bought the nippy F1000 car and went on my way. Of course, the choice is all yours.
But even before that, you must create your own racing team. You can change various aspects about it, such as the team name and your team-mate; that’s a nice power trip. You will be limited in terms if the calibre of team-mate you can get, but as you gain credits, XP points and move up the levels – your team will invariably get stronger. The custom livery creator is a nice touch too, but a little mystifying at first.
There’s more strategic planning involved too. When you purchase a car, try and do as many events as possible in it before you sell it because the resale value is typically around 40% less – leaving you in a bit of bother if you don’t have the credits to make your desired upgrade. I had to say goodbye to a very impressive Aston Martin Vantage GTE car for this very reason – but save the tears.
Much like Gran Turismo, Forza and the majority of these career-based games, you earn credits for showing what you can do out on track by winning races and championships. The more prestigious the event, the more credits you get, allowing you to close in on owning the drop-dead gorgeous Ferrari 330 P4 or the 3,000,000 credit Renault R26.
The thing I enjoyed the most about GRID was the graphics. It is 2019, so photo-realistic backdrops shouldn’t come as a major surprise anymore – but some of the settings really stood out. For one of the GT challenges, I had to wrestle an unfortunately lethargic Ford GT GTE down a mountain in Okutama, western Tokyo. Cherry blossom was swept all around the track along with rubber and other detritus, adding to the sense of speed. This isn’t an episode of Location, Location, Location, so I won’t delve too far into the stunning views this mountainous location also provides.
As for the cars themselves, they look well modelled. All the buttons look to be in the right place, there are some nice examples of carbon weave and in some cars you can even see the driver’s feet move when you press a pedal. For cars with a gear lever, the driver’s hand is also animated to come off the wheel and operate the lever when you change gear. All little details that do not go unnoticed.
There were no issues with brightness in general, apart from a night race with the F1000 car. The lack of lighting around the track and a pathetic pair of little headlights attached to the bulkhead made for a rather more demanding experience than I had first anticipated.
This review was conducted with a Thrustmaster T500RS, with the Open-Wheel rim attached to it. However, this game is not pretending to be a simulator; it’s just a fantastic game to have fun with and would probably be best with a controller. However, I didn’t have one available for PC. Using a wheel was still fun though, with plenty of opposite lock required to get the best out of the arcade-like handling model. It is possible to be smooth, if that’s your style, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Enjoy being able to crank the lock on while having a wheel on the grass and have to power-slide your way round the corner to save face, it’s an aspect of driving games that has been lost in a world that wants a more realistic experience. Sit back and play along with the show; transform your team into the Harlem Globetrotters of the motorsport world with the approach of Gilles Villenueve or Jean Alesi.
The AI are combative and care not one jot for reputation. Or hefty repair bills. The addition of “rivalries” – sparked by…sparking someone else on the track – increases the Hollywood storyline feel and harks back to the old Ryan McKane vs James Randall spat in TOCA Race Driver.
The latest instalment of GRID is a welcome addition to the TOCA series and will cater to motorsport fans and casual gamers alike. The progression aspect through the Career Mode gives longevity to its shelf life, while the Free Play mode gives you a more instantaneous experience with a plethora of exotic cars to choose from. It’s not Assetto Corsa or iRacing, but it doesn’t have to be to grant an immersive experience – as I said at the start, the series has always been enchanting in its own way.
As for price, the Launch Edition of GRID is now available for £44.99 on all platforms; while the Ultimate Edition is retailed at £64.99. A DLC pack, allowing you to upgrade to the the Ultimate Edition content, is an extra £29.99.
The Ultimate Edition includes a Season Pass, special liveries with XP boosts, extra player cards and banners and VIP Status.