Race Driver GRID was a beautifully poised racing game which balanced simulation and arcade-like elements to create the ultimate simcade driving experience. The expansive career featured a copious supply of motorsport disciplines including Le Mans, Touring Cars and even aerodynamic Open-Wheeled powerhouses. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated sequel was a major step backwards due to the wayward AI, primitive physics model, repetitive career mode and lack of a detailed in-car viewpoint. Removing the cockpit view was a toxic and contentious issue which infuriated a vocal and fiery demographic who thought this move was arrogant and unwarranted. Codemasters have openly admitted the development mistakes during GRID 2 and have promised to redeem themselves with GRID Autosport, a revised standalone game designed to be what GRID 2 should have originally been.
The handling model has been exponentially improved and practically eliminates the atrocious powersliding from GRID 2. GRID Autosport adopts a more realistic approach based on gentle throttle management and a smooth, precise driving style. In GRID 2, it was virtually impossible to lose traction and veer off the racing line. There was no failure state and you could easily throw the car around tight, menacing corners without any loss of grip. Thankfully, Codemasters have seen the error of their ways and implemented a more complex and attuned system which allows you to feel the nuances and undulation of each circuit.
Aggressively throwing the car around each bend will send you sideways and onto the dirty side of the circuit. This is especially the case with more powerful vehicles as they have the propensity to spin out mid corner if you apply the accelerator too suddenly. This usually occurs during mid-speed S sections and you must slowly feed the throttle and make a smooth exit. It is vital to prioritize your exit speeds over an overzealous entry speed to maintain consistent and competitive lap times.
GRID Autosport reverts from its previous focus on understeer to provide a more balanced and accurate representation of driving in its purest form. GRID 2 was plagued by a lack of oversteer and this made the racing feel overly clunky and unresponsive. The understeer effect was incredibly strong and often inhibited you from nailing the apex point and entering each corner at the optimal line. This level of understeer was so paralyzing that it stopped you from approaching corners at slower speeds than the AI. This was infuriating as your opposition tend to breeze past you with enhanced grip levels and higher entry speeds..
GRID Autosport finds a suitable balance between oversteer and understeer by implementing both in a subtle manner. The amount of understeer has been dramatically reduced as you only feel a small amount of resistance when entering corners with a high camber angle. Accelerating after sharp bends causes your car to twitch and oversteer as you try to apply the power without skidding onto the marbles off line. This creates the impression that you are controlling a fierce and powerful vehicle which requires a skillful driver to tame. Codemasters have conferred and decided to base their new physics model around correcting slides during moments oversteer and understeer. Unlike the previous game, sliding is detrimental to your delta times and usually results in an accident or spin.
A major problem in GRID 2 was the closing speeds and braking points of hairpins. The braking points were nothing short of a farce as you could approach corners at 200mph and harshly apply the brake metres before a corner. As a result, I found it extraordinarily difficult to judge the correct moment when to brake as it was diametrically opposite to most racing games on the market. On average, I was reducing my speed around 200-500 metres before the target point and caused mass pile ups because of this discrepancy between my braking strategy and the AIs. This major oversight have been fixed in GRID Autosport as the braking points are now correct and you have to decelerate well in advance of the next bend. Codemaster’s revised braking system manages to make the racing enjoyable once again and in tune with what you would expect from an accurate simcade racer.
The AI in GRID 2 left a lot to be desired due to inconsistent sector times and a complete lack of spatial awareness. Your opponents could be 3 seconds slower in one sector and then 5 seconds faster in the next. Also, there were numerous occasions when rival cars simply slowed down randomly and performed brake tests which caused collision and carnage all over the circuit. GRID Autosport is sorely let down by unusual sector times especially on the hardest difficulty. For instance, at the Sepang International Circuit I could gain 3 seconds during the first sector and lose 4-5 seconds during the 2nd. This is bizarre considering the second sector is a slew of mid speed corners where a lot of time cannot be lost. Annoyingly the AI’s speed is still a cause for concern and unfairly has major gains against you at certain circuits. This isn’t as demoralizing as GRID 2 but it still detracts from the immersion as a whole.
Race starts haven’t been improved either as the AI makes a poor getaway and is far too passive. You can move from the back of the field to a top tier position within a few corners. This is a hallmark of Codemasters’ racing games and exists in the F1 and GRID franchises. I wish they would improve the AI’s responsiveness off the line because it makes qualifying practically pointless. The only major reason to qualify is the points of offer for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place offering 3 points, 2 points and 1 point respectively.
There has been an improvement though in terms of the AI holding their racing line and positioning themselves better so you can’t breeze past when there is a large concentration of cars in your peripheral vision. Your opposition will make their car feel wide and resolutely stick to the racing line even if you pressure them. As such, overtaking is more of a challenge and requires a cogent strategy based on predicting their movement. This makes the idea of chasing down cars a lot more satisfying as you feel your wits are being tested against the best drivers around the world.
In the previous game, there was a complete lack of slipstream (drafting) which meant you couldn’t close down cars in front easily until you reached the braking zone. This is not the case anymore as there is a significant amount of slipstream on offer and you can hunt down the car ahead on the start/finish straight. In addition, this also means you are vulnerable as the lead car because the vehicles behind have a source of slipstream that you cannot access. Even though the ability to chase cars on straighter sections have been improved, it doesn’t hide the the fact that generally you are slower on the straights and faster around most corners. The AI can be a little slow in applying the gas and overly cautious on fast S bends which can be taken at full throttle. This disparity between the speed on the straights and corners is jarring and makes the racing feel overly synthetic.
Codemasters proclaimed in a misjudged PR move that only 5% of players used the cockpit viewpoint. However, they overlooked how vitriolic the response would be as angry customers let their frustration out via online forums and social media platforms. Some perceived this as a lazy move to cut costs and production time. Whatever the case, Codemasters have been fairly humble about the situation and decided to reintegrate the cockpit view for those who were left disappointment by its omission in GRID 2. However, the cockpit view is basic and lacks any detail like stitching or manufacturer information.
The Career mode has undergone a major change from the story driven dialogue in GRID 2. You complete in a wide array of events including Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner, Street and GRID Championships. Each category has a number of contests to whet your appetite with a wide selection of race types. There are traditional races, time trials, drift events, eliminator challenges and even 8 minute endurance races featuring tyre wear. The standard races often involve a qualifying run and you must try to finish above your competitors. Some races have a reverse field in the 2nd event meaning those in 1st position will start from the back of the field. This is an excellent mode which causes dramatic racing as the best drivers do their utmost to regain the top spot. Time trial events are quite simple and all you have to do is set a benchmark time during the course of 3 laps. Your opponents are also on the track at the same time so you must attempt to achieve a clean run without being held up by the cars ahead.
You race for a team with various sponsor objectives such as, finishing the race without any damage or beating your teammate. There are a wide selection of genuine brands including Razer and Intel which adds a sense of legitimacy to the game. The teammate aspect is still underutilized as you cannot hire/fire your number 2 which was one of the best features in GRID 1. One new option is the ability to give out team orders and make basic commands. You can tell your teammate to push or even defend a position if they are behind you on the track. Successfully competing sponsor objectives and races grants you with experience points which are used to unlock new events.
The GRID championships can only be unlocked when you achieve a specific level in each formula. The career as a whole is better because it focuses on the racing instead of some obtuse and cringeworthy story. However, it hasn’t got any synergy and feels repetitive after a while. Codemasters could improve this mode by introducing more graphical indications showing the trophies won in a similar vein to Gran Turismo or perhaps add some variety to the track selection. You can also complete in custom events such as individual races or make your own unique championship with custom parameters. This provides a welcome break from the long and detailed career if you just want to engage in a short burst of frantic racing.
The penalty system is extremely flawed and hasn’t been thought about with any due care or attention. Going off the track limits and crossing the white lines will result in a mandatory penalty as your car is automatically slowed down. This period seems to be random and inconsistent as a small off line penalty is sometimes 2-3 seconds whilst cutting a corner can sometimes only penalize you with a 2 second penalty. This is not always the case as blatant cheating is punished with longer periods. The main problem lies in the penalty system’s inability to judge what is an intentional breach of the rules and what is a means to avoid a major incident. Annoyingly, if you run side by side with a car and put one wheel on the white lines then you are deemed to have gained an unfair advantage. If the AI runs wide to avoid you, they don’t get any penalty whatsoever. This unfair policy can deter you from engaging in wheel-to-wheel racing.
The multiplayer aspects builds on the solid foundation of GRID 2 and revolves around experience points. There are a multitude of events on offer and this time you race within your own team and endeavour to build a collection of hypercars. The experienced gain from race events is useful and used to purchase these cars and progress into more frenetic races. As with any racing game, the main downfall is the community and how they behave on track. I competed in a number of hard fought races and was surprised that only a few unsuspecting characters decided to slam into me instead of taking corners.
From a technical standpoint, GRID Autosport is impressive as the PC version is beautifully optimized and looks fantastic with the HD texture pack. On maximum settings at 2560×1440 using an I7 4770k and Sapphire AMD R9 290 Tri-X, I achieved an average frame rate of 70 and minimum of 61. This rock solid level of performance which never dropped sub-60 makes for an enjoyable driving experience. The superb draw distance with intermittent sun glares alongside a stunning lighting model is a sight to behold. GRID Autosport features an excellent options menu including several settings. There are too many to list, but PC gamers will have plenty of tweaking available.
This wide array of options allows you to find the graphical elements you want to prioritize and turn off unwanted effects on lower end systems. There is a Windowed mode, built in Benchmark and even support for 144hz monitors. The game is perfectly playable with a Xbox 360 controller and feels responsive. There is an impressive selection of wheel compatibility including the Logitech Driving Force GT, Thrustmaster T100FB and Logitech G27. I initially encountered some latency issues with the G27 as the input was delayed. However, an early patch did fix this unusual problem.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
GRID Autosport is a substantial improvement over its predecessor and makes up for some of the poor design decisions in GRID 2. However, left over gameplay issues still plague the series. AI problems continue to persist and detract from the feeling of an authentic racing game. The physics model has been overhauled, although still needs a few minor tweaks to feel perfect. The PC version is excellent and Codemasters should be commended for their hard work. In the end, I don’t feel comfortable giving a recommendation at the current $49.99 price point based on the issues I’ve outlined in this review.