The latest game in the evolution of the Race Driver (formerly known as TOCA) series makes some interesting tweaks to the standard racer formula. Perhaps the most novel concept is the addition of flashbacks. One minute you’re roaring down the tarmac towards a hairpin, and the next you’re crouched in a bush in Vietnam, sweat trickling down your eyebrows in the stifled and humid silence. And then you T-bone into an advertising hoarding.
Of course, this isn’t how a Grid flashback works. What actually happens is you can access a replay menu at any time during a race, rewind the action and time travel back to a point before you tried to take that left-hander a touch too fast and ploughed into a crash barrier. It might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s actually a really handy feature, particularly when you don’t know a track well. You can only use flashbacks a few times per race, so it doesn’t trivialise the difficulty level too much.
And those who refrain from using them completely get cash bonuses for skilful driving on top of race winnings. In the career mode this money is used to purchase new cars, and the reputation points also accrued through victory grant the player access to more prestigious, big purse events.
There are many types of different race events, from muscle car street races to Formula 1000 on proper circuits. You might be asked to test drive a car for a race team, partake in a drift race (where sliding around corners scores points), perhaps a carnage-filled destruction derby, a touge (head-to-head racing on narrow mountain roads), or indeed a shortened version of Le Mans itself.
You’ll need to build up a large garage of different cars to tackle all these racing styles, not to mention handle some basic management duties such as choosing sponsorships and employing a team-mate driver. The career mode is very well thought out, with the variety of races always keeping you on your toes.
When it comes to the actual driving itself, Grid surprised us with handling that was more arcade-like than we were expecting. On the normal difficulty level, it’s possible to crash into barriers and other vehicles without worrying too much about damage.
But don’t think that Grid is a completely no-brain driving experience, as wheel-spin and counter-steering must be dealt with: it sits comfortably somewhere between simulation and arcade. The game is quite adjustable, too, so if you turn the default driving aids off, it becomes a lot more difficult to take those corners swiftly.
The handling of the various cars differs considerably, and you feel the weight of the bulky muscle cars, not to mention hear the roar of their engines. Our only complaints are that drift racing is quite tricky to get the hang of, and the Formula 1000 cars seem a touch too light and twitchy (but once you’ve acclimatised to this, they become drivable enough).
Mention should be given to the excellent sound and graphics, particularly the latter. Grid boasts superbly detailed vehicles and backgrounds, fantastic crash and damage modelling, plus a slight blurring effect that generates a real sense of speed when your foot’s to the floor. The game is stylishly presented throughout, with commendable details such as some genuinely useful pit crew chatter (telling you the time difference to the car ahead, for example) and a clear mini-map of the track which shows the exact angles of approaching corners.
Chuck in some impressively lag-free multiplayer action, with ranked races and leaderboards for the pros, and casual instant games you can jump into for everyone else, and you’ve got yourself a bubbling cauldron of racing goodness.