After a very, very, very long development time for Codemasters' track racing sequel Grid 2, it's something of a surprise to find that a third game in the series, Grid Autosport ,is coming out so soon, just a year after its predecessor. Doing away with the slightly mishandled narration and 'story-telling, for lack of a better word, of the previous game, Autosport aims to bring the focus back on the races themselves. I recently got the chance to lose heavily in each of the game's five motorsport disciplines. So does this feel like a true sequel, or an edited, 'director's cut' version of the last game?
|While drifting was present in GRID 2, the handling has been carefully reworked for this new game.
From the off things feel familiar, yet noticeably smoother. The reworked handling aims for the sweet spot between arcade and simulation, never too easy but never punishingly hard. Much depends on the style of motorsport you're taking part in. Street racing is the most familiar, with lots of grip round the corners and more forgiving track layouts. Try your hand at the open wheel discipline and you'll find it a completely different experience, one that will punish you immediately if you get careless. Oh, and Codemasters have finally buckled under pressure and added not one but two cockpit cams. I only saw the direct first-person version, but there's also a POV interior cam that will be added in before release.
Helping new players settle in and practice those cornering skills is the series' familiar Flash Back feature, which allows you to rewind time during the race, generally to just before you ploughed through that bollard and went flying through the windscreen. You can only go back a few seconds, and you only get the opportunity a few times per race, and not at all on harder difficulties, but it eases the frustration of messing up a lap if you're just in it for the fun. Hardcore players will laugh at this flagrant cheating of course, but hey, you don't have to have it on.
Grid Autosport retains the series' reputation for providing varied racing disciplines for you to try out. Drift racing involves hand-braking round tight corners like an absolute madman, spinning your back end around while attempting to remain in some semblance of control. It's not easy, especially when you're coming in off the back of more straightforward street races. The closer you keep your turns to several markers on the track, the more points you'll earn. Not for everyone, but a refreshing change if you're bored of circuit racing.
Endurance races are a slower-paced, more deliberate affair, for which you'll have to keep a keen eye open for tyre wear and engine troubles. Rag your car too much in the opening stages and you might open up a good lead only for more careful drivers to peg you back down the run-in. You'll have to find the right balance between aggression and caution. Again, it's something a bit different to sink your teeth into.
Throughout all of these different disciplines the computer AI remains challenging and occasionally downright dangerous. Each AI driver in the game has a number of characteristics that define the way they drive, from careful and consistent to full-on deranged. They won't passively sit by while you bully them off the road, and if a computer opponent is in the lead it's no simple thing to peg them back. The developers also say they've worked heavily on the AI for the different driving disciplines, so you should see a more measured approach in endurance racing compared to 15 other people trying to ram you off the road in the touring car races.
Interestingly you can view the characteristics of any race partners the game sets you up with in career mode, so you might want to check that multimillion dollar deal to see if you'll have to hit the track alongside Dick Dastardly. Team-mate orders have been added to Grid Autosport, so you can order your buddy to slow down the field or perform some other nefarious action during a race if you think it will help. Rather than Grid 2's slightly obnoxious attempts to cram in a narrative to career mode, Autosport will let your own decisions do the talking. Whether you want to forge a career in a single discipline or master everything, you'll have to negotiate your own yearly contracts and deliver the goods on the track. I didn't get to see anything directly from career mode, but the presentation before the hands-on demo got right down to business – the racing is what matters, and attempts at adding a forced narrative element to your fun appear to have been abandoned for now.
Once you're done with the singleplayer career mode, you can switch over to multiplayer. Racenet, the browser based community tracking and match-making system, returns alongside new Racing Clubs. These Clubs let you group together with friends or fellow gamers, earning points for your chosen team if you use their livery in online competitions. As you might expect, there's going to be leaderboards, weekly challenges, all the usual paraphernalia that multiplayer focused sports games typically bring to the table.
|The GRID series remains very pretty to look at. Shiny.
If you're a fan of track racing, in all likelihood Grid Autosport will have something that will appeal to you. It looks very sharp, the handling hits a nice middle ground between arcade simplicity and simulation depth, and there's a bucket-load of different things to try. It doesn't feel like a complete and dramatically different departure from Grid 2, but it does seem like the developers have made a point of listening to every issue fans had with the previous game. Cockpit cams are back, handling is better, it looks sharper and the AI in particular seemed very impressive. If the career mode and multiplayer side of things can live up to the engine itself then motorsport fans will want to mark the game's June 27 release date in their schedule.
Most anticipated feature: I'm looking forward to seeing more about the game's Race Clubs. Racing with your friends in customised livery and slowly making your way up the leader-boards sounds fun.