There are only two names that matter when it comes to console racing games. There’s the venerable Gran Turismo series, and the upstart but arguably superior Forza series. Both series have had several iterations over many years to perfect the idea of the all-encompassing racing game. To challenge either of these titles would be a huge challenge for any studio.
Codemasters, at the least, should have the pedigree to deliver. They’ve been doing good racing games for nearly twenty years now, so they fully understand what they need to do. With their Dirt and Grid series, they’ve shown they know racing, and their F1 series shows they can do hardcore simulations with the best of them.
So Grid: Autosport can be reasonably expected to stand up to its intended rivals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make those lofty heights. A lot of the problems are subtle, the kinds of things that will only come out when played by the kind of people who put hundreds of hours into Forza and Gran Turismo. But those are the exact people that Grid: Autosport needs to please to be a success.
First, though, the good news. Grid: Autosport has some refreshing new ideas on the presentation of a motorsports game. It’s best feature is the idea that the player is part of a team, rather than an individual racer. You have a second driver who you can give simple orders to, and there’s team chatter on your radio as you race. This adds some refreshing personality to a genre that can often seem a bit sterile and impersonal. Sure, it’s lonely on a racetrack, but drivers don’t exist in isolation.
The other great feature is how everything is divided up. Essentially, the game breaks things into various disciplines. The Tuner discipline is for what American call “import tuners” (and what we call “Skylines and Lancers”). Touring is fairly obviously for touring cars, while Open-Wheel is for open-wheel racers such as Indycars and LeMans P2 cars (F1 cars are notably absent here). There’s also Endurance for long endurance-style racers and Street is, well, for racing on street circuits.
This approach is really great, and shows that Codemasters really want to cut their own path against the competition. Progression is relatively straightforward, and each category is supported by a decent number of events across a variety of tracks and track configurations.
Racing in Grid Autosport feels pretty good initially. Everything moves how it’s supposed to, and there’s good response from the cars. Even the AI is pretty strong— It’s no Drivatar system, for sure, but it’s probably a lot better than either Forza 4 or Gran Turismo 6, so that’s a decent effort.
Dig deeper, though, and the game starts to fall apart. This is where the game takes a turn for the Shift 2: Unleashed. The most obvious flaw is that similarly-specced cars feel exactly the same. You might think that’s okay, after all, there’s only so many ways a sporty compact can feel, right? But if you drive, say, a Focus RS in Forza or GT and then switch to, say, a Golf GTi, there’s a noticeable change in the way the cars feel when you drive them. Sure, they’re roughly similar in performance, but there’s subtleties to the handling and acceleration that you need to adjust to. They feel like different cars.
This might seem a bit nitpicky— so what if two econoboxes feel the same, this game is all about the Supercars, right? Well, that’s kind of the problem. In Forza and GT, it’s common to end up preferring particular cars over others of the same type, even at the low-end of the spectrum. You’ll actually build up an attachment to your car, and that can be important in terms of involving you in the game. In Grid: Autosport, the car itself is apparently just a skin over a physics object. I may as well be driving a brick.
There’s also an alarming lack of polish in the visual details. Overall, the game looks fantastic, but it only runs at 30 frames per second, a backward step from Forza 4. I would take the higher framerate over improved visual fidelity. The other huge downgrade is the interior view. The view offers a blurred, indistinct view of the inside of the car, with no discernible details. It looks pretty awful, and there’s no chance of being able to drive solely by instruments here.
Grid: Autosport’s wheel support is excellent. It picked up my Fanatec wheel and ClubSport pedal sets, and offered options including clutch and H-pattern shifting. Interestingly, it borrows a leaf from Gran Turismo’s book by disallowing stick-shifting on cars that don’t have it in real life, though it doesn’t do the same for paddle shifting.
I feel that Grid: Autosport is a solid first try at cracking the Forza/Gran Turismo market, but not one that will upset the applecart anytime soon. Codemasters have a lot of experience with racing games, and they’re absolutely capable of producing something great. Maybe in a year or two, we’ll see a Grid: Autosport 2 that blows everything else away, but for now, we’re stuck with a 1.0 product that isn’t going to bring the converts.