There are few people on this earth who are less qualified to review a simulation racing game than I am. Sure, I played the odd Gran Turismo here and there just like everybody else, but they were never really my thing. Here I am, though, about to tell you about my experiences with GRID Autosport, the third entry into the GRID series of simulation racers from Codemasters, even though I haven’t played the previous installments. When I was asked to review the game, I gave the warning of my lack of experience with simulation racers. The response I got was, “Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.” So I took the position of being cautiously optimistic. I mean, who knows? Maybe GRID Autosport is the gateway racing game for someone like me. After spending over a dozen hours with the game, I am here to inform you that it is not. In fact, from what I hear, it doesn’t even meet the high expectations set by its peers.
The career in Autosport has you competing in several different types of racing events. At the start, you select an event type (like touring, street, or open-wheeled) and you select one of the sponsors you have available to you. The sponsors you have to choose from are based on your performance in previous races. Since you don’t get to have a qualifying race before you start your career, the sponsorships are at the low end of the spectrum. Since the sponsorships are what determine your car and racing team (which, not surprising, are also at the low end), it can be difficult to perform well; which means your sponsors will not improve. I worked around this by lowering the difficulty to place high in events to unlock better sponsorships. The problem is that I was untrained by the time I decided to raise the difficulty and I found it hard to complete the more demanding objectives of the better sponsors. This forced me to lower the difficulty again just so I could try to practice a little bit before I raised it back up. Keeping the difficulty down this low for this long was detrimental to my experience, too, since your gain experience much slower if your difficulty is low.
Actually, it would be detrimental to my experience if you actually used experience for something. The career consists of racing the events that require you to race on tracks multiple times and then move on to the next event. You don’t unlock cars, parts, tracks – nothing. There’s no storyline here, either. While I don’t need a story in a racing game, I do need something – anything to keep me interested in progressing. Instead, all we get are the sponsorships. The sponsorships, as I mentioned, give you objectives such as defeating a rival and completing a race without a collision, but they don’t really matter to the overall experience. No matter what the sponsor tells me to do, I always want to win the race. I don’t care that there’s a specific person that I need to beat. In theory, I want to beat everybody, right? It’s a neat idea that doesn’t reach its potential. If the objectives were more integral to the experience, perhaps there would be something there. As it is, all you only really focus on is finishing in first place.
Every time I call Autosport a simulation racing game, I hesitate a little bit. It is the most appropriate term to use to describe it, but it is only a simulation racing game insofar as the driving physics are less forgiving than those of arcade racing games like Need For Speed or Burnout. If you attempt to turn a corner without careful braking, you will spin out. You can’t stop on a dime. There’s no turbo boost. Part of the reason I hesitate to call it a simulation, however, is because Codemasters attempted to strike a balance between accessibility and accuracy. There were definitely times that my car did things that cars shouldn’t do. Even with all of the assists turned off, the cars performance felt a little bit exaggerated. I find this choice to be a bit problematic. On one hand, it’s nice that Codemasters wants newer players to be able to jump in and have a good time with the game. In fact, I had moments of genuine excitement when I was fighting the physics by slamming on the brakes and turning a corner too sharply. On the other hand, by making the physics more forgiving, they are alienating their hardcore audience. Plus, as someone who prefers arcade style racing games, I can assure you that the physics are not forgiving enough to change anybody’s mind about the genre.
While the game supports the options that have come standard in modern simulation racers (corner assist, braking line, etc.), there are quite a few glaring omissions. Namely, there is very little customization on the actual cars. Tuning your cars essentially comes down to moving a slider or ticking a checkbox. You don’t buy parts to put into your car and you don’t customize the car’s aesthetics. While this is most likely another attempt at making the game more accessible, it once again spits in the face of the traditional fan who likes that sort of thing, and for the people who want a more casual experience, there was nothing stopping people from completely ignoring car customization entirely in other racing games. If for some reason people felt overwhelmed by the customization, they could just opt to take the default settings onto the track.
This wouldn’t matter too much if there was a decent number of cars to race and a wide variety of tracks to race them on. The good news is there are plenty of cars and tracks in GRID Autosport. The bad news is that you will never see a good portion of them unless you do a custom race. Everything is unlocked up front for you to use in a custom race, but you are very limited on which cars you can use in career mode. As I said earlier, your cars are tied to your sponsorships which are tied to your performance. If your performance does not improve, your cars will stay the same. Also, while there are a decent number of tracks, the career requires you to race on them multiple times in a row. This is probably for authenticity – it is my understanding that real life racers actually race on tracks multiple times over a few days – but it does not make for a fun game experience.
If you do decide to forgo the career mode and stick mainly to custom races, you are forced to deal with a reasonably cumbersome interface. While all the cars and tracks are unlocked up front, you aren’t able to choose them from an easily accessible list. Instead, you have to adjust the settings to say what kind of race you want to do, on what track, how many laps, and what car class you want to use. You are then able to choose from a list of cars that are available with the parameters that you set. It would have been much nicer to just been able to choose a car from a list and then choose a track that it can drive on.
Another option is for you to play online. Servers weren’t online during the review period, and we weren’t able to attend an in-house multiplayer session with Codemasters due to scheduling conflicts. Which is a shame, because that’s where all of the traditional career options seem to be. You compete in races online which earns you money which you can use to buy better cars. Why this simple feature couldn’t be in the career mode, though, is beyond me. Perhaps Codemasters was trying to go for something different, but why fix what isn’t broken?
Perhaps I’m spoiled having watched many videos of upcoming games from E3, but Autosport is a last-gen game and it shows. The cars look great with reflections of headlights and sunlight appropriately beaming off of the glass and the tires spin in a realistic way. There’s a damage model, too, and there’s something real satisfying about completing a race by puttering over the finish line with a shattered windshield and a dented frame. The environments can look pretty good – I particularly like the city tracks – but they can also look a little dated. Textures can be a little muddy when you’re going slow enough to see them (which, admittedly, is rare), and the aliasing on just about everything is pretty horrendous. The people in the crowds are also laughably awkward.
The sounds are just about perfect, though. While there isn’t really a soundtrack to speak of, the way the sounds of all of the engines, crashes, and tires on the road immerse you into a race is pretty great. When you enter a tunnel, your engine echoes through the tunnel – just like it would in real life. When your car goes too far to the side of the road, you can hear your tire hit the rumble strip and it sounds exactly like it should. I wish there was some music, but the sound design itself is great.
Did I have some fun with GRID Autosport? Yes. I just struggle to think of who this game is for. It is too hardcore for the casual fans and too casual for the hardcore fans. If you’re still sticking with your trusty Xbox 360 and PS3 and you need a simulation racer (and you’re bored with Forza or Gran Turismo), this might be able to hold you over until you decide to make the next-gen leap. Otherwise, you might want to hold off and see what else comes out of the pipe.
A PC Copy of GRID Autosport was provided by Codemasters for this review.