Back in the day, Codemasters’ TOCA Touring Car games, were a welcome change from the likes of Ridge Racer- bringing a bit of realism to an otherwise arcade-dominated genre.
The games - later branded as V8 Supercars in Australasia - demanded a constant amount of concentration. One false move and it was all over.
With the success of the DiRT rally games, the spirit of TOCA was re-imagined as GRID. Featuring touring cars, open wheelers, drifting and supercars GRID was everything on tarmac that DiRT was to mud.
But still it was more Need for Speed than Gran Turismo.
The decision to remove the in-car view from GRID 2 didn’t help, cementing the series firmly in arcade territory and alienating fans. It was a shame, because GRID 2 is a fantastic game, just like its predecessor.
With GRID Autosport Codemasters are seeking forgiveness for past misdemeanours. The in-car view is back and the whole affair streamlined to get you into those races quicker. No more menus and no heart-wrenching underdog plotline; it’s just about the racing this time.
The game ships with fifteen circuits from Indianapolis to Mount Panorama, each with a range of variations. There’s also seven cities to race around.
The circuits are the most detailed racing environments I’ve ever seen. There’s so much going on, with balloons being released in the background, leaves blowing, even flies buzzing around your car on the stating grid.
GRID Autosport is the best-looking racer I’ve ever played. It looks absolutely gorgeous on PC.
The single-player game involves competing in race seasons. For each season players select a competition from one of five different racing disciplines.
Each discipline offers a unique challenge with very different AI behaviour. Longing for the old TOCA days I found myself playing a lot of Touring Car racing.
A good practice run is no guarantee of a winning race. The game’s AI opponents are brutal and not at all afraid to push you off the track.
Every overtaking opportunity must either be carefully timed or fought for. Mid-pack there’s no room for heroics, with a momentary lapse in concentration being all it takes to send you right to the back.
Moving on from touring cars and upping the ante a bit, Open-wheel racing is fast and deadly. The F1-style cars are light and very twitchy. Thankfully your opponents are not quite as aggressive, but they’ll still get in the way. You’ll want to avoid rubbing tyres with an opponent at all cost if you want to finish the race.
If you like tight circuits with ninety-degree bends the street racing will probably be your thing. The tracks are incredibly exciting and beautiful to look at. Watch out for the Eifel Tower in Paris and get some air as you rip along San Francisco’s steep inclines.
Endurance races are timed affairs with player managing tyre wear as they race around lit circuits at night time. The races are longer than usual with the reduced visibility requiring an extra bit of attention.
The Tuner events allow players to show off their control over highly tuned cars in drift, sprint races and time attacks.
Race seasons and events against AI are all very well, but it all goes up a notch in multiplayer. Human opponents are unpredictable and it doesn’t take long for in game rivalries to develop. There’s nothing worse that hearing the cackle of another driver as he rams your car from behind and nothing beats watching a cocky opponent spin off the track.
At first I thought that GRID Autosport was a bit lacking compared to its immediate predecessors. Really what they’ve done is cut out all the chaff. What’s left is a very accessible, but still very deep, racing game.
It’s not a simulator- the rudimentary tuning options and the lack of pits places it firmly in the arcade corner - but the physics, the AI and the general feel of the game make for a highly entertaining experience that’s as challenging as you want it to be.
Coming out for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 this week, GRID Autosport could be the best racer that you’ll play all year.
Verdict: 9 out of 10