I do love a good race. Side-by-side with an opponent through winding bends, striking that balance between trying to get ahead and making sure nobody ends up pushed into a wall. There’s nothing quite like that feeling you get when you finally make that overtake, whether it’s for first place or eighth. That’s precisely the feeling I get when playing GRID.
Although billed as a reboot, this is actually a completely new game. Some tracks return from previous games, including the dreaded Okutama Grand Circuit that still haunts me from the original Race Driver: GRID, but everything else is new. The career in particular is very different, including the addition of F1 World Champion and two-time Le Mans winner Fernando Alonso. Driving his championship-winning Renault R26 from 2006 is quite something, especially when competing against the great man himself in one of the series finales.
That’s how the career works here. You’ll race in Touring Cars, Stock Cars (including muscle cars), Tuners, GT sports cars, FA Racing (Alonso’s series) and even Invitational events. Each one takes you around the world in a variety of cars, with the aim to complete enough events to unlock the discipline’s finale. Note that I said “complete” and not “win”, as you don’t necessarily have to win every event to unlock the final race. That said, winning the finales is the way to unlock the overall GRID World Championship and the showdown with series veterans Ravenwest, the ultimate goal of the game.
Each discipline is markedly different from the others, although FA Racing does combine multiple disciplines, replicating the successful career of Fernando Alonso. This sees a mixture of open wheel racing, GT and Le Mans Prototypes – all of which feel incredibly different to things like Touring Cars. After driving the R26 for example, going immediately back to a Subaru was incredibly jarring. The R26 is light, nimble and can take corners at ridiculous speed if you can handle it, whereas the Subaru felt heavy and cumbersome by comparison. It throws you off, but demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability needed to cross disciplines like Alonso has, and also demonstrates how realistic GRID can feel.
It’s never going to trouble the likes of GT Sport or Project CARS 2 for pure driving realism: GRID is more sim-adjacent. It represents a more exaggerated form of simulation, which is easily a more exciting proposition. The handling physics and the sense of speed are excellent, giving you the feeling of driving finely-tuned racing machines while not necessarily needing to understand precisely how they work, whether you’re driving in the wet or dry, day or night. Messing with the driving assists and difficulty levels will help most players to get into the game, especially with how accessible its difficulty actually is. Regardless of your chosen level, the racing is always thrilling and competitive as drivers vie for position throughout the grid.
GRID is at its most realistic with its representation of actual racing. Your opposition aren’t just trying to beat you, they’re trying to beat those around them. This means taking defensive lines into corners, sticking their elbows out and not being afraid to trade a little paint if they have to. It also leaves them open to an overtake around the outside, if the AI are fighting among themselves. It leaves you open to the same thing too, if you’re battling with an opponent and someone further behind takes a more aggressive approach in an ambitious effort to pass you both. I often kept an eye on my teammate via the map in the bottom left of my HUD, watching her attempt overtakes and cheering her on when they paid off. That has never happened to me before.
On the flip side, the AI also has a habit of sometimes being a bit too aggressive, especially when the nemesis system comes into play. Get into too many scrapes with an opponent, whether by choice or by force, and that opponent will become your nemesis for the rest of the race. They will want to beat you more than anything else, even at the expense of their overall race position. However, they do tend to get a little too crash-happy at times, which has led to me being put into a wall or spun out on more occasions than I’d care to say. It often felt overly harsh, perhaps something to be toned down post-launch, and would have ruined my race if not for the inclusion of the flashback ability.
You can turn flashbacks off if you want. You can limit their number of uses or have them available at all times, but rewinding mistakes or crashes can give you a second chance. I would often use them to learn a track layout during the one-lap qualifying before races, to find the best line through corners, but they are invaluable during races. Whether from an overenthusiastic AI making contact through a corner, or an outright ruthless and unfair one pushing you off the track, the ability to rewind the action is something from which all racing games could benefit. But again, you have the choice of how much you can use flashbacks, if at all.
Multiplayer, however, doesn’t give you the chance to rewind. Here, it’s all about instant action and, well, hoping that you’re matched against like minded players. You do have the option to set up private matches if you want, but otherwise there is only the option to jump into random events against random players. As the game lobby fills, you’ll be able to mess about as much as possible in skirmish, which allows all players to smash each other up in a demolition derby. While this all happens, you can choose your car for the race ahead and, thankfully, if the random race class is one you haven’t seen in the career yet, you can loan a set vehicle to take into the race. At the expense of 10% of your winnings, as a kind of loan fee. Honestly, the multiplayer could do with a sportsmanship rating to ensure a fairer time for all types of players, as it can be quite chaotic without punishment. Otherwise, it’s as fun as any other part of the game, as long as you go in with an open mind. Plus, money earned in any mode outside of career is money that can be spent on cars that can be used anywhere in the game.
That money can also be spent hiring a replacement teammate, should you be unhappy with the performance of your current one. They each have a signing fee and will take a set percentage of the overall race winnings, taking more if they have better ratings. They might be skillful but lacking in attacking bravery, or perhaps they lack loyalty and won’t attack or defend when asked. Sometimes you just need to take the risk, though when you pick the right one, you’ll likely stick with them for a while. Teammates aren’t essential to your success, but a good one will earn you more money, thus allowing you to buy better cars for certain race classes. The wider variety of car classes you have, the more events you can enter; which is important.
The cars themselves are full of detail; inside and out, and it’s great to see things like the rain obscuring vision in cockpit view, the movement of your braking foot in an F1000 or the R26, and even the crumpling and bending of bodywork. I’ve even seen a car boot hanging open from a few too many knocks. That detail extends to the environments too, not just making them look fantastic, but helping bring them to life. The blossoms and autumn leaves fall from the trees on the roads of Okutama, waves crash against the Havana coastline, and fans even recoil when cars hit the barriers beside them. It’s nice to see this, instead of the mostly static courses of many racers.
It might not be as realistic as the proper sims, but GRID is the most exciting racer around right now. Its representation of motorsport and the feeling of racing is incredible, even if the AI can sometimes be overly aggressive. I do love a good race, but I haven’t enjoyed a racer this much in ages. Quite simply, GRID is the best racer of 2019.
Great, light handling
Racing is brilliantly competitive
Different disciplines make for diverse racing
AI can be too aggressive
Multiplayer can be chaotic