Racing games have always been something that I’ve liked more in theory than in practise, always being overly silly and arcadey or tediously ‘realistic’. GRID falls into a pleasant in-between of heightened realism – or perhaps lowered absurdity.
While the arcade racing market was sewn up tight by the surrealist TrackMania a few years ago, with solid contributions from the likes of Burnout Paradise, the realism side of things has lain rather dormant. Much like the first person shooter’s inelegant march towards photorealism, the racing game’s drive towards complete simulation has parked the genre in something of a dead end for me. Any kind of simulation suffers from the sensory feedback limitations of a computer once it reaches a certain level of verisimilitude. While a virtual car’s physics may be entirely accurate and the bodywork correct down to the smallest detail, there’s no getting around the fact that the driver will be sitting in an entirely motionless front room or study, probably using a keyboard or a gamepad. Even those lucky few that own a force feedback wheel still have a distinct lack of tactile, useful information – they can’t turn to look out the windows properly, they can’t feel the G-forces shifting around corners as the back end slides out…simulation always hits a point where the delivery system comes up short. The end result is that driving simulations are always vastly harder than real driving, because it’s like trying to drive while being half-blinded and totally numb.
GRID is perfectly aware of this, pitching itself on the border between arcade and realism, and hopping backwards and forwards over the line in a savvy dance of entertainment. Rather than going for complete, obsessive, number crunching realism it instead opts for emotional realism. In other words: it feels right. GRID is about the thrill of watching real racing, when you see the pros doing their thing and imagine what it must be like to be out on the track. It pares racing down to the fundamentals – speed, danger, quick decisions, costly errors, exhilerating successes. It’s racing fiction brought to vivid life.
Coming from the Race Driver series, GRID is also packed full of variety, far beyond the irrelevant ‘collect 500 subtly different cars’ spreadsheets found in certain other racers. Here the varying disciplines feel genuinely unique, each bringing its own particular personality. There’s the nerve-wreckingly tense Pro Touge, which sees you racing up and down a winding hill against a single opponent, the racing line more important than ever before as you move to overtake without any penalising body contact; there’s the American muscle cars, wrenching their way around the streets of San Francisco, all gutteral growls and aggressive manouvers; there’s the hectic and fast-paced touring cars that made the series’ name in the first place. There are many more, but my favourite has to go to the Demolition Derby stock car racing, which perhaps encompasses GRID‘s style more than any of its other modes.
Check out my attempts to survive this figure of eight track and the ensuing carnage:
It feels real, it feels gritty, but it’s also utterly ridiculous and hugely over the top. All of GRID‘s racing disciplines tread that line, sometimes upping the grit and reducing the theatrics to a minimum and other times doing the opposite. At all times there is a constant: exhilerating fun, aided by convincg AI and some seriously pretty graphics.
It’s a racing game for people that don’t like racing games, or who can’t justify the price of a wheel. It’s a racing game for the hardcore that like to turn off the driver assists, whack the difficulty up and take on the best. Most remarkable of all, it feels continually fresh, which is quite an achievement in such an aged and frequently staid genre.
Did I mention the Le Mans 24 Hour races, which cannily last 24 real-time minutes, including a full day-to-night cycle? They’re pretty good, too.