GRID Autosport Review
Slides into last place because of a laborious career, recycled tracks and AI driver problems
Slot cars are fun in small doses. You place an electric car into a slotted track and squeeze a trigger to make it accelerate, being careful not to speed around corners. As a passionate slot-car racer, you purchase the latest track set and rush home to open it. Inside you discover the newest track is identical to the old track and the included car is covered with advertisements instead of racing stripes. To guarantee a close finish, a friend binds the cars together with a short piece of elastic. The same friend gives you a secondary car, one that will race autonomously for your imaginary team, neglecting to mention that a stuck wheel will see it finish dead last. You will race for 800 laps and every 5 laps that friend will nonchalantly throw a spoonful of oil on the track. If this sounds like fun, then GRID Autosport will tear you away from that debilitating slot car addiction.
Codemasters has done great things for the racing genre, but GRID Autosport is not one of them. The original GRID, released in 2008, was a combination of exciting street racing and team management. In 2009 and 2011, Codemasters crafted two excellent DiRT games that featured precise rally courses across the globe and clever side content. Recently, they have faltered with less than ideal productions. DiRT Showdown attempted, and failed, to produce something resembling destruction derby with a party atmosphere. GRID 2, released just last year, might be the most forgettable of all Codemasters games. GRID Autosport continues the underwhelming efforts of Codemasters and could be their worst racer yet.
GRID was built on the backbone of street races, drifting, touring cars and aggressive driving. It put enjoyment ahead of simulation and promoted player choice via team management. GRID Autosport brings the same style of races along with the excellent vehicle handling that has been a hallmark of Codemasters games. There are five disciplines available: Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuning and Street. The Touring discipline is straightforward racing around famous circuits. Endurance is a test of stamina as you drive for at least eight arduous minutes on tracks set at night. Open Wheel brings forward Codemasters’ experience with Formula cars on traditional circuits. Tuner is a mix of staggered races and that ghastly drifting stuff. Lastly, the Street discipline is all about glorious cornering around city streets, and the only mode that stays enjoyable despite the reuse of tracks.
Autosport has nearly two dozen tracks, but most of them were in Codemasters’ previous games. There are only a few new tracks to race on, including Mont Tremblant and Circuit of the Americas, but the percentage of new content is disastrously meek. None of the tracks have varying weather conditions and time of day is locked. Fans of Street racing must endure the same courses in Barcelona, Paris and nauseating Dubai. Paying full price for different traffic cone positions is not good value for money when some tracks remain largely unchanged since 2008. Perhaps new tracks are coming in one of the eight planned DLC packs. Autosport needed far more original content instead of tweaking old tracks and using them across multiple disciplines.
The Paris courses are back with 0.01% more cobblestones
The combination of disciplines makes for an inconsistent, tiresome experience during career mode. All disciplines lack personality and hold the same tune throughout the career. Jumping between them does not bring the expected variety because you repeat races the on the same tracks. Some events are stretched thin when you must race twice on each track after a qualifying session. You can skip qualifying, but you’ll need a superb first corner to even consider a podium finish. The fun modes have been removed too, with Overtake and Elimination absent from the career. The overall campaign structure borrows heavily from the Formula One games in an effort to squeeze out 45 hours of content. If Codemasters was trying to make the single player experience laborious and unrewarding, they have succeeded.
The Endurance discipline plays no small part when stretching out the career mode. It requires twice the time investment of other disciplines and puts you in vehicles with less room for error due to their speed. Tires continuously wear during an Endurance race, causing a progressive loss in grip. This loss of grip is most noticeable without traction control, a setting that is disabled on hard difficulty and above. The loss of traction will mean corners become hard work by lap six. With no flashbacks remaining, a basic mistake will drop you to last place or force a restart of that 12 minute race. Your reward for completing an hour long Endurance season is access to a two hour long Endurance season. Endurance is the only discipline that suffered from traction problems on hard difficulty, so it is fortunate that difficulty can be changed between races. You could stick to the disciplines you prefer, but this will result in even less track variety and restrict you from the career championships.
Endurance, set at night, will give you nightmares
Back on track, white-line penalties slow your vehicle for drifting too far over a corner. These penalties are wholly inconsistent. So if you veer off a straight, and lose time, the penalty might slow your vehicle for two seconds. However, if you cut a corner and gain five places, the penalty might only be a fraction of a second. On tracks with traffic cones placed on hairpins, you would be mistaken in thinking they represent the allowable turning limit for that corner. It makes little sense to have these penalties in a game where you can literally smash into the side of a vehicle and come away with minor damage and no penalty. At least crashing heavily can lead to steering repercussions and force concentration for the remainder of the race. White-line penalties are part of the reason why street races, with barriers placed on corners and no lines to cross, are consistently more pleasing.
Although teams return in the career, you cannot create your own or customize existing ones. You are stuck competing for game sponsors such as Intel, Monster or Razer. The vehicles you drive are pre-assigned based on the event so there is no concept of a garage with owned vehicles. You certainly cannot create a new car livery or add racing stripes to an existing team. Team vehicles have different traction and speed, but the only way to find out is to drive them. Progression comes via experience gained from competing in the different disciplines rather than logical things like money, cars, fame or team improvement. This levelling system becomes excruciating as you reach higher ranks and are forced through race seasons that take hours.
You cannot choose a teammate to drive with and most assigned AI drivers gravitate into last place. Team drivers do not improve the track experience despite your ability to order them to attack or defend during a race. When asking my teammate to hold his position, he merely drifted off the race line and let myself and a trailing car cruise past. When ordering him to push from 14th position, he postulated that the best position to attack from was 16th. Since you jump disciplines, and teams, you are not stuck with the same teammate. No driver has personality and almost all are equally terrible. In the original GRID, your teammate could finish top five and apologise if he bumped into you. In Autosport, your assigned teammate finishes last and cuts your inside line. It takes a flawless effort to carry your team to an unlikely championship win and this just makes team racing a drag. The team implementation in career mode has no redeeming qualities and is a drastic step backwards from the original GRID.
Sometimes you just need to smash the Ravenwest team to restore sanity
Opponent drivers are still a significant annoyance in Autosport due to their irrational behaviour. In races where cars are meant to have equal performance, some cars still go faster down straights. Strangely, fast vehicles become slow as molasses in the second race of an event and this issue is most prevalent in the Open Wheel and Touring disciplines. Back markers will accelerate beyond rational limits to catch up to the pack while trailing drivers will stick with you despite repeated lap records. The rules you abide by are seemingly irrelevant for our AI friends and keeping them from charging ahead is hard work. One positive is that AI drivers are more aggressive, holding their race line with more conviction and not being afraid to give a little nudge in return. Some of this aggression can be seen in disciplines where it does not belong, like getting shoved during an endurance event, but it is a welcome change nonetheless. Despite improved driver hostility, Autosport’s AI is prohibitive to the racing experience.
Codemasters insists that only 5% of players use the cockpit view, so if you are in the other 95% you can skip to the next paragraph. Five percenters rejoice; GRID Autosport has brought back cockpit view! This camera angle would be entirely life-like if the vehicle interiors were made from paper mache and Lego bricks. Ignoring the blur, all the gauges do not function and you cannot turn your head. The Endurance discipline makes best use of the cockpit view, because you can hear the engine better and interpret the suspension, yet you cannot see the dashboard because there are no interior lights during the night-time setting. Autosport’s cockpit view is barely different from the user mod in GRID 2 and the distinguished five percent deserved better than a rounder steering wheel.
I am the 5%!
Autosport includes an online component that functions much like previous racing games by Codemasters. The online is immediately an improvement on the campaign because you can buy vehicles, select cheap sponsors and apply custom paint designs. Also hidden in the online menu are RaceNet Challenges which pit you against AI drivers in short and sweet events. These challenges would be the best single player content if you didn’t have to go online and wait a week for new events. RaceNet challenges, and other online events, include two basic party modes that bring some life to the drudgery. Codemasters have squashed the fun out of career mode and some has oozed into the multiplayer.
Vehicle upgrades and deteriorating car condition can mean that high ranked players enjoy advantages most players only dream about. Low level competitors can loan cars but you must buy vehicles to paint them. Unlike the career mode, you pay a price for vehicle damage caused by reckless driving. One street race actually cost me $6,000 because of collisions with opposition drivers. Finishing high in a race might get you $10,000, which is rather low considering it costs five times that much for a single garage slot. In order to purchase all 80+ vehicles you will need to spend around $40 million, which means thousands of online races. Although multiplayer rescues the abysmal career, it does not escape the ridiculous grind.
At least human opponents are a refreshing change from the rubber-banding AI, despite the increased number of collisions. If you get unlucky, an unsavoury individual will use your vehicle as target practice at the end of a long straight. Winning is not so much about driving well; it is being lucky enough to avoid the carnage. In one race, an opponent managed to outpace me with just 3 functioning wheels by bouncing off the barriers – a humbling experience to be sure. Once that crazy first corner is out of the way, there is far more tension in a single online race than the entire offline career.
Orange or Red collision icons are bad news for online races
Online races are a nice length but waiting between them is tiresome due to voting and lobby times. You will spend three minutes off-track between races, which is about a third of your total online time. This is made worse when you cannot spectate newly joined matches, although you can still hear the expletives from current drivers. Online populations are not great either, so this means additional waiting for matches or finding buddies. To access more players, you may need to change your Steam download region setting - London UK is recommended. Even with your best British accent, wait times and slow progress will keep you from spending too much time online.
GRID Autosport is a stagnant product with a misdirected focus. Single player is bland repeat of GRID 2, with minimal new content and half the fun. The career is a multi-discipline grind through the same events on tracks taken from previous titles and it is over twice the required length. Teams return to bring a heightened awareness to major sponsors and AI drivers make up their own rules. Online it is packed with many features missing from the career, including purchasing vehicles, yet is still subject to recycled tracks and long wait times. As a product, Autosport is competent, but as a game it is monotonous. GRID Autosport chips away at all the hard work Codemasters have done to establish themselves as front runners in the racing genre. If Codemasters do not gain traction soon, they may fly out of the slot and crash through a window.