Racing sims and I don’t have much of a history. You see, I grew up on arcade racers, dumping hundreds of hours into the Burnout series (yes, I started playing Burnout with the original, not Burnout 3) and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, never touching games like Gran Turismo (I never owned a PlayStation 1) or Forza. It’s not something that people expect since I grew up with a love of cars, especially old cars, which was something passed down by my father and his father before him. So yes, I love cars, but I do not want to sit in my chair and attempt to drive one in a realistic fashion with a controller.
I don’t want to try to beat you with a perfectly taken corner, or a great block. I don’t want to follow a racing line. That’s not my style. I want to hit you with a red shell or run you into a wall or force you into the path of an oncoming semi truck. My mentality in racing games is this: I can’t lose if there’s no one left to race against me.
So when I tell you, dear reader, that I am more than a little out of my depth when confronted with a game like Grid Autosport, I hope you’ll believe me. Admittedly, Grid Autosport isn’t so much a true racing sim so much as a cross between a sim and an arcade racer, but those who are more familiar with sims will definitely be more comfortable with what Autosport has to offer. The series has always taken a multi-disciplined approach to racing, and that returns to Autosport. The game’s career mode is divided into five segments: Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner, and Street.
Autosport will require you to play them all before you unlock the Grid Grand Slam, which features events from each and every discipline, but beyond that how you progress is entirely up to you. I chose to start out with Street racing, which features tight tracks and intense turns, but all of the racing styles are engaging on some level, especially Touring and Open Wheel, which are the other standouts.
The former is high contact racing on larger tracks that requires you to play the same track twice, with grid orders reversed the second time around (if you start in first the first time, you’ll start in sixteenth place), while the latter resembles Codemaster’s F1, only more forgiving and with more of a focus on fun and less on pitting at the correct time.
In fact, there’s no pitting in Grid Autosport, which makes the Endurance category a little odd. The default length of these races is eight minutes, which is pretty long when compared to the other categories, but still relatively short for an endurance run. Endurance is also the only category that features tyre wear, but the wear is scaled to the length of the race. This, coupled with the lack of pitting, basically means that you can’t manage your tyre wear unless you adjust the way you race.
You won’t do this, of course, because the scaling means that you don’t need to. But it does mean that should you puncture a tyre, you can’t fix it, and no one in their mind is going to suffer through a punctured tyre when they have no way to fix it. They’re going to restart the race, which makes you wonder why they bothered to feature tyre wear (and punctures) to begin with. All in all, it’s a little disappointing as a mode.
It is not, however, the weakest. That honor belongs to the Tuner category, which is a mixture of time trials (which is basically like playing a qualifying round for another category without the satisfaction of actually playing a race afterwards), drifting, and actual races. Drifting is something I never really got the hang of, but the actual races are a lot of fun. It’s just a shame they’re bundled with these other, lesser events.
The actual structure of the career follows a sponsorship model. After deciding on a mode, you’ll choose an event and a sponsor. Like any driver, you’ll be starting from the bottom, so you won’t have any offers from high quality teams, at least not at first. This means your cars, which are pre-selected for you, will be of a lower quality, and your AI partner will be lucky if he finishes in 15th place at an event, and not in last. It also means that you won’t have to finish particularly well to meet your sponsor’s goals and advance your career. Do well, and you’ll get more offers from more respected sponsors, which will give you access to higher quality cars, better upgrades, and competent AI partners.
This approach doesn’t give you a lot of control – you won’t make too many meaningful choices about your cars or how your teammates race – but it does ensure that the focus is entirely on the racing, and that you feel a sense of progress and improvement as the seasons pass. Thankfully, the racing is what Grid is all about. There are assists for people who aren’t really comfortable with sims, and a flashback mechanic that allows you to rewind time and ensure that you don’t take that corner too fast and slam into the car in front of you the second time around.
The enemy AI is also very impressive. The other drivers will jockey for position, block, perform risky overtakes, and even make realistic mistakes, adding a much appreciated sense of realism to the proceedings. The most impressive bit is that the AI’s reactions will change between flashbacks. In one instance, I saw a group of cars collide after taking a turn. After running into them and utterly wrecking my car, I flashbacked and attempted the turn again, and this time all but one of them took It cleanly. It’s a nice touch, and one that ensures that each section feels unique, even if you’ve approached it before.
The AI also changes its approach based on the style of race you’ve chosen, which means they’re more likely to try to take you out during a Touring event, and more inclined to pursue a safer, more precise style during an Open Wheel competition. This differentiation carries over to the types of cars, as well. The Touring cars, for instance, are much faster than the Street cars, and feel easier to steer, while the Tuner cars are sluggish in the turn, and the Open Wheel vehicles are precise and efficient. The game may only feature 78 cars, but the sheer variety of driving experiences on display ensures that you’re never bored.
That’s really what Grid is about, the driving. The career mode isn’t structured in an exciting way, but any problems with the modes are largely remedied by the maps and cars, which are fairly varied and actually quite pretty to look at, odd blemishes like the lackluster cockpit view and the poorly detailed crowds aside. Things only get better if you’re into online play, which allows you to create your own teams and manage your own cars, though it should be noted that the visual customization available, even online, is quite limited.
Grid Autosport promises racing, and that’s what it delivers. It’s certainly not the deepest simulator on the market, or the prettiest, and the career mode could stand to be a little more exciting outside of the races. It’s not the kind of game that’s going to blow people away and change minds. I still think racing sims are pretty boring, but Grid offered me a lot of variety, and met me halfway in terms of accessibility. It’s not the best racer ever, but those who value racing above all else will find quite a bit to like here, even if other racers are still on the track at the end of the last lap.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.