An overwhelming but satisfying return to the series.
On a minute-to-minute basis, I usually enjoyed the experience of playing Codemasters’ reboot of GRID. The new Nemesis system that pops up within and between races makes for a notable emotional investment outside of winning a race, and the career and online modes are unique and effectively serve as two separate enjoyable experiences. But as a whole package, GRID feels like it should be more engaging than it is. Its gameplay is improved over previous games in the series, but I was never drawn back into it in ways that previous games in the series and other competitors have. Its lack of an apparent structure make progression feel slow, but its balanced gameplay and beautiful visuals make GRID a serviceable racer that keeps the franchise going but doesn’t push the genre forward in any meaningful way.
GRID’s driving system strikes an impressive balance between keeping the sim elements that make it realistic while allowing for the arcade racing aspects that allow you to create unforgettable moments. Finding the podium requires your attention on accelerating, braking, and turning to avoid unwanted contact and track penalties. You can rewind and fix your mistakes, but doing so is limited on the normal difficulty and can’t fix all of your problems. With that said, it’s not technical in its requirements to the point that it becomes overbearing. You’ll usually be able to bounce off walls with relative ease, and damage can affect your car and racing ability to different extents depending on your difficulty level.
"As you complete each event, you’ll find yourself making seemingly negligible progress."
The career mode is streamlined compared to previous games in the series to a disappointing effect. Your career begins with a small tutorial before you’re given an overwhelming menu of events to compete in. There are six unique series of events, and each culminates in a final Showdown, which ultimately take you to the GRID World Series to reign above all. Though the option to choose any event you’ve unlocked at any time is a good way to change the pace and allow you to do whatever you prefer whenever you want, the sheer number of races and events is overwhelming. One event can range from as low as 1 race to as many as 4 races, and each showdown requires 10 completed events to unlock.
The most fun races are the fastest ones with the highest stakes, which, even in events with multiple races, fly by. Some of the slower, more contained races, such as the truck series, though, are more tedious, especially when you find yourself competing in four overly long races per event within them. There’s not much of a balance between the two of them, and it feels like there should have been more of a focus on the street racing and high-stakes races that lead up to the showdowns instead of the repetitive slower races.
As you complete each event, you’ll find yourself making seemingly negligible progress. When you start your career, you can see every event you will have to complete. You know the ultimate goal from the start, but every event makes you question whether the effort is worth it, especially when you get done with a slow four-race event. Once you’ve grasped each series’ characteristics, you’ll settle into a rhythm of doing similar events on tracks that you’ll get very familiar with, and the racing can only hold off the tedium for so long. After some of the best races, your 20-25 hour career will feel manageable, but in a lot of other cases, it’ll feel like you’ll never get there.
"Making a nemesis causes them to act more aggressively toward you, and their attitudes can carry between races within events."
What makes the racing unique are the AI systems. You have teammates that can be paid as little or as much attention as you’d like, which will slightly affect their attitude toward you during the race. There are some benefits to being a good teammate, like higher bonuses and better racing partners, but it’s up to you how you want to treat them. If you decide to drive recklessly and hit other cars frequently, you’ll find yourself making a lot of nemeses as part of the new Nemesis system, which explicitly shows when you’ve angered another driver with your actions.
Making a nemesis causes them to act more aggressively toward you, and their attitudes can carry between races within events. It’s an interesting system that adds both a personal aspect to the racing and an emotional investment in beating a rival, but it often feels exploitable. I would often have the opportunity to bump off a rival and use them as a wall to accelerate past before their nemesis AI could kick in, leaving them in the dust and forgetting about them. Some problems with the AI show up in this system, especially when your nemeses begin to act aggressively toward you even though their actions hurt them as well. Some of the regular AI can be a bit wonky as well, making unrealistic decisions that a human wouldn’t make or ramming you into a wall without cause and for no ultimate benefit. They’re part of an AI system that feels generally realistic with occasional missteps, but the missteps stand out when they hurt your race experience.
The multiplayer experience is a much more digestible one, and it’s a well-crafted online racing system. You can customize your cars and race both online and offline, with a mix of humans and AI bots. I never experienced noticeable lag, and the options to race, customize, and tune my cars make it a highly personalized experience. The online takes what is good about the driving and AI from the career and puts it into your hands to manage and organize, which allow it to take a best of both worlds scenario that you can enjoy regardless of skill level and without the tedious structure.
"There’s a lot to like about GRID, especially in its beautiful environments and unique, yet flawed Nemesis system, and the online is a continued bright spot."
Visually, GRID continues to be a beautiful series, especially when it comes to the environments and weather effects Codemasters has integrated into the game. Races take place at all times of day and in all seasons, and each has its own stunning characteristics. I’ll never get tired of racing through the rain or seeing the summer sunset, especially with blasting fireworks in the background. The cars and damage effects are less impressive, though the sound design continues to be excellent. In my playtime, I only encountered a few stutters and a single crash, and the game performed excellently within races, both online and offline.
GRID isn’t pushing many boundaries in its presentation or gameplay, but it’s a well-crafted racing experience that’s bogged down by its lack of structure and overly long career. When I had the chances to race, drift, and make enemies, I found myself getting emotionally invested in the races and feeling satisfied with victories, but in the middle of that is a lot of less exciting racing that often feels like it’s going nowhere. There’s a lot to like about GRID, especially in its beautiful environments and unique, yet flawed Nemesis system, and the online is a continued bright spot. The racing gameplay is fine-tuned to appeal to any sort of racing game fan, but the moments that make it shine are lessened by the numerous tedious and repetitive events you’ll have to fight through to get there.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Beautiful environments and dynamic weather, well-balanced racing, unique Nemesis system, Great online experience.
Overwhelming and slow-moving campaign, extended events, occasionally wonky AI.
GRID is a beautiful and well-balanced racer that successfully reboots the series but suffers from a campaign that progresses slowly and doesn’t have enough unique events to make up for it.