Racedriver: Grid is what a lot of people would call a “simcade” game. Something that combines elements of arcade games and driving simulators. Being a big dumb arcade gaming baby I don’t really consider myself the target market for this kind of game but I’ve been known to give them a try from time to time and sometimes I’ve surprised myself by how much fun I’ve had.
This is actually the first game I’ve bought with the express intention of talking about it on this site and I have to admit, I was all for binning the game entirely for a while. My initial impression was not favourable. I stuck with it though and gradually my opinion changed and now I feel generally positive towards it.
What nearly put me off was the way the introduction is structured. Grid is focused very heavily around its career mode, which is fine, but it starts off very restrictive and gates off most of the real substance of the game for quite a while. When you start out you can only pick from a choice of 3 racing events at a time until you earn enough money to start your own team, no real choice of cars or tracks at all. Not in the career mode anyway. Once you’ve earned the target figure through the preset events the game then opens up. When that happens, you’re allowed to start having fun but until then you’re stuck doing the races the game picks for you.
Once you’re allowed to play the whole game, things get a lot better very quickly. You can make your own racing team, choose your sponsors, design a livery and pick races from quite a diverse selection of disciplines. You’ve got muscle car racing on street circuits, drifting, touge, open-wheel, touring cars and even demolition derby. It’s a motor sport grab-bag that’ll definitely have something for everyone. There’s maybe a little too much bias towards street racing and drifting which aren’t really my thing but overall it’s a really good mix. I’d prefer it if there was a bit more choice in the open-wheel and demolition derby categories but I’m just glad to see them in the game.
The icing on the cake for the career mode is the inclusion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, complete with a condensed day-night cycle. It’s let down a little by not having any trackside marshalling or pit stops but that would mean turning the game into more of a proper simulator and I don’t think that’s really Grid’s intention. Considering Forza doesn’t allow you to drive at night around Circuit de la Sarthe, Grid’s portrayal of the race is a very welcome inclusion.
As much as I warmed up to the career mode once it let me in, I still have a few superficial complaints about Grid that no amount of time spent with it will fix. The first thing is the graphics. They look pretty good for the most part but things would look a lot nicer if there wasn’t a brown filter over everything. I know it was made in 2008 and the over-exposed sepia look was very much in style but it makes the game quite tiring to look at. I don’t like my racing games gritty and post-apocalyptic, give me blue skies every time. The second small complaint is the overly talkative menu screens. Just let me skip the menu voiceovers, please. They ease off once you’ve progressed a little but they don’t add anything to the game and they just bog down the menu navigation early on.
I suppose I can’t really talk about a game like this without making some kind of judgement on the realism. I’m not really qualified to give a definitive opinion because I don’t really play full simulators but I’d probably put it above Project Gotham but below the Forza series. The handling model has a bit of a learning curve to it and feels like it’s at least paying lip service to realism and the damage model is pretty detailed but you don’t have any kind of tuning options and things like fuel and tyres aren’t simulated at all. It’s definitely not going to satisfy somebody looking for a driving simulator but I don’t think it’s really trying to. It’s a middle of the road game for a middle of the road audience.
After a poor start I came away from Grid pretty satisfied. It’s not one of my absolute favourites by any means but it won me over eventually just through the sheer variety of what it has to offer. I would definitely give Grid a cautious recommendation to somebody who wants a semi-serious racing game but doesn’t want to commit to a proper simulator like iRacing or Asetto Corsa.
Bonus video: The demolition derby is one of my favourite races in Grid. It’s unfortunate that you can only race a single car around 2 track layouts in the same location but it’s still a lot of fun. Here is a replay of a 5 lap race around the longer of the two circuits.