Race Driver: GRID
The Gran Turismo franchise wears its ‘The Real Driving Simulator’ tag line as very much a badge of pride, but the wording of this now-familiar boast betrays what many consider GT’s biggest weakness – that it’s a driving game, and not a racing game. While there’s no denying that Gran Turismo is unbeatable when it comes to experiencing the pure pleasure that comes from owning, tweaking and trying out a huge range of beautiful cars (ie car porn), conveyor belt AI, a lack of proper collision physics or car damage, and a haphazard approach to balancing and fairness do hamper its ability to provide a tight, thrill-packed racing experience. So if you want a racing car simulator that focuses on the racing rather than on the car, what do you do? We suggest you get hold of a magic lamp, give it a rub and hope that the game you’re wishing for pops out in a puff of smoke and glitter. If that doesn’t work, just buy Race Driver: GRID.
Race Driver: GRID is the new name for TOCA Race Driver, which in turn was the new name for TOCA Touring Cars. TOCA Touring Cars was a hardcore motorsport game for hardcore motorsport fans who also happened to be hardcore gamers. It was an excellent but narrow, inaccessible title that was, in many ways, even more realistic than Gran Turismo. During the PS2 era, TOCA Touring Cars became TOCA Race Driver, which tried to bring the series to a wider audience by toning down the simulation, adding story and characters, and including a much wider range of competition types. While the core gameplay remained very solid, the overall package offered by each of the three TOCA Race Driver titles never felt quite right. The story bits felt out of place and while the amount of variety on offer was welcome, none of it ever felt very substantial. Playing a TOCA Race Driver could feel rather like playing a collection of different demos. They didn’t quite hold together.
Now that a new generation of gaming hardware is upon us, Codemasters has seen fit to rebrand its on-road racing franchise once again. But there’s more to this than a change of name. The Race Driver formula has been reworked and this time, we reckon Codies might just have got it spot-on. It’s as if the design team have drawn up two big lists, with everything that makes motorsport fun and exciting on one list, and everything that drags it out and makes it a bit boring and annoying on the other. Everything on the first list has been crammed into Race Driver: GRID, and everything on the second list has been weeded out and put in a big imaginary compost heap behind the Codemasters office. It’s a simple formula and it’s a formula that works. You’re just left wondering why no one thought of it before.
The best illustration of Race Driver: GRID’s refreshing approach to the racing genre is its Flashback system (see ‘Can I Get A Rewind?’ boxout). We all know that crashes are, for better or worse, probably the most exciting thing about motorsport – certainly in the eyes of non-fans, anyway. But if you’ve played a racing game or two before, you’ll know that crashes can also be the most frustrating, agonising, tear-inducing thing ever, especially when they happen on a final lap. The Flashback system allows the best of both worlds. The crashes still happen, in all their smoky, debris-scattering glory, but they needn’t mean an abrupt end to your hopes of winning a race. Of course, if you think the whole Flashback idea sounds a bit wussy, you can play in Pro mode, which removes the options to use Flashback or even to restart the whole race. It’s much tougher this way, but you will earn more Reputation points, which are used to unlock higher tiers of competition.
This is one of several ways in which Race Driver: GRID demonstrates its understanding that not everyone has the same idea of what is and isn’t fun, and there are numerous different ways to adjust the difficulty, all of which have some impact on your Reputation earnings. With all the options set to their simplest, easiest levels Race Driver: GRID plays a little like Need For Speed, but turn all the assists off and ramp up the difficulty and you’ll be reminded of the TOCA games of old. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to find a halfway-house combination of settings to suit your own particular style.
So, while the formula seems to be bang on the money this time, the execution of that formula falls just a little short of greatness. There are a few niggles here and there, like an off-putting from-behind camera that feels like it’s on elastic, and the whole thing still feels just a little on the lightweight side. While the GRID World mode, in which you manage and drive for your own racing team on a season-byseason basis, gives the game some much-needed focus and substance, you’ll still sometimes feel like you’re flitting about a lot, and never really getting your teeth into what you’re doing.