The 12 Games Of Christmas: GRID

By RPS on December 2nd, 2008 at 2:38 pm.

We’re not content with just one high-concept ultromegoXmasfeature this year, oh no. As well as a wry look at the year that was, we’ve also distilled the many, many games we enjoyed over the course of 2008 into a mere 12. Why? Because 12 is a Christmassy number, dummkopf. It does mean there have been sacrifices. We mourn for the games that did not make the cut, and will never forget them. Somehow, though, we’ve managed to agree on this shortlist. So, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we’ll be doing our Best 2008 Ever thingy, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays it’s long-form natters about our fave games. Exciting!

Let’s get on with it, then. Whatever could be beneath that festive snowfall? For the first game of Christmas, my true blog gave to me…


…a motorcar on a raaaaacetrack.

It’s GRID! Or Race Driver GRID. Or TOCA Race Driver GRID. God only knows – it seems to have a different name in every country. Whatever, it’s Codemaster’s latest, smartest rebranding and rethinking of its oft-rebranded and rethought trackracer, and we reckon it’s one of the best car games we’ve ever clapped our tired, myopic eyes on. Here’s the jury’s thoughts:

Pretty, eh? Yeah, but cars are easy

Alec:

I was reviewing the latest Need For Speed the other day – can’t even remember its subtitle, the damned things sound so similar now – and my hand kept straying towards a control that wasn’t there. It was the instant replay button from GRID, a function that my gaming muscle memory had adopted it entirely. I was genuinely thrown that I couldn’t rewind from some damn-fool collision. Didn’t all racing games have that? Hadn’t they always? Actually, no. GRID just tricked me into thinking they had.

That’s GRID’s greatest strength. It feels like the archetypal racing game – it’s a game that’s so close to what we think racing games are but almost none other is in practice. It is not new in any definable way: it is simply better. I’m given to understand that many purist simheads turn their imperious noses up at it, but for everyone else it falls squarely into the perfect centre bracket of arcade and authentic. Glanced at through the adrenalised eye rather than inspected closely with a scientific one, it seems and feels believable enough: it requires just enough foresight and doles out just enough punishment. At the same time, it allows seat-of-the-pants winging it. The best of both worlds, and it feels entirely natural: a racing game you’re instantly familiar with, though you’ve never played it before.

Most of all, it’s celebratory. Even the best racing games are so dry and soulless, but this one realises that starring cold metal doesn’t mean it can’t have a warm heart. From the stupid nicknames you can tell the game to call you (sexy menu-lady greeting me with a “Hello, Spanky”, barely able to stifle the giggle in her voice, is definitely one of my gaming moments of the year) to the giant, floaty 3D metal letters spelling out your name and WINNER above your car at the end of the race, GRID really wants to make you feel good.

Going back to that instant replay button – it’s not there as a cheat, and restricting to five or less uses per race makes that impossible anyway. It’s also there to make you feel good. It’s there so the game can say “aw, these things happen. G’wan, have another crack at it” and rub your hair affectionately, rather than taking the usual approach of bellowing that you’re a loser and a disappointment and effectively kicking you out of the race.

GRID’s one of those games I’ve gone back to throughout the year. It doesn’t do anything special: it’s just doing it right. In an age when most other racing games are morosely painting themselves into a shrinking corner, GRID successfully identifies why we wanted to play these things in the first place.

Its drift challenges are a waste of time, mind.

Jim:

It’s a smidgeon odd that the game that’s first up on our list of love for 2008 is a racing game. RPS isn’t much of a racing community, but there are a few exceptions that make us relish the hurtling faster-faster of the petrolhead. GRID worked for me not simply because of the lavish presentation, but because it was the first time in many years I’d really bothered to learn the drift and braking-distance of a series of tracks, and then found myself honing laptimes. It did speed and bombast that all the best racing games seem to deliver, and allowed me to race so close to track that got grit in my eye.

This is a beast of a racing game, and I was glad to not just be playing it on my 360: I am a deskbound beast. Anyway, without the crucial solidity of the game this kind of activity would have been unbearable, but the original hi-score table of racing time trials suddenly gripped me, and I spent hours at the wheel.

And I literally mean wheel, as this was one of the few times my expensive Logitech racing wheel set up has ever seen any use. It’s a shocking experience on a mouse and keyboard, fine on a decent gamepad, and a kind of nerdy hysteria when faced with the full racing set up. It was one of those games where I’d mastered a couple of skills (and a couple of cars) and loved the incremental achievement of getting better and better in particular races.

The one nasty experience I did have with the game was installing the Steam version for our little LAN party in the summer and finding it didn’t work with my then-graphics card. Ah, but such is PC gaming.
GRID is a masterwork of electronic racing (actually my second favourite racing game of 2008, after Burnout Paradise, which comes out on PC after Christmas) and I hope that Codies’ ambitious racing games next year are up to the same kind of challenge. (Particularly FUEL.)

Colin McRae’s Nuremberg Rally for 2009, anyone? [What? - Ed]

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48 Comments »

  1. The Shed says:

    I only played the demo on the 360; but it was so crisp, fast, and responsive, it was hard not to love it. Thanks for reminding me to buy. Very deserving of it’s place in this list, as far as we’ve seen so far

  2. Thirith says:

    Ah, another reason to go and buy the game… eventually. I’m still busy with [i]DIRT[/i] (which I like a lot), and I must say that the [i]GRID[/i] demo kicked my ass all the way to Baltimore and back. By which I mean that, XBox360 gamepad or not, I sucked at it…

  3. cHeal says:

    Never played it but I was of the persuasion it was pretty arcadey so I decided to do without. Might pick it up on budget but I don’t get much time as it is to play the games I have and I’m more of a sim head anyways so while I quite like some arcade racers (TDU and NFS underground) they don’t really provide the longevity and challenge of a proper Sim.

    Looks pretty though.

  4. Ragnar says:

    The link under “one” in the first sentence seem to be empty. Was that intentional?

  5. Mr Pink says:

    I normally hate racing games, but won this one in a PCG competition so I thought I’d give it a go. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Alec’s right about the instant replay thing, it just removes the frustration that normally plagues racing games. The only other driving game I’ve played that does this is Burnout, which allows you to revel in your crash rather than curse it.

  6. Calabi says:

    Yep is a good game. I have the disc permanently stuck in my drive(and thats not because its broke).

    Drifting is never a waste of time, why get there in a straight line, when you can do it sideways.

  7. AndrewC says:

    I thought the ever so slightly floaty handling that the hardcore were complaining about made the difficult bits at the end frustrating rather than challenging. But this is a criticism that only comes from greedily spending a couple of dozen hours on it beforehand, and so has little teeth.

  8. derFeef says:

    I love racing games, but I HATE Grid – thats odd. Clumsy controls, arcadeish and too much bloooooooooooom.

  9. dozer1986 says:

    It’s the endless opportunity to legitimately grief in the stock-car multiplayer races which amuses me! Crash-barriers painstakingly shunted into the racing line, anyone?

  10. Switch625 says:

    I bought GRID and my first ever racing wheel at the same time, and the combination was phenomenal. Thoroughly enjoyed playing it and was pleasantly surprised that it runs so well on my socket-939 crippled rig. It looks gooorgeous!

    I think it hits that line perfectly between “realism” and “arcade fun” in a way that, previously, only Gran Turismo 2 on the Playstation did for me. Anyone remember the GT2 disc that supposedly smelled like tyre rubber? What a bizarre marketing idea that was…

    (the current page ads are much, much improved on those vile online poker flash atrocities, by the way. I was considering re-enabling adblock for RPS so I’m glad they’ve gone away so I don’t have to)

  11. StenL says:

    I love the fact that you can actually play this with a keyboard, like PC games are supposed to be played. Just for that, it gets my vote for Car Game Of the Ever.

  12. Tom Armitage says:

    I’ve always explained GRID’s fine line between “realism” and “arcade fun” as being “cinematic”. Because that’s what it is: not an accurate simulation, it instead distills racing to its core components. You only need three laps if those three laps are consistently thrilling. And they are – the AI always gives a great race for your money, I found. Similarly, the genius of distilling the 24 hour races into 24 minutes – day/night cycle and all – is just perfect; it’s still totally nervewracking, but in a representative, rather than realistic fashion.

    And heck, the entire thing begins with a pre-title-sequence race, before you’re dropped into the career proper. It’s as if Tony Scott got his hands on a racing game and threw out everything unnecessary to delivering the thrill of racing. The replay cameras only help with this.

    (Also: you’re right that the drift races are bobbins, but the open-wheel stuff – Formula 3 and up – is genuine heart-in-mouth stuff).

  13. Rob Zacny says:

    Does this mean that I should take a break from my SimBin collection (right now I’m working through GTR 2 and Race 07, and that’s an awful lot of racing on my plate. Is GRID special enough to put those on hold for a bit?

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Codemasters using the GRID engine for an upcoming F1-licensed game? Oh, the future looks very bright indeed!

  14. nakke says:

    I utterly despise GRiD. Well, mainly its driving model. The graphics are phenomenal, and almost make up for the piss poor driving. If only simulators could have as good graphics.

    Always felt like I was driving a boat in GRiD. Oh well, at least I can feel good about not agreeing with everything my gods RPS says.

  15. Tim E says:

    The first time I played GRID online was on an F1 track. I was at the back of the grid. I clearly remember passing a car embedded in a wall, a good ten feet above the track level. I lolled.

  16. Pags says:

    Anyone ever rewind time in GRID just so they can crash right back into that bastard who cut you off?

  17. Jocho says:

    RPS, “…a motorcar on a raaaaacetrack.” doesn’t rhyme with “Christmas, my true blog gave to me…” at all! :P

    That tells us you don’t have any titles ending with an “e” on the list this year! hah-Ha!

  18. the affront says:

    You better not forget Storm of Zehir, even if it’s an addon :P

    Anyway, I agree with GRID. Even I as a total racing game abstainer could enjoy it – which says a lot.

  19. Dominic White says:

    Going to join the chorus and say that while I’m not exactly a racing enthusiast, GRiD sucked me in good and proper. Great presentation, cinematic style, pseudo-narrative (having your character referred to by name/nickname was a great idea) and really good replay ‘lives’ feature made it all work so very nicely.

  20. Putter says:

    I’ve been on the fence on this one. It seems amazing, and right up my alley. I rarely get enough value out of arcade racers (save Trackmania and the NFS3 and 4) and GTR2 was way too much to handle. I couldn’t even beat the tutorials it was so hard (I got stuck in a hairpin turn challenge). Since you claim this is right down the middle it seems like I might want it, but I’m just wondering whether it’s worth the time investment when I have so many games and so little time, and I’m not that into racers.

  21. GregP says:

    Hearing you guys gush over GRID makes me wonder if the demo I’ve tried three times now (just to convince myself) is the same game as the one you’re talking about. Sure it’s gorgeous, but MAN the controls are ridiculously annoying – no ability to change sensitivities, such that using my Xbox360 controller means a change of a millimeter in throw pushes me right off the road. The cars drive like they’re on rails until a very slight movement of the analog stick pops you off the rails and goes way too far. After trying to tweak the controls, combing forums, etc., I just gave up.

  22. darthpugwash says:

    I’ve seen this pegged as a cross between an arcade racer and a sim, but it really is much more an arcade game than a realistic one imho. It doesn’t feature qualifying rounds, wet weather racing, pit stops or any kind of set up options, and the driving model is very floaty. It is good fun though, especially the rewind feature which is sheer genius.

  23. Iain says:

    GRID might be the best-looking racing game on the PC, but GTR Evolution has the best handling model. And in the battle between looks and physics, racing geeks (should) always go for physics. The GTR engine’s looking a little ropey now, but it’s still got the best car and track modelling in the business. The version of the Nurburgring Nordschliefe they added for GTR Evolution is an absolute peach.

  24. terry says:

    Re: RPS’s shocking use of the 12 day advent calendar – it is not only a lower number enabling hardworked reviewers (hrrrm) to indulge in more festivities (possibly for an RPS Legless Broadcast) but it also strikes me that 12 is not as much as 25 which is convenient because there have been less than 25 memorable games this year (I come up with 17). However, I will temper my disappointment with mild barbs about selling out to the man and photographs of Egypt.

    Grid? I never played it due to the frankly baffling system requirements. And keyboards. Definitely keyboards.

  25. Monchberter says:

    Sheer joy. It’s the gaming equivalent of a big line of coke (or for more innocent readers, a Michael Bay film). It makes you act and feel like a complete bastard but you don’t care anyway. Pushing your way to the front, guiding that rival into a insanely concrete-like tyre pile ensuring their destruction, and then that strange familiar feeling of emptiness at the shallowness of it all that makes you put it down again, only to fall in love again for another ten min ‘hit’ when the mood takes you.

  26. I don't understand this comment system says:

    It’s a shocking experience on a mouse and keyboard

    Shocking in a good way or bad?

  27. I don't understand this comment system says:

    Oh how I miss you edit button.

    begin italics, end italics! See I can do it right, just give me another chance!

  28. jalf says:

    12 is christmassy? 24 is TWICE as christmassy as 12. At least! :D

  29. shout says:

    How predictable are you: L4D, Sins, Fallout 3, FC2, Kings Bounty, WAR, Goo, GTA4, Trials 2, Spore and Eve (if you can count that as 2008).

    I also thought possibly WoW-Lich or Mass Effect’s 2008 PC port.

  30. shout says:

    Oh, and Prince of Persia could also be a surprise entry.

  31. DigitalSignalX says:

    Shocking as in bad. It’s surprising how flight games (most recently imho Dark Horizon) have adapted very well to either flight stick OR mouse controls, but racing games have yet to truly integrate how to steer with a mouse. The steering in Crysis 2 was superb with the mouse and KB, but obviously this was not a racing game.

  32. Calabi says:

    Good tactic there shout, try and manipulate them into coming up with something other, than the games they liked.

    That was sarcasm by the way.

  33. Dreamhacker says:

    This content might just leave us content!

  34. Heliocentric says:

    This game makes me want a very expensive simulator class racing wheel i saw. Not for realism but for experience. Racing games need rewind, grid knows it trackmania knows it. I don’t want to learn the games physics model i want to race, also be a bastard and cause multicar pile ups. I also like the japan mountain races. They feel like jousts or some other deeply personal contest.

  35. Turin Turambar says:

    GRID is one of my favorites driving games. Fun as an arcade, with the right amount of work needed to control the car and win the race. Excellent graphics and perfomance, good AI capable of having mistakes, variety of tracks and modes, amazing replays, and the rewind feature.

  36. caesarbear says:

    I’m really surprised by how many people think that GRID is anything but a full on arcade racer. It doesn’t have the cheesy nonsense of most other arcade racers and instead focuses on beautiful car porn, but there’s certainly no “balance” between arcade and sim with GRID. It’s physics and handling are from the early 90s. It’s a grand success and could be the only arcade driver you need, perhaps mostly because the new NFS games suck horribly, but it’s got little to do with actual automotive racing.

  37. Chris R says:

    Crysis.. 2? Zuh??

    Do you mean Crysis: Warhead? I wasn’t too impressed with the driving in that game, but i wasn’t paying attention… what made it so great?

  38. shout says:

    Not trying to manipulate anyone, just want to be able to go “I knew it!” 11 times. Is it wrong to want to make a game out of a site about games?

    Love your sense of humour! That was sarcasm by the way.

  39. malkav11 says:

    I have only ever liked the Burnout games, racing-wise, of the ones I’ve tried. So I never know if I should bother trying things like GRID. Or Tom Chick’s latest favorite, Midnight Club LA. (Though the latter seems like a good bet if only because I’ve yet to not like a Rockstar game.)

  40. DigitalSignalX says:

    What I remember from crysis warhead was that you did not end up aiming the front end of the vehicle so much as you ended up turning the front tires left and right, and the physics took over and did the rest, creating realistic under or over-steer based on speed, terrain, etc. It had a much more.. visceral feel then most driving games I’ve tried. Yet it was just a tiny stupid part actual game.

  41. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @malkav11
    you should definatly give grid a go, bt i’d give midnight club a miss :/

  42. Heliocentric says:

    The game has a demo, everyone should try it. Keyboard controls are hand cramp inducing but a 360 pad or a cheap wheel produces much better results both in rsi testing and on the track

  43. silencer says:

    I want a hybrid of GRID’s pretty graphics engine (minus the bloom) with GTR Evolution’s physics/track modelling.

    Iain is right. The Nürburgring Nordschleife in GTR Evolution is peach, even though I can’t seem to get the carousels right.

  44. Everquest Platinum says:

    I’ll give midnight club a miss.

  45. Nallen says:

    GRID is great. Something neither of you mentioned was the replays. The thumping music is too much for every race of a session and the requirement that you must have 2Gb free on your C: drive is annoying, but at their best the replays in GRID are genuinely exciting.

    PS Rewind is cheating ;)

  46. V says:

    Bleh, GRID was crap compared to DiRT (even with all the bugs) and the CMR series that came before. Rally racing is far more fun than street racing, especially when it comes to retarded AI (or other players) who just ram into you. The multiplayer in GRID was simply horrendous.

    I’m really glad that they decided on making DiRT 2 as opposed to GRID 2.

  47. Nitre says:

    Personally, i really enjoyed the game. Not stupidly physicsy, but not idiotic like the recent games in the NFS series. Plus, for £15 i can’t complain.

  48. Hypocee says:

    GRID’s awesome. In general I do not like Codemasters games – I don’t bear any ill will, try most of them, but there’s something at Codies that makes soulless games for me. This is bursting with soul and personality. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned much is that it’s the first videogame since Road Rash to make AI drivers truly feel fallible to me. Burnout comes close when you block opponents into traffic, but this actually reaches the same Nelson-laugh threshold as those golden Road Rash moments where a guy winding up to kick you got twatted by a truck you’d seen approaching for three seconds. I’m sure the field is still rubber-banded, but the distribution and execution of mistakes on your competitors’ parts is uncannily immersive.

    I wonder how many people complaining about the steering have the misimplemented traction control computer aid turned on (as it is by default). I’m sure there are still holes in the physics and it’s a legitimate failure of communication with the user, but if the cars feel twitchy/railed and boatlike it may be the interface’s fault rather than the car’s or its world’s.

    There is at least one entire screen of joystick sensitivity settings on the PC – it’s full of exciting curves and exponents and zones and profiles. Sadly, at least OOTB there are controls you aren’t allowed to map to joystick buttons so you have to use a keyboard emulator if you want to sit back with a pad.

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