Premature Evaluation: GRIP

Premature Evaluation is a weekly dive into the world of early access games, which Brendan has now permanently seized from the Rob Zacny in a bloodless coup. Thanks Rob! This week, he goes speeding through the future world of combat racer GRIP, frequently upside down.

GRIP is the spiritual successor to Rollcage – but also to those remote-controlled cars that were massive in the nineties, and which could not climb the ceiling no matter how hard you believed. If you haven’t heard of Rollcage, I wouldn’t be surprised. It is the forgotten son of the futuristic racer era of the late 90s and early 00s, overshadowed by its older brother, Wipeout. And who could be surprised? Wipeout had the Chemical Brothers, it had techno and ecstasy, it had that one scene in Hackers. What did Rollcage have? A set of toys that routinely malfunctioned after three weeks.

But it was also brilliant. So along came Caged Element last year with a Kickstarter and a defibrillator. The Kickstarter was later cancelled but the CPR seems to have worked, because a version of the game went up on Steam early access in April. I can tell you now it is admirably loyal to its ancestor, right down to the head-tilting sense of panic as the camera flips and your car takes to the air upside-down.

To explain the basics: this is like any other racer, except that your cars are double-sided, allowing you to continue driving if you find yourself flipping over. The tracks are all built with this in mind, allowing you to storm down the ceilings of cylindrical tunnels and veer onto curved walls in a frantic attempt to outpace the opposition. All the while you’ll be firing weapons and using powerups to get an advantage.

The first thing you’ll notice is the speed. It is nippy. It might even be a little too intense when you activate the speed boost powerups, which you’ll soon learn to save for straights and emergency resets (something I’ll explain in a minute). Such speed in racing games is often accompanied by frustration. Crashing or losing control interrupts the flow of the race and sucks all the tension and adrenaline away, creating a start-stop routine that’s like stubbing your toe on a coffee table every five steps you take through your house.

This is still a little bit true for GRIP. Bouncing off small bumps or catching on concrete corners is often enough to send you flying into the air, sometimes landing in exactly the way you wanted, sometimes not. There is some measure of control while you’re airborne but not as much as you’d expect, or as much as the game’s loading screen tips seems to think. It definitely isn’t as noticeable as, say, steering your slowly crashing car in Burnout 3’s old crash mode.

But there’s a lot done to get the flow back as quickly as possible. The rate of acceleration is high and there’s a dedicated button for “resetting” your car to the centre of the track (like I said before, this is often the time to use that speed boost powerup). The only time I became really irritated by a crash or bump was if it happened in one of the game’s narrow tunnels, in which case the camera becomes a jibbering wreck and it’s impossible to see which way is up. But the changeable sensitivity of the controls and the quick reset button made up for a lot of time. And for every swear-inducing collision there is a moment when you mistakenly launch yourself into the air only to land like a four-wheeled ballerina, perfectly aligned to the course.

And what about these courses? Well, there’s only three right now, with a couple more teased for development in the level select menu. All of these can be mirrored and/or reversed to give them some extra life. A tournament mode is still sadly missing – greyed out on the main menu – as is online racing. But there is local 2-player splitscreen – a rare and welcome old monster. There’s also a deathmatch mode against AI cars. Think Rollcage meets Destruction Derby – an arena full of pickups and small hills or ramps, inviting you to destroy everyone and be the last car standing. I mucked about in this mode for a little while but it lacked the adrenal satisfaction of the races or elimination mode, in which you have to keep yourself out of last place or die when a cyclical timer reaches zero.

For me, the stress of the races is the focus. There is very little middle ground between cars, with members of the pack staying more or less within firing distance of one or two others at least. When I turned off the “catch-up assist” option I felt things got a lot more evenly spread but that could simply have been coincidence. Whatever the case, you don’t want to collide with your opponents. The ferocious tone of the racing makes you WANT to do this but in reality these collisions often ruin the chances of everyone involved, causing both aggressor and victim to swerve uncontrollably.

It is a far better idea to stick to the weapons. These feel and look great, in an old-fashioned kind of way, especially the minigun blasts shredding apart the tyres of the person in front, making them helplessly reel to one side as shell casings rain out of your chassis. But there is a lot here you’ve seen before – mines, rockets, even a missile that fulfills the role of Mario Kart’s “blue shell”, targeting only the person in first place. There is a shield that guards your car’s rear, like a big pair of steel pants, which is a nice touch. And the effects of the EMP blast (again, think Mario Kart’s “lightning strike” pickup) are wonderful, causing your engine to shudder, your weapons to break and your entire HUD to crackle and disappear.

But these are all constants of the genre and it would be good to see something new. A “warp” pickup, say, that transfers your consciousness to the car targeted in front (and theirs to your car) or a “cloner” that creates physical decoys of your vehicle. Or, I don’t know, something. I also wish they had ripped up the clichéd “pickups” tradition and instead allowed players to customise their cars to use certain types of weapons – essentially encouraging “builds”, something that would add a kind of metagame to any future online play, and to give you something to tinker with between races. I want to get attached my machine, I want to give it a name and drag it kicking and screaming through the dust, competition after competition, plucking machinery out of the bonnet and welding new bits to the outside.

There are plans to include upgrades and customisable vehicles in the future but to what extent we don’t know. Right now there are two different types of car – the Dominator and the Dreadnought. The Dominators look lighter but seem to have better grip, while the Dreadnought looks heavier but tends to come off the ground and lose control much more often. It’s hard to tell exactly what the difference is meant to be here without any description or stats alongside but I found sticking with the lighter-looking Dominator model suited my “accelerate until you get frightened” style of racing.

The soundtrack – something that has always been the essential marinade of “future racers” – doesn’t have the heavy hitters of yesteryear, sadly. Fatboy Slim was featured on the OST of the first Rollcage, for instance, but there’s nobody with the same eye-catching popularity in GRIP’s lineup today. That’s not to say it won’t appease the deeper fans of trance and drum ‘n’ bass, just that it might lack some popular appeal.

Some of these observations might make me sound like I’m a little disappointed by GRIP. I am anything but that. It’s probably one of the most loyal remakes of any PlayStation 1 era game I have ever seen, while also eliminating some of the toe-stubbing annoyance of the original (although, not all of it – not yet). There were plenty of moments, where rockets went flying over my head, missing their mark, or I slipped through a narrow gap thanks to a last minute twitch, or I ill-advisedly shunted a foe into a narrow pipe that sent him catapulting into the lead. Each of these moments had me grinning like my 11-year-old self at the recreation – nay – the improvement of that forgotten 90s spawn. Rest assured, when the tournament and online modes are added, I will be back.

GRIP is on Steam for £11.99/$15.99. These impressions are based on build 1160122, played on 29 June 2016

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33 Comments

  1. Banks says:

    The environments and track design need a lot more character. This game should be busy and hectic, and the stages are endless tunnels and deserted valleys. Boo.

    • Idrinkjetfuelforbrekkie says:

      Since we’re still in pre-alpha, the tracks aren’t that populated yet. We’re a really small team so we’ve had to focus on the big stuff first. Rest assured, more detail and proper destruction is coming to the tracks

      • SomaCollector says:

        Hey!
        I love the game, I also loved Rollcage 1 + 2 and I’m a sucker for the soundtracks as well.
        How do you guys choose the music artists? I’d love to make a song for GRIP.
        Best regards
        a fan^^

  2. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    Does it also have the destructive environments from the original? One of the things I loved about the original was shooting a billboard out of the sky or knocking pillars out from underneath buildings and being given a speed boost whilst the whole thing exploded behind you was insane.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Speaking of 1nsane, has anyone ever done something with that 90s racer?

      • G-Lord says:

        There is a surprisingly competent sequel that has gone under the radar of most people:

        link to store.steampowered.com

      • RiptoR says:

        It seems that the guys who made the first game (Invictus) have lost the rights to the “1nsane” brand.

        There is an Insane 2 (stylised as “In2ane”) that was released 4 years ago by Targem Games. It’s a quite mediocre sequel that doesn’t even use the “tiling” maps feature that made the first game stand out. So it’s basically a dime-a-dozen budget racer.

        Invictus themselves basically disappeared from the PC scene after releasing “Cross Racing Championship”, and seem to have focused solely on developing mobile titles these last few years. They made an 1nsane-like racer a couple of years ago called “4×4 JAM (HD)” (it’s basically just a reskinned 1nsane for mobile devices), another racer called “Daytona Rush”, and several other non-racer games (Froggy Jump, Tap ‘n Slash, …).

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I still get the impulse to tap my steering wheel to shoot down the big signs on the motor way when I’m driving under them in my car, and it’s been years since I last played Rollcage. (It’s a good thing that my real car doesn’t have missiles.)

    • straycodemonkey says:

      We’ve some big plans for destructible environments – watch this space!

  3. zat0ichi says:

    Loved roll cage. Was the first game I had on PC where I could make my playstation mates jealous that the resolution was so high.

    Faithfull repro of rollcage – keep it at £12

    Solid product.

    Detailed car damage and deformable terrain and few new tracks £25

  4. ropeladder says:

    So when you flip over are you still going the same direction? Or do your wheels automatically reverse their spin? Because the tops of your tires are going the opposite way from the bottoms.

    This is really bugging me.

    • Zenicetus says:

      If “flip” means a 180 degree roll, then the tires are still spinning the right way… I think. They would only be reversed in a front-to-back flip.

      • snowgim says:

        Actually it’s the other way around. Front to back flip will keep the tires spinning the right way. For a roll flip they do need to spin in the opposite direction to keep going forwards.

      • anon459 says:

        You’ve got that backwards. Only if it flips right to left or vice-versa will the wheels be going the wrong way. Judging by what I’ve seen of the game, it looks like the wheels change direction instantly.

    • zat0ichi says:

      special quantum state wheels.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        No quantum state wheels needed… just free rolling multi directional ball bearings or those omni wheels (which would have to be angled in a flip to get the new direction)… as these cars are powered by massive rocket engines on the back, not the wheels… :P

        (Though I think there was traction in the originals, so perhaps magic flip wheels after all…)

    • straycodemonkey says:

      We implemented that with fairy dust. Of course, the wheels should instantaneously reverse spin direction when the vehicle flips. In software of course, this was simple – though I’d hate to have to build such a car in the real world.

  5. Hunchback says:

    I remember Rollcage!

  6. Baines says:

    There is some measure of control while you’re airborne but not as much as you’d expect, or as much as the game’s loading screen tips seems to think.

    From what I recall reading during development, the game automatically does mid-air corrections to try to land you relatively safely. When you try to do manual correction, you are overriding that automatic system. The idea was skilled players *would* be able to do better, but making mistakes could cause your landing to be even worse.

    I don’t know how much of that has made it into the current build…

    • straycodemonkey says:

      There’s no automatic correction, yet. It’s something Caged Element has talked about though and will be present in future releases.

  7. satan says:

    Was a lot to like about Rollcage, it really felt like you were going at those high speeds too, something not all racing games can capture.

  8. Foosnark says:

    I tried an early access version and was severely disappointed. Controls more or less didn’t work, and… I honestly don’t remember what else bothered me about it, but I went for the Steam refund.

  9. Turps says:

    Anyone remember San Francisco Rush 2049 for the Dreamcast? What a game that was, did that ever get a sequel?

    • Flit says:

      There was almost a follow up game, but it was canceled. Look up ‘hot rod rebels’.

      What a game 2049 is, though! Still my favorite ‘fun’ racing game of all time.

  10. mishagale says:

    If bringing back 90’s PS1 Psygnosis titles is a thing, can we pretty please have a remake of / spiritual successor to G-Police soon?

    • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

      Or Puggsy. I’d pay damn good money for a faithful reimagining of that game, which I consider to be one of the finest puzzle platformers ever made.

  11. BlazeHedgehog says:

    I am a very long time Rollcage veteran who always kept the PC version of Rollcage Redux installed and I found GRIP’s steering to be extremely fiddly and not very fun at all. Cars are much too heavy, you get spun around a lot, it takes too long to reset your car once you’re facing the wrong direction, etc. Very, very frustrating. More frustrating than Rollcage ever could be.

    Devs have said they’re still working on improving the driving model, though, so I’ve still got hope that GRIP will come out the other end a good game.

  12. Akakabuto says:

    I love this game already. I love the sense of speed and the feeling that you really must be on your toes if you don’t want to crash at 500 kmph. In that speed a small mistake SHOULD lead to spinning or flying. When you learn to control the car, it actually isn’t that hard if you can keep your focus. I get tremendous amount of satisfaction going really fast and nailing those curves. You just have to know when to let go of the gas (always before any bumbs etc.) and you must go in straight to jumps if you want to land straight.

    Also what I love in this game is that it really recreates those “OH WOW” moments. E.g. when you manage to slow down from 1st place to avoid the “blue shell” and 2 guys comes past you and you use your gattler to explode them in the last round and someone comes from your back and you leave a mine inwhich he then drives. Moments like that happen to me every second race.

    Everything in this game incl. physics are WIP. With all the ARKs and whatnots people seem to have forgotten the actual reason of early access, as shown here in the comments for example.

    • jezcentral says:

      Same here. I played it at an Epic-sponsored games evening, and kept going back to it. By the end of the evening, I’d bought GRIP with the magic of the Steam app, and had it downloaded to play when I got home. *

      * Alas, life doesn’t work out like a film, and when I go home, I just fell into bed as my train had been delayed.

    • Idrinkjetfuelforbrekkie says:

      Glad you like the game :)

      It is hard being in early access, as each time you release a new patch, it’s often seen as a near final product by players, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

      Regardless, we appreciate all the feedback as well the support all the players are giving us by buying during this time. It literally allows us to make this game