GRID Autosport was posed as a return to form by developer Codemasters – and while it certainly is true that the vehicle handling is more realistic than ever, a sense of personality has been lost in that transition. Mix this in with some questionable A.I. that hinders singleplayer progress, and you have a game that feels like some of the smaller parts are working against an otherwise well-made whole.
Autosport is all about variety. Over your time with the title you’ll take part in a multitude of ‘Disciplines’. These include different racing styles, all utilising different cars and driving tactics. For one stretch of time you’ll be reaching dizzying speeds with open-wheel cars, the next you’ll be drifting around tight loops in modified Japanese cars. The variation is welcome, and helps keep the gameplay fresh.
The singleplayer is split into seasons. You’ll choose a specific discipline for that season, and then race across multiple tracks. When you sign up you’ll be approached by different teams to race under their banner and gain XP. Each team has their own target goals for a season, with loftier goals appropriately netting more XP. The sponsorship mechanics from GRID 2 are also re-tooled, with teams inherently carrying minor sponsor goals – most of which you’ll achieved without really having to aim for them.
Some of the disciplines rely too heavily on the A.I. to progress. The ‘Endurance’ discipline sees you racing for long stretches of time, dealing with tire degradation. You may be coming first for the entirety of the race, watching your tire condition, when suddenly you’re barrelled into by three other competitors like you’re in a destruction derby at Waikaraka Park. Seeing your 1st place position rapidly devolve into 16th is frustrating, and often irreparable if you’ve used all your flashbacks (the ability to turn back time a couple of seconds) – leaving you to either finish the race with a low team score for the season, or redo all that work.
Team A.I. can also negatively impact your progression. During a race, you can order your teammate into different states – to either race defensively, or try and push for positions. This is an interesting idea on paper, and seems like it would add a layer of strategy to the races. However, regardless of which option you choose, they will always underperform. It feels like a waste of time to come first across multiple events, when you have a computer teammate dragging down your teams overall score for a season.
Multiplayer in GRID Autosport is probably better than the singleplayer, simply because it doesn’t have the A.I. slowing down the progression. You’ll accrue XP and cash for participating in races, which can be spent on buying new cars, and then fully kitting them out (adding decals, changing colour, adding sponsor logos). Dropping in-and-out of matches is seamless, and setting up custom events is painless. The game also assigns aggression ratings next to player names, so if you’re the type of player that doesn’t care for the regular bumper car affair that most online matches degrade into, you know who to avoid.
There are a multitude of courses, all in different locations; tight streets in Paris and San Francisco, to well-known raceways. All the tracks are beautifully rendered, and complement the already crisp models and textures (and the PC version comes with a 4K texture pack, if you have a rig that’s up to the challenge). The sound design adds a real weight to the racing – hearing your tires squeal around a tight corner, or the suspension jostling up and down on a rough road is an aural treat.
It seems that striving for deeper simulation, however, has stripped out what little personality the prior GRID games had. Instead of the workshop/garage acting as your hub (as was the case in GRID 1 and 2), you’re tabbing between crisp, logically consistent menus, all while a very pleasant sounding British lady talks to you over lounge music. This is fine, but it all manages to feel like you’re on a sterile car showroom floor, and seems a little at odds with some of the games more down-to-earth disciplines.
Thankfully, the driving manages to pull the majority of the weight in GRID Autosport. Each car has its own mechanical characteristics, and you feel them immediately. Things like oversteer and understeer are very real forces at work here, and hitting the apex of a turn at the wrong speed will often end in tragedy. The tuning system that accompanies this is deceptively easy, and allows for extensive control over the myriad of Newton’s laws that conspire against you. Variables like brake bias, differential, gear ratios, and ride height are all presented as sliders, with the ends representing different extremes. The system is simple and elegant, graphically showing that favouring one end of a spectrum means giving something else up.
The driving in GRID Autosport is fantastic, and certainly more in-line with Codemaster’s (and the fan’s) vision of what their series should be. While the singleplayer A.I. detracts from the overall experience, and the lack of personality is disappointing, these are all just minor issues that orbit a game with a solid foundation.