GRID (PlayStation 3) review
"Cars simply don't handle the way they ought to. Any slight bump, any slight deviation from the road, spells disaster. Let's say you're racing along an enclosed track and one of your tires strays over the line. The second you touch dirt, you're finished. Your car cannot steer correctly at even moderate speeds when you're not completely on asphalt. You'll snake wildly in all sorts of directions—often circles—that have little or nothing to do with any buttons that you might be pressing on your controller."
Anyone who has cooked for me knows my meal time preference: pasta. Noodles and sauce are the way to my heart. I'll eat them and relish them in nearly any form except one: deli-made macaroni salad. I should love it but I don't. When it comes to video games, I have a similar quirk. I'll play almost any racing game and I'll usually have a blast, yet things go wrong when GRID enters the picture. Even though it seems just about perfect for me, the game rubs me the wrong way.
The physics system is to blame. Cars simply don't handle the way they ought to. Any slight bump, any slight deviation from the road, spells disaster. Let's say you're racing along an enclosed track and one of your tires strays over the line. The second you touch dirt, you're finished. Your car cannot steer correctly at even moderate speeds when you're not completely on asphalt. You'll snake wildly in all sorts of directions--often circles--that have little or nothing to do with any buttons that you might be pressing on your controller. Dust flies and you can't see anything. Even trying to accelerate from a dead stop results in cookies. While your competitors race by, you have to lightly tap the accelerator so that you can edge back toward the track at speeds of 2 or 3 miles per hour. It's absurd.
Another concern is your competition. Even though it often proves frustrating, Codemasters should be commended for the AI. When you round a hairpin turn and are correcting your course to avoid a ridiculously tight switchback, there's a decent chance that someone just ahead of you is faring even worse. It's not uncommon to find three or four cars in a pile-up, perhaps more. You always have to be ready to react quickly to potential disasters. Even that won't consistently save you, though, since you're generally driving at such high speeds.
This might prompt you to ask “Why not just plow through those other drivers, then?” That's a fair question, since it would work in so many other titles, but GRID plays by slightly different rules. Vehicles actually take damage and you can't ignore that. You'll see dents in your doors and tailgates that drag behind you while sparks scatter in your wake (and see the same stuff happening to the other drivers), but things go beyond that. The developers also took the time to add algorithms that alter your physics when you collide with things. If you regularly bash into railings on your left side, for example, your car may steer that way rather aggressively even when you're trying to go straight. If you smash directly into a wall at high speeds, the race ends immediately, but even gradual damage that mounts over time can be a problem since it increases the likelihood that you'll steer off-course. Except for flashbacks, this is a realistic racing game.
Flashbacks? What are those? Well, suppose you've managed most of a perfect race. You come around the corner and you're slowing crazily because it's a hairpin curve. Just as you start to pull through it, your nearest competitor tags your back bumper. You start spinning wildly as he and every other car zip past you. Smoke flies and you crash into a wall with such finality that your car is a mere crumpled heap of metal. You'd be dead in real life, but not in GRID. Simply pause the game, choose 'Instant Replay' and rewind those last few unpleasant seconds, then try it again. That's called a flashback and it might just save your day.
You can use your flashbacks whenever you like, up to a point. They work rather like the magical hourglass in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. You are permitted several saving rewinds in each race. That's the only restriction. So if you have two spectacular laps and a third one goes awry, you can fix it at a few points along the way. You just need to be quick about issuing the order to do so. If you wait too long and you're really in hot water, no amount of flashback use will save you. Being wasteful is no good, either, since you'll diminish your prize money and since a frivolous use early on might mean you can't recover from a huge disaster right near the end.
Though flashbacks really add something special to GRID--and perhaps even save it from its physics system for some people--the game would still be worth a look for racing enthusiasts even if the feature had never been implemented. That's because so many other elements are presented here in optimal form. For example, the graphics are generally astounding. The cars are detailed and some of the environments--particularly the city streets--look spectacular. Flags flap in the wind, dust and vapors cloud the air, shadows block sunlight as you race under trees and so forth. None of it is particularly original or over-the-top in a way that calls attention to itself, yet there are moments where you'll sit back and the only thing you can say is “Wow.”
Similar attention was given to details many other games would simply overlook. For example, you can customize three different color elements and several patterns for your paint job, assign your vehicle a number and even dictate where sponsor stickers go (which, by the way, affects the rewards you win for races and therefore ties seamlessly into gameplay). Some of that might seem normal by now, but the developers also let you name your driver and then match that to a large database of names. If you find a match--easy enough to do if your name is common--then the announcers will say your name out loud throughout the various events. I can't remember any other game actually addressing me so informally. That's the sort of careful attention to detail that you'll find all over the place.
GRID ultimately becomes one of those games that makes a person ask “What if?” a lot. What if the physics system and controls didn't annoy me so much? What if I could drive my vehicle through the spectacular environments, participate in the drift competitions and enjoy so many of the finer points without the ever-present concern that I would crash and burn one time too many? The right answers to those queries would make GRID my favorite racing game. Unfortunately, such musings don't alter reality, and so the game remains forever my digital macaroni salad.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 25, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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