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Friday, July 18, 2008

Game Review:GRID

The closest you can get to an actual racing experience.



The Good:
Impressive interface * Strong visuals * Realistic damage system * There is a replay camera * Flashback option available * Considerable diversity of game modes * Total control of your race team * Personalization of name for audio cues and instructions * Long career mode * Solid multiplayer

The Bad:
Replays cannot be saved * Inconsistent audio cues and instructions * Only 45 cars * No tweaking of cars

2007’s Colin McRae DiRT delivered an awesome racing experience of fantastic proportions, blending a wide selection of vehicles that range from trucks, ATVs to race cars with a visual engine so impressive that the game completely immerses you in it. Coupled with a realistic damage system and one of the sleekest interfaces ever to grace the screen, DiRT was definitely one of last year’s better, if not best, racing games. Now, the development team behind DiRT has returned – and with a paroxysm of optimism and creativity, created yet another winner in GRID.

From the get-go, the first sign of the team’s impeccable sense of design seeps in. The sleek 3D interface from DiRT has been given an encore – nothing ever stays stagnant in the interface. For instance, when you are accessing the different options on the interface, there would be passer-bys strolling along and admiring your cars from time to time. Even the loading screen has been dedicated similar amounts of attention and clicking on an option has been made to feel like you are transiting into another world rather than merely executing an action for the sake of it.

GRID’s unique visual design extends into the gameplay. Built around an enhanced version of DiRT’s already-unmatched visual engine, the peripheries of the tracks are dominated by lush sceneries faithfully recreated to mirror their real-life counterparts. Lighting and water effects are all equally stunning. It’s quite a pity that this is a racing game, so you will pretty much speed past everything without noticing much.

But what’s certain not to escape your attention is the ever realistic damage system, which has been provided with a significant upgrade from DiRT. There is a wider variety of damages that can occur to your cars – doors swoosh out, sparks fly as either side of a bumper falls off and gets dragged on the tarmac, wheels roll out, bonnets get smashed off entirely – and all these are done in a style so immaculate that you would want to watch your car crash over and over again. And that IS possible, all thanks to GRID’s replay camera (accessible at any point in the race and after the race), which offers a considerable amount of views: cinematic, third-person close-up, third-person pull-out, bonnet, bumper, and cockpit, of which the later shows the driver’s hands on the steering wheel, as well as on the gear stick. The only gripe I have about the replay camera is that you cannot save your replays; the moment you exit the race, the replay is gone, which means that you can’t share your driving skills nor your spectacular crash-outs with anyone online.

Complementing the replay camera is the new flashback option (accessible only via replay), which gives the opportunity to rewind the race and start again from a desired point of time, much like in Full Auto. This is certainly a welcomed feature, especially for gamers like me who always have the propensity to screw up during the last lap and the need to replay the entire race because of that one mistake. For others who want more challenging races, there is also the option of disabling the flashback feature.

When it comes to the actual racing experience, GRID is just as competent. In fact, this game is the closest you can get to the real thing – everything seen and heard in real-life happens here. For a start, GRID offers a considerable diversity of game modes, namely freestyle drift, drift GP, downhill drift, touge, midnight touge (where there are civilian vehicles) and Le Mans 24 Hour Endurance races among your typical ones like the standard race (up to 19 other opponents) and time trial modes. The career mode starts rather extemporaneously (and harshly), with the game thrusting you straight into your first race without any prior tutorials – no questions asked: just race until you have enough finances to start your own race team.

And when you arrive at that stage, the game gives you total control of your team – you design the look of your team cars, you hire and fire teammates and you choose your sponsors. While you won’t be seeing design customization options that are as deep as those in Forza Motorsports 2, you can mix and match tons of pre-designed patterns and elements to your liking. Teammates are useful because they can win races and fill your team’s coffers more rapidly. There are also 7 dedicated sponsor slots and as you win more races, there would be increased sponsorship offers – each of them offers varying bonuses, so choosing 7 of them is already creative thinking in process. As mentioned, this game is the closest you can get to the real thing, so even if you finish last in a race, there’s still money to be earned – but of course, if you want to maximize profits, you wouldn’t want to be aiming for a mere finish every time. A tinge of realism is further highlighted in the ability to take up driver offers and participate in races for other teams to earn more money.

The audio cues and instructions that your partner reads out to you when your are driving from DiRT are also back. This time around, though, there is a huge list of first names you can choose from to personalize things a little on the audio side. For instance, if you choose Aaron, the game will acknowledge you by the name of Aaron whenever you enter your garage and when audio cues and instructions are read out to you in the midst of a race. That is unequivocally a nice touch, albeit a small one. The game does its best to praise you whenever you are leading the race and encourages you when you are lagging behind the pack. Warnings are voiced as well. Say, if someone ahead spins out, you would be advised accordingly. However, I found that the warnings came either a tad too late or were inaccurate at times. Warnings of someone crashing or spinning out never materialize for quite a number of times.

The game itself is long by racing standards. Featuring racing regions USA, Europe and Japan, each with a rather large number of races to go through, GRID will last you for quite a while. Completing races will net you reputation points, cash, and trophies, all of which are required for progressing into the upper tiers of the career mode. After the offline experience has been accomplished, you can hop into the solid multiplayer component. The aforementioned supports up to 12 racers with several available race modes up for selection.

All in all, GRID is a great game, marred only by its very few shortcomings which I would expatiate on now. Surprisingly, after all that variety of vehicles experienced in DiRT, GRID comes off short in this department. On last count, the number of cars available here stands at only 45 and that’s really FEW – and this is certainly a weak design choice in the face of such fierce competition in the racing genre. You WILL feel its disadvantages the moment you select your cars for each event – at times, there is only one car that is eligible for a particular race and it hurts. But for those that are included in this game, they are some of the most recognizable car makes and their handling feels spot-on.

Technical reconfiguration (or tweaking) of cars is also suspiciously missing from GRID. Want to swop a tyre so that the fast car has a better handling or have you ever wished that you could upgrade to a better engine so that stock car can attain a higher speed? Nope, you can’t, not in GRID anyways. I am puzzled as to why this aspect was left out of the game. Perhaps the developer wanted you to focus on the racing instead of diverting your attention to tweaking your cars?

Final Comments
DiRT, version 2 – that’s GRID. Well, that isn’t necessarily a negative. In fact, both games could complement each other. DiRT was an excellent racer, and so is GRID. With the exception of this game’s very few shortcomings, GRID has everything you could ever ask from a racing game. Perhaps one of its strongest selling points is that this game is THAT realistic. Learn how to be a race driver here, learn how to manage sponsorship offers – this is the closest you can get to an actual racing experience.


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