Codemasters’ Race Driver: Grid revolutionised the racing genre back in 2008, balancing realism with accessibility and introducing the much-copied “flashback” rewind feature. We loved last year’s long-gestating sequel, Grid 2, although it fared less well with hardcore racing fans thanks to its focus on arcade street racing. With Grid: Autosport, Codemasters aims to return to the series’ simulation roots, with a greater focus on track racing, more realistic AI and the return of the in-car camera. It’s a little too sterile at times, but thanks to realistic car handling, a great selection of disciplines and an abundance of tracks, it will certainly please the intended audience.
The Real Driving Simulator
Where Codemasters softened up Grid 2 for a more pick-uppable arcade experience, Grid: Autosport is aimed at those who prefer a more realistic race. It's a more serious game - gone is Grid 2’s story-led career mode, and now you simply choose which team you want to race with each season.
You can also tell it’s a sim from the game’s slavish dedication to stats - 78 cars, 22 locations and 100 tracks fill the Grid: Autosport disc - more than twice the number of circuits featured in Grid 2, but still a long way short of Gran Turismo 6’s 1100+ vehicles.
Autosport features both street and track racing, but the focus is on the track, with 15 real-world circuits including Brands Hatch and the Hockenheimring. The seven city circuits have been created for the game from locations such as Dubai (carried over from Grid 2) and Washington DC. While the tracks are all set in real locations, the street events themselves are not (as the one in the first Grid were) based on real-world races, which takes away from the simulation a bit. Career mode is broken down into five racing disciplines - Endurance, Touring, Tuner, Open Wheel and Street, and you need to become proficient in all five to progress. As in previous Codemasters racing games, some styles are more fun than others - we loved racing Touring cars, but the Endurance category, in which you try and minimise tyre damage over a lengthy race, made us long for a pit-stop and a Little Chef.
Codemasters says only five per cent of players used the cockpit view in its previous racing games, but that small group of players were loudly unhappy when they left it out of Grid 2, so the in-car camera is back in Grid Autosport, although its implementation looks lazy at best. There are two viewpoints to choose from - close to the dashboard, and slightly further away - and while it adds to the immersion when you’re racing, the car interiors themselves look blurry and lack details like working dials or mirrors. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the luxurious dashboards of Forza 5 on Xbox One, but in this respect Grid Autosport feels like a last-gen game; even on PC, the interiors look blurry. Dodgy dashboards aside, Autosport looks good, with the PC version delivering plenty of clarity and visual effects, even if the damage modelling is fairly basic.
Days of Thunder
With the first Grid and the TOCA series before it, Codemasters absolutely nailed the thrill of racing at 140mph+ against a pack of touring cars. That elusive feeling makes a return to Grid Autosport - everything about the racing just feels right, from the way the cars connect to the road, to the competitor AI and the sublime track design - it’s a joy to race around Grid Autosport’s tracks. The handling is less twitchy than Grid 2’s, thanks to the weightier cars, while the computer-controlled competitors provide a real challenge at the standard difficulty level. In fact, many races are tense, physically draining affairs in which fighting for first place is as difficult as maintaining it.
But while it's a superb simulation, it’s still accessible to those who don’t want to go and tinker under the bonnet. It’s certainly more forgiving than Codemasters’ own F1 series. If you’re a serious simulator nut, you’ll find that the realism level is lower than really hardcore PC racing sims like Assetto Corsa and iRacing, but we'd say Autosport strikes a very good balance.
Gone is the Hollywood sports-movie of Grid 2’s story-driven career mode, in favour of a simpler approach - you’re just a driver who has to choose which team to race with each season. But while it's less fussy, the career mode is long and often boring - you’re frequently asked to qualify ahead of races, and if you choose to skip the qualifying stage, you start at the back of the pack for the main event.
You also have to become proficient in all of the game’s various disciplines, as well as earning XP through meeting objectives such as finishing ahead of a rival or driving above a certain speed for an allotted amount of time. There’s plenty to do, it’s varied, and the career mode will last a long, long time, but it takes so long to reach the game’s main events - the Grid Championships- that you might give up before you get there.
Grid Autosport’s multiplayer mode has a lot to offer. It's almost like another career mode, but against real people. You build your own garage of cars, with progress tracked on each vehicle such as mileage and win/loss rate. You can play against up to 12 people online, and empty spaces can be filled by AI drivers. It’s also worth mentioning that the game features split-screen two-player multiplayer - still fairly rare in realistic racers.