A Look Back At Race Driver: GRID
Released back in 2008 by the legends of racing games, Codemasters, Race Driver: GRID set the bar for the genre this generation. Despite this fact GRID is a bit of a weird beast, though commercially it was a success shifting just shy of two million units not to mention its critical success, batting an average of 87 on Metacritic, it was always hard to find anybody who ever played it.
When you did find somebody who had though, be prepared for a very long conversation featuring lots of “oh my gods” and “it does this thing where…” type of sentences it is one of those games that is so good and loved so much by anybody who plays it that it’s quite hard to put into words and trying to get somebody who hadn’t played it to play it was easier if you shouted “just play the damn game” before throwing your copy at them.
So what was it that made it so special? Well, if you’re one of those shallow pixel counting gamers the first thing you’ll notice is how pretty it is, and despite its age it is one of the best if not the best looking racing game this generation. It carries its own art style with a much softer and warmer colour palette compared to its cleaner and sharper-cut competitors. The car models are spot on and the impact damage is second to none, with every knock and scratch taking its toll on your ride in the build up to that ultimate pay off when you stack it into a tire wall or the corner of the barrier on the inside edge of the chicane. Treating you to a beautiful flash bang of an explosion with body work and tires flying out across the track.
While it can be argued that it’s not a simulation racer, it’s not what you’d call and arcade game either. It’s best to think of GRID as more of a racing experience. The cars handle exactly how you think they would, in a way that you want them to, and anybody who’s a car nut will know that the Dodge Viper will be a bit tail happy while the Aston Martin DBR9 will be much more precise around the corners, GRID is no racing simulator but the 12 year old kid in you knows how he wants these cars to handle and Codemasters nailed that feeling perfectly. Couple that with the added screen effects when you take a knock, the way the other cars on the track behave and that crunch you get after landing your car after a tiny bit of air all make GRID really feel like you’re racing.
…the 12 year old kid in you knows how he wants these cars to handle and Codemasters nailed that feeling perfectly.
Outside of the theatre of the track, GRID offers a whole management side to the racing genre that sadly hasn’t been recreated since in any other racing game. It wasn’t overly in-depth or too simple, it nailed the balance just right between the time you needed to spend in the garage before getting you back to the track. In the garage the cars didn’t take any messing with, they’ve been set up perfectly by the guys and girls at Codemasters and any messing around on our part would have just added more depth than necessary that just ends up distracting you from the main point of the game – the race.
The garage was much more about managing your team than anything else; your chosen paint job reflected your team across all of the games different race disciplines. Your colour scheme and design would fit any car in your garage perfectly and you’d find yourself tweaking it once every race season or when you felt like it. It was a breeze to do and saved the changes garage-wide. It also behaved the same when adding new sponsors to your car when they become available to you. These sponsors were more than just stickers on your car, each one carried its own special bonuses for finishing in certain positions; finishing without taking damage, clean racing and so on. The easier criteria wouldn’t be the highest payer but would be the most regular payer, while the big bucks generated from say a podium finish and clean race some sponsors offered could from time to time be worth the gamble.
GRID was very much a game of firsts; it was the first racer to to make me care, like it had a story but without ramming it down your throat. It was your typical rags to riches story where you’re given a taste of the big leagues at the start, racing for other teams before setting off your own and working your way up the tiers, competing against the somehow evil Ravenwest that just become your rivals ‘somehow’. At least they were for me, every time I saw their name on the starting grid I’d “grrrrrrrrr” at the screen. GRID has one of those ‘less is more’ stories that may have only existed in my head, but I like to think anybody who played it walked away with a similar experience.
Then there was the big thing, GRID’s Legacy if you will and one its not often credited with… The Flashback. Pretty much every racing game since GRID has featured the ability to hit a button and rewind the last 30 or so seconds after totaling your car, letting you watch the sheer awesomeness of your crash in reverse… letting you watch as piece by piece your car puts itself back together. Even though games since GRID have tried to emulate that moment of awe, it never quite feels the same.
GRID had something very special about it. It pulled off the perfect balancing act of events you loved and ones you didn’t, time on the track and time in the garage. GRID never felt like you were grinding away, it felt like wasted time well spent and for a few hours a day created a real sense of accomplishment. GRID is one of a very few special games in existence that has that something special about them: Race Driver: GRID has soul.