So, you’re on the GRID, ready to race and waiting for the lights to go out. You cycle through the camera angles to get to cockpit view, and then… wait a moment, where is it?
THE RACE BEGINS – THE RETURN OF COCKPIT VIEW
That’s exactly the problem with cockpit view – it’s there, but it isn’t. If you’re new to racing games and can’t understand the importance of a cockpit view to a motorsport fan, think about this – would you rather ‘chase’ a racing car, or be the one inside it? Look no further than the original Race Driver GRID (circa 2007), where you had a fully working (albeit, simplistic) cockpit view; the same can be said for ToCA Race Driver.
With the announcement of GRID 2, which deviated from the previous games ToCA Race Driver 3 and Race Driver GRID (which were set around the world of circuit-based motorsports) towards street racing in exotic locations, somebody in the Codemasters office obviously woke up on the wrong side of the bed on the day they claimed that there would be “no cockpit view” in the upcoming GRID 2, based on their own research and knowledge that gamers mostly use chase view (excuse me, what gamers would they be? Although, no cockpit view in GRID 2 – sounds ironically poetic?).
Big mistake – the reaction from GRID fans online showed that there was indeed a demand for the cockpit view, despite Codemasters’ claims that most of us just settle for chase view. Would that happen to be the entire clan of Need for Speed and arcade gamers? (Don’t get me wrong, I love OutRun, and found the thrill of racing while running away from the cops truly enjoyable in the recent NFS Most Wanted reboot. But was this what Codemasters meant?).
Therefore, when Codemasters announced GRID Autosport, they also heavily emphasised the “Return of Cockpit View”. But does it live up to expectations?
The short and blunt answer: No… it does not.
What you actually get, when cycling through the different camera views, is a blurred or blackened shot of what should be the cockpit view. In the open wheel category (see image above), it’s not too bad – you still get the feeling of sitting in a single-seater junior F1 car (be it GP3- or GP2-spec), whether you’ve selected the traditional cockpit view or TV-cockpit view (see image below, which is similar to the TV-cockpit view in the F1 2010 – 2014 games).
But sometimes, in Touring Cars for instance, all you get is the black outline of the windscreen, and a blurry idea of where the steering wheel should be and what it should look like – or have they inserted cockpit view, only to deliberately add a blur-filter (giving it to you in one hand, taking it out of the other) – but this is where your imagination and knowledge of cars is most useful!
GAMEPLAY – AND TIME FOR A PIT-STOP…
Away from the ‘it’s there but it’s blurred’ cockpit view, GRID Autosport is really great to play. While I’m not too sure about the handling of the cars (if you take a corner too fast, the tail-end of the cars tends to step out, forcing you into a drift), the excitement of a race weekend is brilliantly captured with the sessions you can take part in (practice, qualifying, warm-up, and Race), installing upgrades to the car, and loading and fine-tuning car setups.
Before you even drive, it pays to look through the contract offers you’ve received – while one team will offer you more XP and money, the other team might allow you to modify car setups in greater detail and install better and more powerful upgrades.
AI who think twice about letting you past helps to capture the thrill of racing, while a team-mate who responds to your commands makes the game feel more personal to you (commands like ‘defend this position’, ‘hold your position’, or ‘attack for a higher position’, can be given by pressing the LB & RB buttons on the Xbox 360 controller and, quite possibly, the L1 and R1 buttons on a PS3 controller).
Unfortunately, as it is you who is driving for different teams, it doesn’t feel as personal or thrilling as the original Race Driver GRID, wherein you were able buy cars new or used from eBay, select sponsors based on their rates of pay (sponsor contracts are completed via race objectives, such as: “You and your Team-mate Must Finish 5th or Above”, “No Damage to the car” etc.), and being able to select a team-mate to join your own team based on his/her salary demands and driving skills. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any audio name selection in the settings menu to customise how you’re addressed by your race engineer when he speaks to you during the race. (Codemasters, take note: if you’re ever going to make another GRID-style game for PS4 and Xbox One, please bring back this level of customisation!)
Also, I really noticed the difference when Codemasters introduced the Flashback feature (now commonplace in racing games, with the Rewind feature in the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon series) in Race Driver GRID, Colin McRae DiRT 2 and F1 2010 – I was given the breathing room as an amateur/rookie to occasionally make a mistake and not pay too heavily for it.
While it is still here in GRID Autosport, when you press the rewind button (the ‘Select’ button on the Xbox 360 controller by default), you’re presented with a timeline at the bottom of the screen as the race retreats to an earlier point. You have absolutely no control over it, other than the obligatory button-press to select a point on the timeline.
There are no manual controls to rewind, pause, or fast-forward, or even the option to play the Flashback in slow motion by lightly holding the RT button (like in F1 2013) to find the precise moment from which to continue. In fact, far from being precise, it doesn’t even possess the segmentation of Forza Horizon’s Rewind feature (upon pressing the ‘Rewind’ button, the game rewinds until a given time and then stops – you can keep rewinding, or continue the game (allowing you redo that corner, knowing exactly where the big lorry was, patiently waiting at the traffic lights, before you sped around the corner and crashed into his trailer!).
Again, it’s just as annoying as the ‘is there/isn’t there’ cockpit view – it’s not something you really notice the first time you play the game, but it can become more annoying the more you need to use it.
CAREER MODE – A RACE TO THE CHEQUERED FLAG
While the features may leave you feeling disappointed with your purchase, the way the career mode works will rescue you. Career mode is divided into different disciplines for you, including Touring Cars (WTCC, ToCA tour, V8 Utes etc.), Endurance (GT racing & Le Mans-spec cars), Open Wheel (IndyCar/F1, and junior categories such as GP2), Tuner (drifting and racing), Street (high performance supercars on street circuits), and GRID Grand Slam.
Unlike any other racing game, there is no obligation (other than your competitive nature to be the best at everything) to progress through every discipline, deviating from the almost-linear structure of GRID and GRID 2 where you must compete in every level 2 mode to progress to level 3.
In other words, you don’t have to compete in Touring Cars, Endurance, Tuner and Street in order to reach the next level of Open Wheel (phew, that’s a relief!). However, if you do want to compete in the GRID Grand Slam series (the ‘pinnacle’ series of the game), you must first have reached the overall specified level to unlock an event – the first Grand Slam event is Locked until you progress to Level 3 in each category.
IT’S THE LAST LAP
I think I understand the velocity of the issue – Codemasters wanted to release GRID Autosport (or, “GRID 3”) as a final hurrah to the GRID series on current-generation (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) consoles. I also understand, as a veteran gamer, the long-term battle between quantity and quality and how producers have tried to balance the two oppositions.
While the cockpit view may seem like an oversight and thus a last minute addition to keep the fans happy, Codemasters have instead focussed their efforts on making this game fantastic within its own right, and not just an update of the original Race Driver GRID.
Apart from the apparent stripping-away of features, and the questionable handling of the in-game cars which deviates from the car handling physics of F1 2013 and DiRT 3/Showdown (I seem to be endlessly drifting instead of turning into the corners, even after fine-tuning my car’s setup – but maybe that’s just me?), Codemasters have made a truly remarkable racing game.
Before I spent my money, I was worried that it would be just another pointless update and sequel (in the same way that you may, or may not, worry that Star Wars Episode VII will also just be another pointless sequel with no apparent reason for being made other than the money aspect). I heard many fans (via social media) speak about how this game was a must-buy for motorsport fans.
As I said before, I’m a bit concerned by how much they’ve stripped from the game in order to improve the gameplay, handling and graphics. I feel awkward comparing the game to Race Driver GRID and GRID 2, as GRID Autosport is a game in its own entity; but it is a GRID game, and therefore, I feel it should have lived up to its name. But, I suppose that is my problem with a lot of the video games made today – in order to improve graphics and playability, the developers also take something away from you.
Take these examples – Max Payne, Batman Arkham Asylum, Battlefield 3, and Forza Horizon. In the first two Max Payne games, the graphics were simple but the single player stories were huge, very detailed, and sometimes incredibly frustrating (remember the level in Max Payne 1, with the baby crying, where you enter a pitch black room from a corridor, with only a thin trail of blood to follow – deviate from the line and it’s game over?). In Max Payne 3, the story was a tad to short, but advanced gameplay physics helped to display this game as the defining concluding chapter of the Max Payne trilogy (not counting the awful 2009 big-screen adaptation, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis).
In Battlefield 3, the single player campaign wasn’t very long and, in my opinion, the game suffered as more emphasis was given to the online Multiplayer modes.
In Batman Arkham Asylum, however, the map was small but the variation of levels was inspiring – from solving the Riddler’s challenges, to upgrading Batman’s weaponry, and through the hallucination levels where you control a tiny Batman hiding from a colossal Scarecrow.
In Forza Horizon, again the Colorado-based world was small, but greater attention was drawn to the graphics and gameplay, allowing you to (if you wanted to) free-roam around the world within a private Xbox Live party before competing against your mates in online, open-world racing (which had only been possible in games like GTA IV).
THE CHEQUERED FLAG
Following on from those games, in GRID Autosport, it feels like the developers have stripped away what makes a racing game so great, in favour of a trimmed-down arcade racing simulation with only the core essentials. But if they hadn’t, maybe I would be saying ‘it’s just a graphics update of the original’.
I was left a bit sour-mouthed and disappointed with the cockpit view and lacklustre Flashback mode, but when you appreciate the quantity of high-quality motorsport games that Codemasters have produced over the years, which all finely balance the need for speed of a fun arcade game with the gritty and hardcore nature of a pure thoroughbred simulation, you really start to appreciate the work that went into making GRID Autosport another brilliant racing game (including ToCA Touring Cars / TTC2; ToCA Race Driver / TRD2 / TRD3; Colin McRae Rally / CR2.0 / CR3 / CR04 / CR2005; Colin McRae DiRT / CR DiRT 2 / DiRT 3 / DiRT Showdown; F1 2009 for PSP and Nintendo Wii; F1 2010, F1 2011, F1 2012, F1 2013, F1 2014, and the upcoming F1 2015).
Therefore, it may not have the flair of the new F1 games, the thrill of managing your own team, or the hair-raising moments of hanging on as your car falls slowly to pieces, but it is a pedigree racing game, and if you’re a motorsport fan, despite its downsides, it will excite you, it will thrill you, it does put you in the mind of a racing driver, and it does place you in the race seat. What you do next, is up to you, Mr. Race Driver…
My Final Verdict: 7 / 10 – a fantastic game, albeit slimmed-down and not as good as I’d hoped, but still worth it!