We at Gamestyle are huge fans of the TOCA series, we’ve made no bones about that. In fact one of our all time favourite racers still has to be TOCA Touring Car Championship. Through the Race Driver and then GRID versions of Codemasters’ famous series the structure has kind of been lost, but the games themselves were still a delight to play and delivered a racing ‘experience’ like no other.
GRID 2 whilst technically a good game was a bit of a mis-step for the series, doing away with the famous in car views and having a story driven career mode, that whilst not new to the series, lacked the cohesion of the original Race Driver. However, they are back with GRID Autosport, which promises to be a return to form.
The big surprise is that is only coming out on PS3, PC and 360 with no next-gen releases, which is a shame when PS4 espeically is crying out for a proper racer. That being said though, it is good to see continued support for last-gen systems.
Upon first loading the game, the first thing you’ll notice is that the fancy ‘living’ menus have gone. Replaced by stylish traditional menus that go for function over aesthetics. There is no glorified living area, or garage for you to navigate to customise your car, or find races or such. What we have here is a clear menu system that does exactly what it needs to and whilst not a selling point on a game, it is nice to see nonetheless.
Another area where the game has received an overhaul for the good is in the career structure. In GRID 2 you were thrown into and between various racing disciplines, meaning you had to take on events that likely weren’t your thing just to progress. In GROD Autosport, those various disciplines are still there, from Touring Cars and Endurance, to Street Racing and Drifting, but it is now up to you which of those you want to focus on.
There is a main goal that will reward you for participating in all the events across each discipline, but you are never forced to take part in any you don’t fancy. Not a fan of Drifting? Then put it on the back burner, it isn’t going to get in the way of your over all progression. This is more than welcome and hopefully something Codies stick with for any future releases.
It is on the track though where GRID (and previous racers from Codemasters) have really stood out. Whilst they walked a line between sim and arcade, favouring the arcade side more than anything, they were able to produce that feeling of being an actual racer better than most simulations could. Forza and Gran Turismo may have done better at recreating real world car physics, simulating perfect handling, etc, but if we are being honest, they felt like they lacked that something. You lacked the exhilaration of what it felt to be a real racer, or at the very least, what you believe it felt like to be a real racer.
Back in 1997 TOCA Touring Car Championship blew our minds. As fans of the real life championship, the game was the closest we could get to taking part for real and with the in-car views, the real championship structure, real teams and what felt like amazing AI, races were close and competitive each and every time. The AI were aggressive and seemed to react to your style in a realistic way.
Now that may be us looking through rose-tinted glasses, but that is how it felt and it continued through to Race Driver, with the story mode feeling like it worked because certain drivers had their own attributes and raced in a believable way. Now whilst GRID lost the characters, it still had that feeling of pure racing, with the ability to force no restarts, no flashbacks and locking the camera to in-car only. This produced some amazing races, knowing you had to battle through a field and that any single mistake could blow your race and your season, with no chance of retrying over and over.
GRID 2 to this effect was too focus-group tested and lost a lot of what made those previous racers the adrenaline filled experiences they were, but still kept up the over all quality. Autosport feels like a return to the days of the original TOCA games to a degree, with drivers having behaviour patterns, reacting properly to how you race, making mistakes if put under pressure, or trying to push too hard.
Each race again feels great to take part in, if you start towards the back of the grid, or find yourself in the middle of the pack, you can expect a totally different race to if you were leading from the front, but at no point does it ever feel like a simple progression from start to finish.
Start from the back and try to ovetake half the grid in the first corner, you will more often than not find your race to be over, or at least severely compromised. Take it too easy into the first corner whilst leading and you will see your lead swallowed up and find yourself going backwards as you drop down the order.
It is this balance of fun and pressure that made previous games stand out and it is back to its best in Autosport. There were races where we were at the back of the grid and needed to finish ahead of our main rival to maintain a championship lead, which meant we’d finish 6th to 10th, but those races were just as fun as those we won.
The biggest issue with GRID Autosport comes from the individual championship sizes during career mode. Whilst they have done a decent job of not making it a win at all costs type affair, it does feel like you if you don’t do well, then you may need to restart and by default the races are short, which promotes an overly aggressive style. This can be altered for race lengths, but it would be nice to see some attention to the championship structures here.
Also making a return to the series is the in-car view. This was taken out of GRID 2 after statistics showed it was used by very few players. Yet those very few were also the most vocal, therefore it is back for Autosport and it is more than welcome. There is a bit of a compromise here though, as the visuals for the interiors aren’t wonderfully modeled, up to the level of those in a Forza or Gran Turismo. That being said though, Codemasters have used a nice blur technique here that pulls your focus to the road ahead and actually works really well in giving that driver’s eye experience without having to go overboard on the visuals. Again, it is grea to have this view back, it wasn’t the same without it.
If GRID Autosport is to be the last major racer on the PS3/360 then it is seriously going out in style. If you haven’t ditched your old systems yet, then make sure you pick this up, strap in and enjoy one of the best racers in years.