Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Sidhe Interactive
Release Date: December 12, 2007
Some games are complex, requiring hours and hours to learn the basics. Some games are simple, with the entirety being revealed to you in a matter of minutes. However, the best sort of game straddles the line in the middle by starting out simple but becoming more fun over time as more and more subtleties are divulged during gameplay.
Very often, racing games are a prime example of this phenomena, and over time, the racing genre has slowly evolved to include many different sub-styles. One of the more interesting in recent years has been air-heavy, car-based racing games. The format follows the precedent of the stunt driving courses in the classic game Race Drivin', but takes it to ludicrous extremes, sending you through loops, jumps, and other things that are very rarely seen in the real world. GripShift clearly pulls most all of its inspiration from this tradition, which defines the excellent Trackmania series. For better or worse, GripShift is all about taking control while out of control, and while it has plenty of plainer style courses, the real fun is derived from the game's natural, manic pace.
GripShift puts you in a midair course (you levitate on nothing, and backdrops are far below), a setup that has been popularized by many games, and you're given some goals to achieve. Courses are divided into Challenge and Race categories, the latter of which is subdivided into four racing modes and one free practice mode. Challenge courses are complex, consisting of jumps, precarious drops and moving elements; each of these courses has a time challenge, another challenge in which you must locate all of the stars on the course, and a much harder challenge that requires you to find the GripShift logo. Fortunately, you don't have to complete all of these challenges in the same run, as it's actually impossible to do so after the first few courses. Later courses may have time limits, so you're required to think creatively and take lots of risks in order to successfully complete them.
Race courses, on the other hand, are your standard kart-racing fare. Weapons are strewn around the course as an array of question marks (dynamite, shield, standard missile and oil slick, among others). Several variants exist to add replayability to each of these courses; Challenge races add the star and time objectives from the Challenge mode to one-on-one races, while Time Attacks are basically self-explanatory, along with the requisite Championship mode.
If you expected there to be more to GripShift than this, then the game may not be for you. Beyond its basic concept, the title only has two sources of variety: cars and courses. The cars all have an extremely angular appearance, reminiscent of 1940s automobiles with open tops and four plain-looking and annoyingly voiced drivers from which to choose. Plenty of specific options let you modify the car's appearance, but not statistics, which are described in simple star counts, for ease of use. The game's courses, however, tend to be a lot more varied, though not always in a predictable way. Pieces of the course will move, jumps of varied designs will ensue, and due to the omnipresent threat of flying right off the stage, just about any design decision can and will become a hazard to your speed, your ability to complete the course, or both.
In case this isn't enough for your $10, Sidhe Interactive has added standard Xbox Live multiplayer and Deathmatch arenas (the sort you've seen in just about every kart racing game) to the bundle. Both are new to the Xbox Live version of the game, and although neither comes across as especially inspired, both extras work very well with the game's physics and add to the game's value. GripShift also includes full local multiplayer, which tends to be a lot more entertaining, as with most other games in this vein.
Graphically, GripShift uses cartoonish graphics and (as mentioned above) stylized, angular vehicles. The effect is very good and meshes well with the game's course styles. It's only unfortunate, then, that the sound effects are, to put it lightly, rather subpar. The music is okay at best, its engine sounds and collisions lack punch, and the voices are some of the most annoying encountered in recent video game history (this is coming from someone who managed to tolerate Lenne Hardt in Megaman X7/8). It's enough to encourage players to turn down their television volume settings and just play their own music over the game.
Ultimately, GripShift is not precisely original. Its elements can be clearly traced to many other racing games, and it's not even the best in its particular racing sub-style (that reward remains with Trackmania). However, this does not seem to be what Sidhe Interactive set out to do. Sometimes, original or not, you're making the game to be fun, and GripShift, for all its technical flaws, succeeds admirably at this. If you like kart-style racing, I honestly cannot think of a better X360 title than GripShift, and it's well worth the $10 sticker price. At the very least, the game deserves a playthrough of the free demo.
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