Archives by Day

GRID: Autosport

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Release Date: June 27, 2014

About Mark Buckingham

Mark Buckingham is many things: freelance writer and editor, gamer, tech-head, reader, significant other, movie watcher, pianist, and hockey player.

Advertising





PS3 Review - 'GRID: Autosport'

by Mark Buckingham on Sept. 18, 2014 @ 1:15 a.m. PDT

GRID: Autosport aims to move the series back in line as a more authentic racing game with a more authentic handling model, five distinct disciplines (Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner and Street), and 22 locations (primarily circuit based) with a combined route list that totals over 100.

GRID is back for a third go-round with GRID Autosport. This time, the emphasis is even more on meticulous simulation, aggressive and relentless AI, frustratingly realistic physics, and chucking most of the existing series' panache out the window. What that adds up to is a technically impressive but unglamorous racer that will challenge the most seasoned veteran driver.

The game asks you — actually, it requires you — to master five racing disciplines to proceed — Endurance, Open Wheel, Street, Touring and Tuners, all of which lead up to the three separate GRID championships. The menu interface is clean, if a bit basic. It lacks the style of the previous two games, but it's still perfectly usable. The one pain point is the constant load times for car models when picking a livery, ride, sponsor or anything else that displays a vehicle. I'd have been fine with a static image since the model can't be rotated or zoomed with the controller anyway.


The flexibility of the difficulty settings is one of the game's strongest points. You can separately determine the difficulty of the AI drivers and the active driving assists (ABS, best line, cornering, stability, traction control, etc.). Every setting affects the XP bonus for each race — the harder and more realistic you aim for, the bigger the reward. One of the weirdest things I noticed was that with all the assists turned on, I literally could not advance in the pack. With speed and cornering assists turned on, you basically just steer. Brake, gas, and some steering guidance are automatically provided. You're given free rein to try to overtake opponents, but when ABS control, stability and traction kicked in, drifting, max acceleration and spinning tires went right out the window. I found it harder to race with all the assists enabled. At that point, it became a game of turning them off one by one to find a comfortable compromise of handling and difficulty. Even setting the AI to Very Easy provided some challenge. I'm not brave enough to turn them up to Very Hard. My ego doesn't need that kind of beating.

Visually, the game seems average, and either the PS3 is definitely showing its age, or Codemasters spent most of its time on physics rather than graphics. GRID came out on PC in 2008 and has better bloom, lighting, and HDR effects than Autosport does on the PS3 in 2014. The steering controls were less finicky back then, too. The scenery is rendered well enough, but background objects can be basic with lower-resolution textures. Don't look too closely at the crowd, either. There are some nice reflection effects off the car bodies and on tracks where there is a pond or river nearby. Be prepared for jagged edges everywhere and 30 frames per second. Having cut my teeth on GRID and GRID 2 on PC in all their 60fps, max settings, HD glory, Autosport on PS3 came up a little short. It's definitely not even in the same league as other racers on the PS3, like Burnout Paradise, Split/Second, or even some of the recent open-world Need for Speed games. Playing the game in split-screen downshifts the visuals even further to "pretty PS2 game" territory, with more jagged edges and pixelated scenery.

The much-requested cockpit view returns (and allegedly steering wheel support, though I don't have one to test), but the dashboard and in-car elements apply some assumed depth-of-field effect, making everything in the car blurry. The dials and gauges don't animate or do anything. This is still a long ways off from the fully functional dashboards of the first game, but it's a compromise to try to please everyone.


I have a bone to pick with the "Outside White Lines" penalty. I understand that it's meant to keep people (like me) from corner-cutting to get ahead in the race unfairly. I did this from time to time in the original GRID to make up lost ground. What I could not come to terms with is how inconsistently it's triggered and the random duration of the penalty (it makes your car drive slow for X number of seconds after crossing a line). I never knew which lines would set it off. Some would, but many wouldn't; sometimes the inside of a curve would, and other times, it was the outside of a curve, which makes even less sense since overshooting a turn does nothing to get you closer to first place. It wasn't all to prevent corner cutting, either, as I found some places where I could get away with that. After losing more than a couple of events to an arbitrary, hard-to-understand penalty system that leaps into action because one tire wandered off course, I wanted to turn off the system. Since the penalty only affects acceleration, I could still swerve back and forth on the track to mess with the opposition.

Single-Player

At the start of the Career mode, you pick a discipline and are presented with offers from sponsors. The objective of the original GRID was to race for sponsors when necessary and use their payouts to build up your garage so you could race on your own. In Autosport, that element is completely removed. You pick which offer to go with, sometimes based on the amount of XP it provides, since XP is used to level up and earn the right to participate in championship races. There is no concept of money in the single-player career, so you don't buy cars, customizations, teammates, upgrades or anything. While this keeps things simpler, it also nixes some of the more strategic elements of earlier games in the series.

For example, in the original GRID, you could pick which sponsor decals to put on your car based on the requirements of upcoming races or seasons. One sponsor wanted you to place third or higher. Another wanted you to go 100mph for more than 30 seconds. Yet another might want you to drift a certain distance or let your teammate win. Knowing which tracks and race types were coming up helped you decide how to maximize your earnings depending on your strengths. In Autosport, that's all gone. You pick a sponsor to race for, it dictates which race event types you participate in, in which order, for how long, and perhaps most frustratingly, in which vehicle.


The garage is gone, so you don't own any cars. You also don't get to select what you're racing in other than deciding on a sponsor. From there, you're locked in. Got a season with Hot Hatch and Concept events and a GT Cup thrown in for good measure? Good luck finding a combination of cars that suits your driving style. I was stranded in Dubai in a Subaru BRZ that I couldn't control to save my life. Nobody else seemed to have any problems, and I found it impossible to break out of last place.

For car customization, there's really nothing to be done, which is a little disappointing given how much of a simulation the game tries to be in other regards. There are vehicle upgrades (brakes, engine, etc.), but they are provided and equipped automatically. You have the option to turn them off, but I could not think of a time when that would've been advantageous. Vehicle liveries are dictated by the sponsor, so there's nothing to do there, either.

If you prefer fewer than all five disciplines of racing, you will never be able to compete in the GRID Championship events. Better diversify if you want to take home all the cups. Open Wheel, Street, Touring and Tuners were familiar, but the Endurance events weren't what I expected. From the days of Gran Turismo, I thought of an endurance event as a 60-lap race that's about choosing when to pit for new tires and staying ahead of the pack for a rather insanely long run. Those races took an hour and a half each, and I was dumb enough in my youth to complete them all in the original GT. Autosport's idea of Endurance is to see who can go the furthest in eight minutes with gradual progressive tire wear. As the tread wears down, there's a noticeable difference in handling, but it's not so much that you'll wish for a pit stop for new rubber.


That's good, too, since there are no pits. The game emphasizes managing tire wear, but the true measure of the event is distance. Drifting and off-roading wear down your tires faster, but I never had an event go long enough for me to wear them down all the way to zero. The closest I got was in the single digits, and that was in a race where I crashed and gave up early, and then I spent the rest of the eight minutes doing donuts and messing with the other racers. It would have made infinitely more sense to ditch the timer and just stick with the "who can go the farthest on one set of tires" mechanic. That way, it truly is about properly managing tire wear, and this would greatly differentiate Endurance races from all the other racing modes.

If you go into Autosport expecting the series trademark rubberbanding (speeding up or slowing down opponents to keep the race arbitrarily competitive), forget about it. It was all over in GRID 1 and 2, but it's completely absent in Autosport. If you take one corner badly, either Flashback or start over. Fortunately, the game lets you restart any particular event as many times as you want. This, however, negates the point of having a 10-minute time limit on "Practice" on a track. If you can restart indefinitely without penalty, why impose the arbitrary time limit? It's single-player, so it's not as if someone's getting impatient that you want to practice longer. The rubberbanding in earlier games made it possible to go from sixth to first in the last half of the last lap. Now, if you aren't set to finish on the podium by the beginning of the last lap, start over. The AI makes very few mistakes, and that's also a change from the earlier games where race-ending spinouts and crashes were common for AI drivers.

As mentioned just above, the Flashback mechanism returns, so drivers can rewind time to retry a section with a potentially race-ruining mistake. The number of Flashbacks is configurable independent of all other difficulty and realism settings, and the fewer you take with you to the track, the bigger your XP bonus. I noticed a bug a couple of times where, instead of rewinding the replay normally, it jumped to some other arbitrary point in the race and ran forward in slow motion. I could still trigger when to exit the rewind, and with a sense of the timing from having used Flashbacks a few times, it still gets the job done. However, it's irksome to not be able to see where you'll rejoin the race until you're back in it. The majority of the time, Flashbacks worked fine, so I'm not sure what those misfires were about.


Jumping back to the absence of money and sponsor dictation topic for a moment, teammates used to matter in GRID games. You picked them based on their skills, and if you could afford it, you could hire someone with a wide range of competencies. Not in Autosport. You're handed a teammate by your sponsor, not given any idea what they're good at, and then given control over nudging them to move up in the pack or try to hold their position. The former bits lead to frustration, as you have a teammate who blows the majority of the time without any indication on what you need to do to make them better. On the other hand, I witnessed a couple of incidents where my teammate was close to me in the pack and actively fought off the racers behind us to widen the gap based on the posture I'd asked him to assume (Defend). That was pretty cool to see, but most of the time, he was in dead last, which is frustrating enough on its own, but when you reach the team standings scoreboard after an event and see that you might have finally edged out Ravenwest save for the fact that your teammate is an idiot, you'll want to scream. In GRID 1, it felt good to fire a crappy teammate. No such luck here.

Since you don't choose your cars, their designs, or upgrades, there's no real sense of ownership or bonding with a car you've gotten the hang of driving. This constant variety can be a good thing since it never gets dull and you never know what you'll face next, but it also leads to some maddening difficulty spikes that would be mitigated if they'd just have let me pick a different car in the same class.

Some races provide the opportunity to qualify before competing, and while this might seem like a waste of time, moving up through the pack with full damage modeling enabled, no flashbacks, an idiot teammate, and no rubberbanding can be really tough. Qualifying would often at least put me in the top five, if not in pole position outright. Claiming first in qualifying also gets you an additional two points in the standings, which might dull the pain of your teammate always finishing last.

Despite my many frustrations with the title, the in-game narrators reminded me at the end of each season that if I'm finishing in the top three regularly, I'm not challenging myself enough. The point isn't to finish first every time. At its core, Autosport wants you to enjoy the sport of racing for what it is, moment to moment, not just which color of ribbon you go home with. I can respect that, but it flies in the face of years of racing games where second place is the first loser. Here, the sweet spot for maximum XP is with moderate difficulty and finishing somewhere in the top five. Even as I write that while fully understanding the game's intent, it still feels like a strange concept.


Online Multiplayer

Multiplayer consists mainly of pick a track (or series of tracks), pick a car, go race in parties or on your own. There haven't been a ton of players on — out of my five forays into online play, I was able to join one game. When I created a game, I waited about 20 minutes, and no one joined. Given that you cannot start a race without at least two players (despite the fact that you can have a full field of AI drivers), online MP is really hit or miss. The wait up front for an in-progress race to finish can also take several minutes. When it works, it works pretty well, and you can stick with a lobby and bounce from race to race. Being able to host your own servers is a nice touch, but it's tricky finding others to play with. There are a few clever options, like allowing finishing positions in previous races to determine starting positions in the next, or aligning the starting grid so higher-level players start at the back while lower-level players start in the front. I like that.

Something strange happens when you go online, though — it turns back into the GRID game I wanted and was expecting. You earn money to buy cars, upgrades, and maintain a garage, can pick liveries, and more, all of which are missing from single-player. It even brings back demolition derby mode, which is also absent from single-player. Why the developer insisted on burying it all in multiplayer is beyond me.


Something else that changes for multiplayer is how Flashbacks work. In single-player, they rewind the entire race. In multiplayer, it's the same as hitting Reset Car, and it dumps you back a half-dozen spots in the pack. This makes using Flashback a horrendous penalty, so you're going to have to decide if it's worth losing several positions for using Flashback, or trying to get yourself back on the track.

Final Word

Overall, Autosport does things well enough and offers a decent compromise of customization versus accessibility without going off the deep end for serious gearheads the way Gran Turismo does. There's a good balance of realism with driving assists and damage modeling that can be turned on or off, and it leaves it to the player to decide (to some extent) what kind of driving experience they want to have. In the end, there just wasn't enough "wow" factor for me to get hooked the way I did with earlier GRID games, and all the good stuff is exclusively relegated to the multiplayer side, which has a spotty community at best right now. Every time I turned off Autosport, I didn't feel the compulsion to return to it that I had earlier in the franchise.

Score: 7.5/10



More articles about GRID: Autosport
blog comments powered by Disqus