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Grip: Combat Racing

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Wired Productions
Developer: Caged Element
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2018

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


PS4 Review - 'Grip: Combat Racing'

by Chris Barnes on Jan. 16, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Grip is a futuristic combat racing game that has competitors battle across diverse landscapes of distant worlds.

Buy Grip: Combat Racing

Like most kids in the '90s, I owned and absolutely adored my PlayStation, but somehow, I missed out on the fan favorite combat racer, Rollcage. What I did have a mild obsession with were the reversible, back-flipping, light-whizzing remote-control cars that flooded the ads on a Nickolodeon-filled Saturday. Upside-down, right-side up — it didn't matter which way your car was facing. The oversized wheels always ensured your car was hauling forward at breakneck speeds through the twisting halls and bumpy stairs of your parents' two-story home.

Now, almost 20 years after Rollcage's release, Caged Element, a small Toronto-based developer with programmers from the original series, took it upon themselves to create a spiritual successor, Grip: Combat Racing. As for the remote-control cars from my younger years, the winding tracks scattered across varying environments within Grip contain loops, ramps, twists and tunnels that allow your car to continuously propel itself forward, regardless of its orientation. While many consider this genre a thing of the past, Caged Element has done an amazing job reminding me of how much fun it can be to go fast.

A sense of speed in arcade racers is often the do-or-die element within the genre. Sure, the speedometer might say I'm going 400 MPH, but if it doesn't feel like I'm hurtling my metal box toward winding corners at life-threatening levels, then the game fails. As far as speed goes, Grip achieves this endeavor with great success. Instead of coming to a turn with a screeching halt, a halfpipe lip lets the driver hit the turn at full speed and continue the momentum. Jumps may send a car barreling off to the side, only to make contact upside-down with a separate track that's running perpendicular to the one from which you had just launched yourself. The dizzying, interwoven tracks within Grip put the keys in the player's hand and never asks them to hit the brakes (OK, sometimes you have to hit the brakes). In conjunction with powerful pick-ups that equip your car with both offensive and defensive abilities, this is an exciting (albeit daunting) intro to the world of Grip.

Fortunately, the developers have wisely included a campaign mode that allows players to ramp up their skills through various tournaments while experiencing the different tracks in the game. There are 11 tiers within the campaign, and each tier has the player competing in three or four multievent tournaments across various game modes. The campaign mode starts at tier 1, where the player is introduced to some of the smaller and more forgiving tracks. The engine speed is set to low, some power-ups are disabled, and the AI difficulty is set to easy, allowing the user to feel good (if only for a little while).

As you progress through the campaign and unlock new tiers and vehicles, the difficulty also increases. Despite the developer's best efforts, the handicaps put in place during the intro phases of the campaign mode don't protect players from some of the pain points. Because your car is a jet-propelled, rocket-shooting death machine, there are certain downsides that come along for the ride — the in-game camera being the biggest offender. The game allows you to flip your car and start driving on a ceiling. A six-missile power-up can send your car flying off course and into a pack of oncoming vehicles. You can zoom down tunnels that your car can narrowly squeeze into. What is the camera doing this whole time? Your guess is as good as mine. The constant changes to orientation and tight-fitting sections of a track can cause the camera to behave erratically. This leads to some jarring experiences for newcomers, and at times, it'll even rear its ugly head on veterans as well.

Once you gain some confidence and move up a few tiers, you'll start seeing ramps that you didn't see before; your missiles actually hit the enemy; tracks become much more complex; and most importantly, you're having fun. As you familiarize yourself with the mechanics and tracks, you'll foresee how, when, and why a camera change is about to occur. Once you break through the initial barrier, the game opens up a campaign that offers loads of adrenaline-fueled races that are an absolute blast to play. The deeper tiers within the campaign mode show off some amazing tracks that are some of the best I've ever experienced in an arcade racer.

The game's 23 tracks spread out across four different planets (each with its own artistic style and ecosystem) kept me engaged through each and every tournament. Each planet's tracks offer slightly different styles that encourage you to explore the different vehicles and their corresponding stats. For instance, a map with more open space might not require a car with strong steering, whereas a narrow race through the dark city streets requires tight steering and quick acceleration.

While there are a couple of duds within the rotation, many of the tracks offer jumps that cause you to barrel roll onto a different section of the track, a select few have massive destructible environment events that can really change the flow of a race, and others are simply nice to look at during the starting countdown. Be warned, though, that along with the deeper tiers in the campaign mode comes a drastic shift in difficulty. The feeling of accomplishment on your favorite track will quickly become a sea of frustration and a multitude of curses because you had to restart the race 18 times in a row after an opponent's missile hit you on the final lap.

The later tiers, unfortunately, highlight some downsides to the AI in the game. It's still unclear to me how the catch-up and rubber banding mechanics work within Grip, but they were certainly noticeable. By the seventh or eighth tier in the campaign, I purposefully moved slowly in order to avoid gaining too much of a lead, lest I get hit by a missile and sent tumbling back to last place. It's a bit of a downer. The AI and catch-up mechanics feel at odds with the game's incredible sense of speed. I can go fast, and because it's fun, I want to go fast, but due to the nature of the AI, I'd often restrain my urges until the final lap, when the finish line was near.

Players can rejoice in knowing they're not stuck competing against AI opponents the whole time. Alongside the campaign, Grip offers both online and offline split-screen multiplayer. All of the tracks are available right from the start, and all of the game modes within the campaign's tournaments can be utilized. Additionally, all of the modes can be enjoyed in both single-player arcade or split-screen. An arena/battle mode is present (you'll also play that mode in the campaign), but I often found it to be rather dull. On top of that, there is also the Speed Demon mode, which is only boosts and no abilities; Classic mode, which is abilities on and points based on placement; Ultimate mode, which is similar to Classic mode but also awards points for damage; and Elimination mode, which blows up the last place car every 30 seconds until there's no one left. It should be noted that at the time of this review, the servers were a barren wasteland, and no online matches could be found.

Beyond this, there is also a "Carkour" mode, which consists of obstacle course-style tracks that the player must successfully traverse to the end. While I appreciate the attempt to flesh out the game with more content, this mode seemed unnecessary. This is not a competitor to the Trials series; instead, it feels like a collection of obstacle courses that were part of Halo's Forge mode — but without any of the wacky, user-created content. Moreover, Grip's physics and mechanics just aren't fine-tuned enough to make the more tougher tracks enjoyable. In the end, other than a handful of the more difficult tracks that are questionably unbeatable, Carkour mode can be completed within an hour or two. Don't let the disappointing Carkour mode steer you away because Grip's split-screen and single-player modes still offer a tremendous amount of content, considering the game's price.

Technically, Grip performs well. As stated, the various tracks are quite large and offer some beautiful sightseeing, and there are a few maps that are exceptionally dark and can be frustrating to drive in. Despite the sprawling tracks and nice visuals, the frame rate remains high and mostly stable. This is a crucial factor, considering the fact this is a game with sweat-inducing speeds and hairpin turns. I did experience a few moments of sluggishness (particularly during arena deathmatch games filled with numerous explosions), but nothing soured my overall experience. Beyond that, you'll experience moments of bugginess and inconsistency with the physics. There were a handful of times when my car glitched through a wall and got stuck in place. In other moments, I'd hit the slightest bump in a road, and for whatever reason, my car would come to an immediate stop. While somewhat sparse, these annoying moments can be frustrating when a race is coming down to the wire. Fortunately, the game offers a quick restart option, allowing you to restart the event without forfeiting your entire progress within a tournament and tier.

Minor issues aside, Grip: Combat Racing is a great experience for both veterans of arcade combat racers as well as those who are willing to learn the genre. The initial learning pains and massive difficulty spikes toward the end of the game may turn away newcomers, and the catch-up mechanics and sometimes questionable physics may dissuade veteran players. For all others, though, Grip is a wild ride that offers fantastic tracks that are exhilarating to race on at lightning-fast speeds.

Score: 7.5/10

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