Some news site has recently caught my attention with a cute (and ancient) photo of the two Codemasters founders, shot in the period when the recently founded company was releasing its Dizzy games, with an interesting piece of news associated with it: the queen of Great Britain has decorated them with a rather pompous title, in recognition of their contribution in the games industry. Although undeniable, the above mentioned contribution (along with the company’s role, in general) has decreased over the years, going on the beaten road of endless sequels.
One of these sequels is the Toca Race Driver series, which along with the Colin McRae series have made a lot of racing fans happy over the years, until both of them have slowly fallen from their semi-realistic posture to a very arcade racer type game, with a bit more available options than the competition. Good or bad, these games have advanced, version by version, supported by the public to this year’s iteration, currently analyzed here.
This little technical beast has managed to offer a rare sensation in the world of racing games: relaxation. Grid is a way above average game (where the average is, let’s say, the NFS series), which manages to keep the same level of quality until the very end, giving (in my opinion at least) a veritable lesson in game design for others to observe and learn: how not to annoy the player. The car controls are good, for an arcade racer, the graphics are mind blowing, it has great music, great replays, the framerate is alright; there are no obvious bad things to speak of.
That being said, Race Driver Grid is not the perfect game, which means we need to continue.
As usual, Grid uses a lot of already implemented game elements from its predecessors, throws away features which were present before (only to be reintroduced in future years like amazing new innovative gimmicks), and overall refines and polishes the already known formula. The game’s perspective over the racing world is an extremely arcade one, which can be “buffed” to something a bit more serious by removing the driving assists: not the best idea out there, unfortunately. Grid has the same problem as other games out there using the same mechanics, as it becomes completely unrealistic, annoying and wrong in maneuverability terms. A relevant example is the Xpand Rally game.
Under default circumstances the cars in Grid do not over steer under any circumstances, if the handbrake isn’t pressed. If traction control is removed, this changes completely, to an extent where the cars go anything but straight if you do the slightest control adjustment, or you just breathe a little heavier towards the monitor. It’s annoying, to say the least. The same driving parameters suddenly disappear without a trace if you choose to play “freestyle drift”, where the aim of the race is to…well, drift, and the car which only a race before was stuck to the ground now floats around the scenery like boat on a windy day, the user having absolutely no chance of keeping it straight. It’s just a design choice to help the player drift better, but I feel that, if you need to radically change the handling mechanics for another game type…you’re doing it wrong.
Still, playing with all driving assists on (the one which affect handling, at least) Grid is a very, very nice “feeling” arcade racers, especially if you can use a controller, as the keyboard will never have the ability to maintain a turn to the same level as an analog stick does. The main dish of the game is, of course, the Career mode, where the “boss” and the “mechanic” cheer you over a lot of seasons, until you either shut them up or you start to actually want to hear them praising you. This mode of play also has 2 relatively original gameplay choices: the ability to hire a co driver for your own team, and the freedom to choose whatever sponsor you like, after deciding if their requirements and paycheck are ok.
The team mates, which are entirely AI controlled (and there’s no coop option for the career mode) have a series of statistics, split in various categories; each one is better at something, and it’s up to you to decide which one is best, considering the admission price and the percentage of the wins he will get. Generally speaking, a cheap driver is a bad driver, and although the points he gets are purely for e-penis purposes, the money the sponsors pay for his car have real advantages, meaning a Sunday driver will only cost you money, and he’ll bring back squat.