Codemaster’s GRID: Why I am recommending a game I didn’t like June 7, 2008Posted by oktyabr in games, opinions, personal, software.
I noticed on Steam that a new racing game had been released from Codemaster’s simply called GRID and after watching a few videos and reading a healthy amount of reviews I decided I couldn’t loose by at least trying the free demo. I’m not going to go into a full review here (google for “Codemasters GRID” for plenty of those) but I AM going to tell you why I might recommend this game… even though I didn’t like it! 😯
Codemasters has some experience in the racing game world with a highly acclaimed rally racing game called DiRT, which in fact is the engine, much stripped down and optimized, that powers GRID, but like Forza, Project Gotham Racing, Toca and others DiRT was more “arcadey” than “sim”, targeted mostly at the Xbox 360 (and other consoles?)
Someone once said “You can’t make everyone happy all of the time” but that didn’t stop Codemasters from trying! GRID is not only available for PC (via Steam) as well as the two most popular consoles right now but apparently even for the Nintendo DS (?!?! 😯 ) Did their attempt to cross all the bridges and make a racing game that would appeal to both console and PC gamers work? More importantly, while I think GRID has come closer to crossing the bridge between “arcade” and “sim” than any other game prior is the end result a winner? Well, sort of…
After reading lots of threads on the game I noticed that the GRID fanclub was a divided bunch, like communities can be about any new game. What did stand out, however, was that it didn’t take long to notice a pattern in opinions… those that LOVED the demo (and the full game) were primarily console owners. Those that didn’t like it so much, like myself, are PC gamers leaning more towards the serious simulations like GTR2, Race ’07 and my beloved rFactor. So why even bother writing anything positive about a game (admittedly demo) that I didn’t really like?
Well, for one GRID is simply BEAUTIFUL with 3D models, animated textures and very impressive HDR (High Dynamic Range) lighting, which seems to be all the rage these days. It’s probably the best looking race game I’ve ever seen, bar NONE (note: I haven’t tried GT5 for the PS3 yet but have high hopes!) Now I’ve always been of the school of thought that “Great eye candy doesn’t make a bad game great!” and while I can’t say GRID is a “bad” game for PC it HAS made me rethink my stance on the value of eye candy, something I really didn’t expect from it or any other game.
The cars are modeled beautifully and even on my 8600GT textures looked very real, both on the cars themselves as well as the track surfaces, something often treated as filler in many games. Even the cockpit view, my personal favorite, is immersive and nice to look at with all the moving guages, lights, hands on the steering wheel (the right hand dropping off screen to shift) that I have come to appreciate in my favorite racing titles. But GRID goes even further!
My first race, in a BMW 320si touring car, I “traded paint” with an opponent in the first real turn. Not only did it bump my car as expected but my drivers side mirror was CRACKED beyond usefulness! Wrecks later in the race left the race line littered with multicolored debris like oversized fiberglass and carbon composite confetti. A “soft body” collision engine means that metal crumples in an all too real fashion and glass cracks and shatters like glass *should*. No other game I’ve played to date has put this much time and consideration into the way damage should be portrayed! This definitely raises the bar for ALL racing games, arcade and sim alike (take notes fellas!)
Sound is also excellent, some of the best I’ve heard and while I haven’t tried it yet I understand that the “pro mode” online multiplayer is smooth and silky too, although limited to 12 cars (?) per race. As a note “pro mode” also allows you to keep persistant stats online so you can compare your race standings and lap times to other real world drivers.
Physics… Physics is what the game uses to portray a given cars unique “feel” and handling ability to the driver… this is the heart of a true racing simulation, generally lacking in most “arcade” racers and here GRID pulls off something of a mixed bag. On one hand there is absolutely NO tuning ability! In my “serious” sims most realistic modifiers are available to tweak and tune as you like, from wings and downforce to individual tire pressure and gear ratios. There is NONE of that in GRID, which after trying the demo is maybe a good thing as I probably would have become frustrated beyond salvation in the first five minutes trying to tune a car that is, well, frankly untunable! Some reviewers claim that GRID’s cars handle like they are “on ice” and while I wouldn’t go that far I did find the BMW incredibly twitchy and difficult to control in the tighter corners. Force-feedback is there, for those with FFB enabled wheels, and it works quite well with several sliders to tweak the special FX. Codemasters DID go through the trouble of coding their game so that at least the most popular Logitech force-feedback wheels were supported “out of the box”… and yet somehow forgot to code in a variable for wheel turning radius!
I know that sounds like gibberish to at least some of you so I’ll try to break it down a bit… Most good wheels support at least 360 degrees of rotation, one full turn of the wheel from “lock” to “lock”. Several, including the antiquated Driving Force Pro I have (originally marketed for GT4 on the PS2!!!) go all the way up 900 degrees of rotation, a HUGE amount for those not familiar with such things. GRID only seems to support about 200 degrees and it doesn’t matter how you tweak your wheel, that’s what you get. More so it’s “progressive” steering of a bizarre sort where the character you portray turns the wheel in what I can only term a “panicky” sort of way, especially beyond a certain point, rather than in a linear fashion, 1:1 with how you turn the wheel. I’m sure this is in part due to a compromise to keep the console gamers with control pads happy, most of which seem to give GRID very positive reviews, but considering the time and trouble Codemasters put into appeasing the hungry wheel-gripping sim junky like myself I’m a bit at a loss for why they didn’t offer more options in these regards. What it boils down to is that a “Simulation mode” option is sorely lacking in GRID, at least from the standpoint of steering and car setups.
One of GRID’s most popular features is the “replay” mode which mostly lets you see how you messed up, like similar features in most racing games… but with a difference: In any setting other than “professional” (required to log your stats online) you get a limited amount of redos where you can rewind the action back 10 seconds and try AGAIN. This, while I initially scoffed at it as being distinctly “arcadish”, is a feature that grows on you in time, acting as a valuable learning tool… not sure what went wrong? Rewind, study it, and then try again, this time with the experience of learning from your previous mistake. A great learning tool! BUT even more gratifying than that is the combination of the fantastic eye candy and the part of the physics they DID get right! In one word, “suspension”. In race, and in replay, it is obvious that Codemasters went the extra mile to bring you cars that reacted as realistically as possible to sliding sideways over bumps, catching air on high speed risers and more. This is probably no more evident than the replay I watched of my race tuned Mustang Cobra skidding haphazardly after flying through the air in a high speed race over the hills of San Francisco! During the leaps the graphics, sound effects, and even the force feedback of my wheel combined to bring me probably the most immersive jumps I’ve ever experienced… I could almost feel the shocks and springs compressing to the max and the belly skid plates colliding with the asphalt! VERY IMPRESSIVE! The replays, again, no less impressive! In fact it was almost as much fun watching my car careen down the hills like a chase scene from a Hollywood movie as it was actually doing it. I’m sure youtube will have MANY movies made using this feature 🙂
Ah hell with it, here is what I am talking about (be sure to watch the jump at about 3:00!):
So while I can’t say GRID is a racing “sim” it does seem to bridge that gap better than any other title I’ve played to date. Like I said earlier the majority running this game on a console really liked it, overall, and some of the people I know to be hard core sim’ers also seemed to enjoy it, a rare thing for any one game to pull off! I even read some threads about PC players enjoying it more with a gamepad than with a wheel and while I personally wouldn’t go that far I can see why some might. This is a game that primarily targets console owners using control pads but makes significant progress to providing a fun title for us wheel-huggers too. Hopefully future patches will bring improvements.
The demo is definitely worth the download, if you are a racer of any sort, and while $39.95 (per Steam, as of 07-June-2008) is maybe a bit steep for me (I have several other race titles to consume my time too, remember) a reduction in price or some significant patches and the full version will probably find a permanent home on my harddrive too.