Recently, it seems that PC racing games always seem to fall into one of two camps - that of a highly accurate simulation like the excellent Colin McRae DIRT, or a mushroom-trip induced crazy arcade experience, like the equally fabulous Trackmania Nations Forever.
Any attempt at finding a happy medium between the accuracy and depth of a full on sim and the fun and playability of an arcade experience has resulted in frustrating mediocrity, and even I have started to wonder if the increasingly polarised sides of driving games could ever meet again.
This is where Race Driver: GRID comes in, as it aims to fill this gap in the genre right from the outset. It's a game that is, at the same time, both a sim and an arcade racer, and without a single ridiculous body kit or under chassis neon light in sight. Codemasters certainly has an impressive racing game pedigree (having produced the Colin McRae and TOCA series in the past), but these franchises have always tried to be accurate simulations that are extremely unforgiving to less seasoned gamers.
GRID looks to set to seriously advance the genre, by mixing the simulation background that Codemasters already has with the pick up and play fun of an arcade racer, all with a couple of innovative features that could make all the difference.
The game charts your career as a race driver, from your first tentative steps behind the wheel of an eight litre Dodge Viper (seriously) to earn your racing licence all the way to the heights of driving a full 24 hours of Le Mans, day/night cycle and all. You’ll start the game doing various freelance jobs for other racing teams, building up the cash and reputation while the game gently introduces you to the various race and car types without any serious negative consequences if you lose.
Once you’ve earned £40,000 pimping your skills, you’re able to start up your own racing team and enter events for yourself, thus earning yet more cash to buy more cars and enter even higher level events. The emphasis is very much on the racing, and there’s no ongoing plot or storyline outside of the team and driver worldwide rankings that you (hopefully) steadily climb.
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There are lots of little extras along the way like managing the sponsorship of your team, with sponsors paying extra bonus money dependant on your final event position or just whether you finish a race. You can even hire a co-driver to help swell your coffers from every event (petrol isn’t cheap these days). But even with all the trimmings, the key gameplay of GRID is very familiar - get car, race car, win.