Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2583

Race Driver: GRID (PC)

by Eddie Turner on August 7, 2008 2:00 AM EST


In June of this year, Codemasters released yet another game devoted to fans of those things that have four wheels. With extensive experience in the genre, starting with 1999's Touring Car Challenge to the highly acclaimed DiRT: Colin McRae Off-Road released in 2007, the developer/publisher continues to pick up speed with GRID. GRID is not your typical rally style racer, nor is it the street racer that many might label it after seeing a few screenshots of the game. Instead, GRID borrows from both racing styles and finds its niche somewhere in between. Does it work? Read on to find out.

Upon starting the game for the first time, players will be prompted to enter their first and last name that will appear in the game's HUD next to your position in the race. To take this a step further, GRID allows you to choose from a fairly extensive list of names (male and female) that the in-game announcer will use during audible communication with the player. While the name Eddie was not immediately available, Edward was chosen in its stead. Since it's highly unlikely that they will have every name, you can also select from a variety of handles instead. This is just one successful implementation that lends itself to the player's immersive experience with GRID. Once this information is squared away, the game immediately tosses the player to the wolves with no available tutorial.


As most PC gamers have discovered, racing games offering a high level of realism are best played with either a racing wheel or a gamepad. With controls that require touch sensitivity, a keyboard simply does not allow for the degree of functionality that is required. In fact, getting the game to function at all with the coveted combo may prove to be an impossible feat. With this in mind, recommended racing wheel peripherals include the Logitech Formula Force EX, which is available in the UK for a retail price of £49.99, and the Logitech MOMO Force Feedback Racing Wheel available in the states for around $79.99 depending on the retailer.  And, of course, there's always the more expensive option for those without a budget.  In this case, the Logitech G25 that retails for upwards of $250, again depending on the retailer, might be the wheel of choice.  Which ever wheel you choose, the game's options menu will help you tweak its sensitivity to your satisfaction.

While steering wheels are great, the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows has a preset in the game's options menu and it works very well. This controller is an excellent alternative to racing wheels and offers great performance with GRID. Third party gamepads are also supported and should work seamlessly.



Gameplay

As mentioned before, players will begin racing right away without any practice runs. The absence of a tutorial may appear to represent a narrow learning curve, but be assured that there most definitely is one. While the slope of such a curve will be dependent upon prior experience with other racing games, those who are either new to the genre or simply do not play driving games very often should find their way after a few short races.


When you're ready to race, players have the choice of entering the game's career mode, called GRID World, or selecting Race Day that allows players to customize the racing experience by choosing the venue, track, car, number of laps, and race type. These two options are accompanied by Multiplayer which can be plaed via LAN or the internet. In the single player campaign, or career mode, GRID World starts players as a newcomer to the racing scene. With only a few cars at your disposal, the goal is to collect enough prize money to begin your own racing team. From there, players will begin to acquire more cars with their winnings. In addition, sponsorships will become available as your reputation improves throughout the circuit. While going fast and finishing first is definitely on the agenda, finishing in second, third, and even fifth place in some events still puts cash in your pocket. 

GRID features a number of different events that will have players testing their endurance skills, speed in time trials, and even drifting. Along with these various event types are a number of lavish venues to race though. Players will take part in events scattered throughout various regions of the US, Europe, and Japan. The location will typically coincide with the type of racing event. For instance, drivers will participate in muscle car racing in Detroit, grand prix events in Milan, and drifting challenges in Yokohama Japan. There are numerous venues to experience during the course of the game, each of which is rendered beautifully and plays a major role in the overall satisfaction of the game.

The vehicle types in GRID are also matched to the racing events and locations. As players forge their way up the ladder and become a force to be reckoned with, more and more cars will become available. Here's the roster of the 43 different licensed vehicles you'll drive in the game.

Many gamers have come to expect the ability to customize their vehicles in racing games. However, GRID allows only cosmetic customization in which players will choose their team colors that will be applied to the body and trim of all of their cars. Thankfully, the ability to update these colors exists to keep players from growing weary of the seafoam green they may have chosen. While it may have taken some guts on behalf of the development team to exclude such a feature as vehicle customization, Codemasters has made the game's direction clear in their tagline, "It's all about the race." Even so, cars will not be completely void of bling as sponsors will place decals on your cars as you take them on.

The racing in GRID is absolutely top-notch. Every car feels and handles differently. For instance, the Lamborghini takes corners very efficiently with minimal break application, while the Aston Martin requires just the right combination of break and hand break to handle a track's twists and turns. We likely aren't qualified to judge the physics behind the cars, but they tend to do a good job at mimicking the feel of driving a race car. The game doesn't offer up the realism found in some of the hardcore racing sims, but it definitely has more realism than others in the genre like the Need for Speed series. Whether that's good or bad will depend on what you're after, but we found the overall feel to be quite enjoyable even if it may not appease the gearheads of the world.



Let's Do the Time Warp Again

While racing, players can choose between several points of view, including dashboard, first-person (in-car), headlight, and two third person perspectives that show off your car and all its glory. You can also up the stakes during race setup by locking yourself to the in-car camera, turning off driver assists like traction control and automatic transmission, or increasing the difficulty level.


As far as the speed in concerned, the developers at Codemasters made sure players felt every bit of the 150+ MPH that the game's cars are capable of reaching. In a nutshell, the racing in GRID is frantic, fast paced, and above all fun. As enjoyable as the racing is, crashing is equally satisfying as the game sports a full crash engine, allowing cars to take on "realistic" damage. Coupled with the game's physics engine, players will experience splintering fibers, impressive spark trails, shattered glass fragments, and mangled steel, all in breathtaking real-time.

Crashing is almost unavoidable, with rather aggressive AI opponents, and if you leave the track you can forget about maintaining speed or steering. When that happens, your best course of action may be to consult the instant replay. Codemasters provides an intuitive instant replay feature that allows you to survey the damage, as well as rewind the action and replay the impact from multiple viewpoints. The following video shows off this feature, as well as the brilliant audio sampling that makes the action come to life.


Click to view Movie (3.4MB)

Coupled with the instant replay feature is what golfers refer to as a mulligan. During each race, players are given the opportunity to correct mistakes that may otherwise end a race prematurely. This feature is called Flashback. After a deadly crash or loss of control, players can choose to rewind the action and restart shortly before things went south. This is useful as even moderate damage can hinder your ability to control your car properly - for example, damage to your car's steering column after a wreck that doesn't necessarily take you out of a race may cause your car to pull to the right or left, thus killing your chances of winning the race or the desire to simply continue on.

Flashback is designed to keeps players in the game after an unfortunate spill on the race track. While this may be seen as a helpful feature to some, others may view it as a means to cheat their way to victory. For those whose opinions represent the latter, GRID offers a Pro difficulty mode that disables the Flashback feature.  Players may also choose to limit the number of Flashbacks on standard diffuculty.



Multiplayer


The multiplayer component in GRID is pretty straight forward. Much like the Race Day mode for solo players, the online mode allows for selection of location, race type, track, and the desired car. What makes the online experience unique is the game's voting system. When all players (12 max.) have joined the lobby via the Quick Match, Ranked Match, or Unranked Match options, a countdown will commence allowing the players to vote on the desired geographical region, followed by another countdown allowing for more votes to be cast for the desired race type and, by extension, the type of track. Once the decision has been made final, players are given yet another countdown to choose one of the available cars for that event.

When hosting a race, players are given the option to choose between short, medium, and long events. The result of this choice is the number of races that will occur before the next round of voting begins. The number of laps for each race is also at the mercy of the host racer. As expected, the difficulty ramps up a bit during online play as the Flashback feature is unavailable.  Also, players who total their car during a multiplayer race will not be able to continue and enter spectator mode for the duration of the race. Yes, this does seem a bit harsh since you'll almost always encounter one opponent who'd rather turn the race into a demolition derby than compete to win.  But that's the brakes. 


While the graphics during online play appear to be inferior to those of the single player game, they're not too shabby. Car models and set pieces still look great. However, right out of the box, your opponents during online races appear flighty and can often be seen racing in the air with wheels hovering above the asphalt. The physics during online play are also out of sorts as crashes can cause cars to be launched to heights that must be over one hundred feet above the track. These issues were dealt with after applying the first of two patches that are currently available for the game. Access and information about these patches can be obtained at FileFront.com and many other gaming sites.



Performance Analysis

At this time, I'd like to turn it over to the one and only, you know him, you love him, Mr. Jarred Walton.  He's the hardware guru, I'm the game guru.  He's the DJ, I'm the . . ok, ok!
 
<Enter Jarred>
 
We'll wrap things up with a short discussion of performance followed by our conclusions. Considering how nice the game looks, performance is really quite good. Naturally, if you have a PC that's capable of running Crysis, you should experience no problems whatsoever in maxing out all of the detail settings. Even last year's high-end hardware (which is now available for less than $200) is fully capable of providing a good gaming experience at 1920x1200 with 4xAA. Frame rates might periodically dip down into the mid-20s, but average frame rates should have no difficulty staying above 40 FPS.
 
For those that prefer concrete numbers, Eddie used FRAPS to test performance over the first 20 seconds into one of the races. The section used for the benchmark is at the beginning of the race, so there are lots of vehicles on screen which may cause frame rates to be be slightly lower than what you will see in other areas of the game. The test system is Eddie's rig which consists of an overclocked Core 2 Duo E6300 (2.80GHz, 14x200), 4GB Corsair XMS2 PC6400 RAM, an ASUS P5B motherboard, and an EVGA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB video card. For those of you who read his recent blog post, the 7900 GTO is no more. He does still have the Rosewill PSU though! While his rig specs are by no means earth shattering, his has achieved some pretty nice results on maximum settings.  Check em out.
 
Performance with ATI Radeon HD 3870 was generally similar, with lower performance once anti-aliasing was enabled. We also looked at performance with GRID using multiple graphics chips in our Radeon HD 4870X2 preview. Everything performs about where you would expect for cutting-edge hardware, except that we experienced drastic performance drops at 2560x1600 on most of the GPUs (the 4870X2 being one exception). Updated drivers have addressed most of our performance concerns, and you will definitely want to run the latest drivers if you are using any dual-GPU setup.
 
As usual, users with lower end hardware (i.e. GeForce 8600/9500 GT or Radeon HD 2600/3650 or lower) will definitely need to step down the resolution and/or detail settings in order to achieve acceptable frame rates. Ultra quality settings are viable for higher end hardware, but you will need to drop to medium detail or even low detail for lesser graphics chips. Needless to say, the game doesn't impress nearly as much at medium or low detail, so you might be better off putting some money towards an upgraded GPU first if you fall into this category of users. Lucky for us, you can now get some serious graphics hardware like the Radeon HD 4850 for only $175, or you can pick up an 8800 GT like Eddie did for a measley $110 after mail in rebate. 
 
<Enter Eddie>
 
Thank you, Jared!  I'm still waiting on that rebate, by the way. 


Conclusion

Codemasters' GRID is easily a front-runner in the racing genre, providing one of the most entertaining driving pseudo-simulations that we can recall. Fans of the recent Need for Speed titles might miss the lack of a free roam mode, and those looking for the next Pimp My Ride experience will be left in despair; however, players who desire an exceptional racing experience will be pleased to no end. With beautifully rendered graphics and cars that actually feel like heavy machinery, GRID offers a blend of realistic and arcade racing with beautiful real-world locations and a chance to get behind the wheel of some of the world's most respected racing vehicles.

The game runs like a dream and is a lot of fun to play regardless of whether your preference is playing online or off. With varying types of racing all crammed into a single package, the game's replay value is off the charts. Racing fans will keep GRID in their collection of games for a long time to come, and even with a massive 12GB hard drive footprint we don't expect many users to be in a rush to uninstall this gem. Simply put, GRID is a welcome offering in the racing genre and comes easily recommended. Cheers to the good folks at Codemasters for another successful racing sim.

You can pick the game up for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and even the Nintendo DS - although the experience is quite different for the DS. Depending on your hardware, the consoles may or may not provide a better gaming experience. If you have at least a GeForce 8800/HD 3850, we'd recommend the PC version, but you'll probably want to make sure you have a gamepad or a steering wheel before you try this on a PC. For those that are interested but aren't quite ready to bite the bullet, you can also download the demo, which clocks in at a whopping 864MB. The demo is also available on Xbox Live Marketplace and the Playstation Network. Having played the 360 version of the game, I have to say that GRID on PC wins hands down.  But I'm sure you expected that.


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