Autosport kicks GRID 2 to the kerb, but never quite runs off into the sunset.
GRID Autosport tries to make you feel like a real racing driver, but its troublesome handling model and disappointing PS3 visuals mean that it never quite makes it to the front of the pack.
GRID 2 was a big disappointment and Codemasters’ latest racing title is clearly designed to directly address the critical and fan response to that game. From the return of cockpit view, to claims of a more ‘authentic’ handling model, GRID Autosport feels like box ticking in the places that its predecessor missed. Because of that, the end result feels like a response to the previous game, rather than a title with its own vision.
From the moment that the lights first turn green, Autosport’s handling is a marked difference from GRID 2’s. For the most part, the cars understeer and oversteer in all of the right places, doing away with the constant oversteer and drifting that spoiled the previous title. Autosport’s most impressive feature is the way that it handles braking. For the first time in a console racing game, you can really feel the limit of braking with the ABS assist turned off. This means that locking wheels feels like a mistake you made, rather than an artificial layer of difficulty. You can really modulate the braking.
Autosport splits its Career mode into different disciplines; Touring, Endurance, Open-Wheel, Tuner and Street. Each handles very differently, but not all of them are satisfying to drive. The Open-Wheel cars, especially the Formula Three machine, are tremendous fun. They grip to the road well and give you a great feeling of speed. The other disciplines feel much slower and lack the front end bite of the formula cars. Tuner and Street are particularly dull and don’t really give you very much road feel at all. They just aren’t much fun to drive, despite street circuit favourites like Washington and San Francisco returning from past GRID games.
Generally, the handling is a huge improvement over GRID 2, but it still feels strangely unsatisfying compared to Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, or even Codemasters own F1 games. The depth just isn’t there. With Traction Control turned off, some of the oversteer issues from GRID 2 reappear, causing cars to snap into slides violently with little warning.
There is a big problem with consistency too. Normally you would expect to build rhythm and speed into your driving by repeating braking points, downshifts and turn-in points, lap after lap. In GRID Autosport this seems to yield slightly different results from lap to lap, making smooth driving unsatisfying, unrewarding and ultimately slower than throwing the car around in an unrealistic fashion. This doesn’t fit with the game’s claims of ‘authentic’ handling.
The graphics also fall short of feeling authentic in the PS3 version. Texture and model detail seems to vary wildly from car to car. The Touring Cars look great, but the Open-Wheel cars have noticeably low res textures. Put GRID Autosport next to Codemasters’ own F1 2013 and the difference is night and day. Autosport on PS3 is nothing like as impressive as the trailers. There’s strange artefacting on shadows and particle effects, and the returning cockpit cameras are blurred out with a depth-of-field effect that feels like a cheap way of preserving the framerate. The cockpit view is really no better than the blacked-out look of the ‘Standard’ cars in Gran Turismo 5 & 6. Codies has made some concessions to serious racers though, by offering two slightly different cockpit cameras; one close up on the dashboard, and one set further back. You can also turn off the on-screen steering wheel if you’re playing with a wheel yourself.
In general, Autosport doesn’t appear to push the PS3’s capabilities and isn’t as impressive as GT6 and F1 2013 on the same console. The framerate can get a little choppy too, which isn’t great considering the lack of detail in places. The PC version is leagues ahead in detail and framerate.
On the other hand, Autosport sounds fantastic on PS3, with the best collision sounds and brake lock-ups of any racing game. Engine audio is good as well, though lacking the ferocity of Forza Motorsport or Project CARS. My favourite bits of audio are the ambient noises at the track. It’s great to be able to hear the trackside announcers during quiet moments in the race.
Off the track, the structure of Career mode harkens back to TOCA Race Driver 3 on PS2, tasking you with building your career in a single discipline, or building a broader profile across multiple areas. I began by working through the Open-Wheel Career, but stopped when I noticed that the end-game GRID events were not unlocking. Unless you play every discipline to a certain level, you can never access the top tier Career events. This is really unfortunate. It would have been more satisfying to be rewarded for specialising in my favourite class.
None of the disciplines are particularly fleshed out either. Open-Wheel uses mostly out-of-date formula cars and isn’t really representative of the modern sport. Indycar is presented as the pinnacle and the game features the old A1GP cars instead of a proper F1 feeder series like GP3 or GP2. Endurance racing is good fun, because it tasks you with making your tires last over long races, but real endurance racing allows for pit-stops. It’s also missing multiclass racing, the Le Mans 24 Hours and day/ night transitions. All of which were part of the first GRID game. Personally, I could have done without the Street and Tuner disciplines in favour of more content and more attention-to-detail in the Open-Wheel and Endurance categories.
The best category by far is Touring Cars. This is where Codemasters’ racing DNA is at its best. Aggressive, full contact racing, with big, durable racing cars. From the hot-hatches familiar to fans of the British Touring Car Championship, to the German sedans of the DTM, this is the most enjoyable selection of Touring Cars since the TOCA series. The understeer and the slower pace can be frustrating at times, but the full-blooded racing is great fun, both online and off.
Online, GRID Autosport uses Codemasters’ RaceNet service better than any of its previous titles. Weekly challenges, stat tracking and leaderboards have all been done in previous Codies titles, but the way that they are unified here makes competing with the community more enjoyable than ever. Clubs have also come to RaceNet for the first time, so there is scope for some compelling rivalries too.
In some ways, GRID Autosport is the game that GRID 2 should have been. It’s handling is more nicely balanced and it places more emphasis on Codemasters’ core skills: creating great racing games. Battling with the AI is great fun and it’s here where this studio continues to shine ahead of other racing developers. However, the authenticity of the physics still isn’t quite right and the game never quite lives up to the visuals promised in its marketing. If you were disappointed by GRID 2 and you want something closer to the classic TOCA experience, then you should give Autosport a try, but if you’re searching for something a little more realistic and closer to the F1 games, you will probably come away disappointed.