The history of Codemasters’ TOCA series is a long and sprawling one. It began way back in 1997 with the PlayStation’s TOCA Touring Car Championship, an odd rough diamond that’s worth a revisit just to see the origins of this high-flying franchise. Sequel after sequel followed, and before long the TOCA series had morphed into Race Driver: Grid. This being the franchise’s new identity, Grid 2 and the slightly more authentic Grid Autosport came next.
Now, we have this year’s Grid (yes, it’s just called Grid, and yes, it’s the first game in the series to bear that title). Codemasters says that Grid is intended to be a reboot, meaning anyone who doesn’t have anything invested in the franchise right now can pick it up and start playing. Of course, it’s still a game for petrolheads through and through, but this new accessible coat of paint is intended to attract a wider audience. Has it worked, or will Grid languish in obscurity?
Here’s the thing: if a racing game wants to be loved, it has to get one thing right and one thing alone, and that’s its core mechanics. All the ancillary stuff wrapped around a racing game’s driving systems will help to make the game feel more interesting and real, but it won’t save a mechanically broken game and it won’t ruin one that gets everything right on the track. Grid, it’s our pleasure to report, gets everything right on the track, even if it doesn’t quite manage to do so elsewhere.
The first thing to report is that Grid is woefully unintuitive in terms of its menu systems. Managing your team is, for some reason, not included in the same part of the menu screen as the career mode. This means every time you want to go back and change some aspect of your team’s stats, there’s no seamless way to do it. That might sound like a small gripe, but it’s indicative of an overall problem with Grid’s user experience; it’s not intuitive and it’s not enjoyable to navigate.
The career mode itself is also surprisingly anaemic and feature-poor. Fernando Alonso is acting as a “racing consultant” on this game, which presumably means he’s given a lot of tips to the team on car physics and track construction. He’s also the “final boss” of the career mode, but to reach him, you’re going to have to put in a lot of work and spend a lot of time playing. Early cars won’t cut it in later races, so you’ll have to grind cash to afford better cars, which means the career can feel incredibly repetitive.
All of this would be more of a problem if it weren’t for the one thing Grid gets unequivocally, undeniably right: the driving. This is the smoothest and most sumptuous a TOCA game has ever felt. The series has come a long way from its clunky PS1 beginnings, but it still maintains a single important strand of DNA: it’s an arcade racer, pure and simple, and any trappings that try to convince you it’s for car tuning enthusiasts are completely misguided.
Grid just feels amazing to play. The tuning and handling on each car is exquisite. Each turn you make will have you squealing with joy as the car’s tyres screech on the tarmac, your effortless skill making the sheer act of driving transcendental. There are a huge amount of cars available, and while a good deal of content seems to be hidden behind the game’s season pass, there’s plenty here for car lovers and newbies alike to sink their teeth into.
The tracks themselves are also absolutely beautiful. Some of the world’s most iconic locations are recreated in jaw-dropping detail here, and you’ll be tempted to just stop the car and gaze out across the verdant fields and busy urban byways Grid offers. If you’re playing on a PS4 Pro (which we heartily recommend) then the game runs at a buttery-smooth 60fps, and your eyes will struggle to believe what they’re seeing when you watch Grid’s fluid action play out with such slick aplomb.
The AI in Grid has been significantly improved since the early days of the franchise too. Gone are the days when cars would struggle to keep up with even the most rudimentarily skilled player. Now, every single race has the AI putting up a serious fight; they’ll play aggressively, trying to undercut you at corners and making sure your victory doesn’t come easily. This is the first Grid game where it feels like you’ll have to fight back.
It’s such a shame that Grid’s ancillary structures aren’t quite there, because the core gameplay is so fantastic that all the game needed was an excuse to parade that gameplay around. As it stands, playing Grid is a joyous experience, but it can sometimes feel like the external parts of the game are trying their hardest to stop you from enjoying it. More career features and a less intrusive user experience would have made this game perfect. As it stands, it’s simply great, which is more than good enough.
In the end, Grid is a solid, extremely playable arcade racer that doesn’t take a huge amount of risks with its driving but that offers an incredible core experience nonetheless. Fernando Alonso’s hand is visible in everything from car selection to brake feedback and track design, but Codemasters are the real stars here. They’re one of the great unsung studios, putting out great work after great work with no fuss and no mess. Grid should be added to your collection if you’re even remotely interested in racing video games.