The last Codemasters racing game I played was F1 2013. It was furiously hard; an issue compounded by the fact that I am hopelessly awful at racing games more complex than Need For Speed. I remember ending up comparing it (favourably) to Dark Souls relentlessly compelling difficult.
With that in mind I was exceptionally apprehensive slipping the Grid Autosport disc into the drive but I was pleasantly surprise with what followed.
There's a fantastic amount of depth on offer here and while the majority of Grid Autosport is about crossing the finish line first there is an incredible volume of variety to be had across the five different disiplines – Street, Touring Cars, Open Wheel, Endurance and Tuner.
What adds to the variety here is the way Codemasters has structured the career mode. Instead of jumping into one discipline and racing all the top before tackling another discipline the career mode is split into seasons. Finish one season which usually consists of a handful of events and you'll find you have contract offers in all of the disciplines meaning that you can race in whatever discipline takes your fancy. It's a neat idea that keeps the game fresh in what is an exceptionally long career mode.
Street, Touring Car and Open Wheel disciplines are all fairly simple to get to grips with. They all operate around the traditional head-to-head track racing but each focuses on a slightly different skillset.
Street racing involves getting to grips with suped-up road cars in tight street circuits, trading paint and rubber as you push to be the first to the chequered flag. This is probably the easiest discipline to get to grips with. The cars at the low end of career mode are fairly slow in comparison to some of the other disciplines and they handle fairly simply. The tracks that appear in the Street discipline will take players to some of the world's most fantastic cities from San Francisco and Chicago to Paris and Barcelona.
The Touring Car discipline is fairly similar to Street but on real tracks. It visits places like Sepang in Malaysia and Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi both of which have been custom-build with Formula One races in mind and currently feature on the F1 race calendar. I'd expected the handling to be pretty tough in a Touring Car season but they are just generous enough to make racing a real joy.
Open Wheel requires a little more skill than the other straight racing disciplines. Contact is very much to be avoided and the open wheel cars are by far the fastest on offer. Given that these competitions tend to feed F1 in real life Open Wheel is all about the skill. I was really bad at F1 2013 and I was genuinely scared about Open Wheel races but I was surprised at just how welcoming the handling was in my first season.
Endurance is s different kettle of fish though. You race at night on tough tracks and the winner is the one who completes a set distance first. It's all about survival here and tyre management is key to this. The car handling in Endurance is a bit more tricky to get to grips with as these cars tend to slide a fair bit in cornering making it all the more important to meet the apex at just the right speed. This was the discipline I found most difficult to get to grips with. I believe it's probably the best discipline for seasoned racing gamers though as it really pushes skills and reflexes to the limit.
Finally there's the Tuner discipline. This is different from the others as it encompasses two different racing styles. First there's Time Attack in which you race to score the best time on whatever circuit you happen to be racing on. Then there's Drift events which are all about flair and style in how you slide your specially modified car around the circuit and the winner is the one with the most points at the end of the event. The variety here is impressive. One weekend you could be racing muscle cars in Time Attack around the a circuit Indianapolis Speedway the next you could be Drifting a hot-hatch.
In the end the whole game is about developing your racing skills and it's clear that Codemasters has spent an awful lot of time researching each discipline. The handling of each car in each even is superb and nicely predictable which makes Grid Autosport a joy to play.
The game also looks exquisite. It has reall benefitted from being released only on current-gen consoles and PC. Codemasters has managed to squeeze every ounce of performance our of the Xbox 360 and the game is a much better experience for it as this iteration of their Ego engine comes towards the end of its life.
As deep as the single-player elements of Grid Autosport are, the game also has some pretty extensive multiplayer options. Of course, there's the simple quick race which throws you into whatever multiplayer event needs an extra driver to participate but the depth comes with the RaceNet integration. Multiplayer offers much of the kind of options that Evolution are hoping to perfect with DriveClub like racing clubs and daily challenges.
All of this has been refined with community feedback from Grid 2. In fact, it was the community's dismay at the lack of proper track-based events in Grid 2 that prompted Codemasters to build Grid Autosport with such a heavy focus on track disciplines and I'm really glad that they listened.
Another stiking feature of Grid Autosport is its careful balancing. It's gently competitive for newcomers at the lower difficulties while tough and exacting enough at higher difficulties for most of the hardcore racing gamers out there to really sink their teeth into. There's plenty of deep options that I haven't mentioned here too like fine-tuning of setups which offers an added layer of depth for those that want it.
Grid Autosport is about as close to racing perfection as gamers will get and it's another compelling reason for keeping your current-gen consoles plugged into your TV next to whatever next-gen behemoth you've decided to invest in.
Grid Autosport is out now on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
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