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Race Driver: GRID

TOCA's into the tyrewall - GRID's behind the wheel now

The last time you saw a Race Driver game, it had a 'TOCA' bit in front of it and a massive '3' opposite the last 'r'. It was huge, verging on morbidly obese, and we were its feeders, revelling in its fatness, squeezing its pudgy spare tyres. It was so big, it needed the fire brigade to cut it out of the PS2 when it needed to go for a wee.

But Codemasters was plainly disgusted at our filthy cravings and decided to call a stop to it all. "STOP!", the Codies called, snatching its bulbous game from our fingers and whisking it away to the safety of its Warwickshire HQ, and we never saw it again.

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The days crawled by and eventually we stopped crying ourselves to sleep. Then out of the blue, we spotted it again. Where once we played a TOCA game which covered pretty much every kind of racing discipline, we now have a svelte and well-buff racer, and it's left its past behind. "Hey TOCA! How are you?" we said - but it totally blanked us. It only answers to Race Driver: GRID now.

It hasn't gone all supermodel-thin or anything by any means, but PS3's supermassive nuclear core is being tapped to angle for more realistic racing over sheer size, so that means the Scottish mechanic has carked it and with him the Story mode. Here are some clichés to help you picture what we mean. GRID has gone back to its roots. GRID is all about the racing. In GRID, you are the story.

Grudge matches
Instead of chucking every conceivable motorsport into the game, which would have edged it precariously close to its stablemate Colin McRae: DiRT, GRID focuses on the hook of rivalries established around the globe, and on the sense of a global championship taking place around you. You might have a brush with a racer specialising in Japanese drift events and not see him again for ages, but then find him lining up on the grid beside you - mindful that your driving put him into the crash barriers last time you met.

The Neon engine that was used to power DiRT has evolved into EGO engine, and it's responsible for giving GRID's AI a humanistic air. Computer-controlled racers are fallible, and can crumble if you pile the pressure on them. When we played, we noticed cars losing it every now and again, getting the jitters not only from our icy driving, but from that of other drivers too. Driver error is compounded by the possibility of competitors suffering a terminal engine or tyre blow-out, but these random events won't afflict your own car.

This human element, of speeding through thronging streets and being part of a hubbub of activity, extends to the crowds lining the circuits. There'll be up to 40,000 spectators at any one event, milling around, whooping at passing racing cars and panicking when they see a ton of metal careening towards them.

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Faces in the crowd
Each one of them has been motion-captured, too, to top off the effect. When you think of leading racers of recent times, the one thing that has been tricky to nail has been that feeling of being watched by excited onlookers. Well, GRID will get pretty close to pulling that off.

You'll start off as a struggling racer who is the antithesis of Lewis Hamilton - there's no multi-million-pound race simulators for you to work out on. You've got a beaten up old car, a ramshackle garage and splinters in your fingers from trying to hold on to the bottom rung of the reputation ladder. First things first then - you've got to earn cash to fix up your wheels. That done, you've then got to string together the results to garner some of the attention from bigger teams, and by accepting their requests for your talents, your bank balance will swell accordingly.

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