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Race Driver: GRID

Preview: The sequel to Race Sidelines Spectator: GRID

There's a strange look of embarrassment spreading across lead designer Ralph Fulton's face. It stands out from his otherwise giddy and enthusiastic presentation. "So, when you complete a race category you unlock a one-on-one race against, ah, Ravenwest Motors," he says. "They're the sort of bad guys in the game. These races are like boss fights."

He had nothing to look shifty about. This was just confirmation that GRID is going to continue the cheesy rivalries of ToCA: Race Driver, and it was the plot that made that game stand out in the first place. If the team want something to be embarrassed about, we nominate their dropping of the ToCA name for a subtitle that sounds kind of edgy but means absolutely nothing.

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So in GRID the idea is still that of being the superstar of your very own friendly racing team, trying to win races and manage sponsorship until you're at the top of the leaderboards. The tweaks and upgrades, however, are just everywhere.
The biggest change is your team-mate: a hireable and fireable driver who is entered into each race alongside you. Each racing team will always enter two cars, meaning even those tense one-on-ones will technically be two-on-twos. You'll have no control over the driver but there'll be hundreds to choose from, each with different skills, personalities and costs.

The two of you are in for some interesting times together. As well as travelling all over the US, Europe and Japan, driving everything from American muscle cars to GT cars to Formula 3000 racers, you'll also be taking part in drift racing. No, wipe that sneer off your face and stop wearing your jeans several inches too low. This isn't Need For Speed: Tokyo Drift drift racing. This is professional, legal D1 Drift Racing. It might not have taken off in the UK yet due to a marketing slip-up, but it's already huge in Japan and the US.

Codemasters seem disappointed by other games' efforts to recreate drifting so far. "They either change the physics of the game entirely, or sometimes the drifting just won't be fun," Ralph told us. "Here we've got proper lightweight drift cars, and we've got D1 guys on the team with us."

Something else Ralph was keen to stress was the damage system, which the team expanded from Colin McRae DiRT after they chose to use its engine. The interior as well as the exterior of each car is painstakingly modelled, enabling the dynamic portrayal of scratches, dents and crumpling. Eventually, bumpers, bonnets and even wheels become hazards on later laps.

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And that's where the flashback system comes in. In an effort to avoid the frustration you might feel when you screw up a corner on the final lap and total your car, you have a new option when you're rewinding an action replay of your failure: you can drop back into the action.

It's a pretty audacious addition. After all, doesn't the tension of high speed racing come from knowing that one slip-up could lose you everything? Also, with this in play, fair track design might become less of a priority. Then again, at the end of every season of GRID you'll get the chance to enter into the Le Mans 24 hour race (faithfully recreated over 24 minutes) and just the thought of crashing in the 23rd minute sends shivers down our spines. Codemasters haven't finalized exactly how this system will be used yet - we'll just have to wait and see.

One thing we can say without qualms is that GRID is looking pretty, and not in a Crysis, treating-your-CPU-like-a-yard-of-ale way either. They're trying to infuse each area with personality, whether that means making Washington DC brash and patriotic, or exaggerating the contrast between sunlight and shade in Milan, or filling the Yokohama docks with towering orange steel.

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