In motorsport, you don't drive with your instinct, you drive from memory, with a lot of reference points". Not our words, but those of professional race driver Felipe Ortiz, and after a few hours spent with Race Driver: GRID, you'll realise just how right he is. In motorsport, the driver's mind has to be as mechanical as his chariot; that's why for every wacky funster like Juan Pablo Montoya that comes along, there's an army of Nigel Mansell drone-o-bots on stand-by.
To be a race driver, you have to be a machine. You have to know the tracks inside out. And then a little bit more. Lonely Friday mornings are spent circling a deserted race track. And when you crack under pressure, and your dreams crumple in tune with your nose-cone, you have to dust yourself off and get out there again. Motorsport is a true sport; it punishes mind and body in a way no other does.
And here, back on the Xbox, we have a problem, because repetition is the enemy of gameplay. While there's much to be said for the feeling of elation that comes with finally completing a tricky section, no-one wants to retread the previous five minutes beforehand. It's why checkpoints are so prevalent in games today; why many shooters allow you to save as and when you like. But those aren't practical solutions for a 'serious' racing game. So how can you maintain the player's resolve when just one shoddy corner can wreck a twenty-minute-long race? Race Driver: GRID has the answer: time travel.
Done yourself a mischief? Simply go into the replay menu, wind the clock back to any point from the last five seconds and restart from there. The first time you do this, you'll feel like Dr McCheato of Cheatington Village - after all, a moment ago, your engine was up your nose and on fire, and now you're once again trundling along the circuit in your pipe and slippers. But once you get into the thick end of things, you'll realise it's an essential crutch, a safety net to prevent you having to redo those previous three perfect laps because of one minor faux-pas.
And because you're only allocated a certain number of flashbacks per race, it's not like it's a decision to be made lightly. Can you recover from this situation without using up one of your 'lives'? You have around three seconds to decide before you reach the point of no return. We suppose if you don't have the time to memorise GRID's myriad of racetracks, you'll have to drive by instinct after all. Sorry, Felipe.
Question: does the existence of this kind of lifeline sap the tension away from GRID's racing? Answer: only if you're a big fraidy-cat. To climb up the rankings and unlock new licenses and events, you have to earn 'respect points', achieved primarily by winning races and other challenges. You can increase the amount of respect points earned in a race by upping the challenge. Crank the opposition AI up a notch or two, and your lifelines will drop in correlation. Or you could just turn the lifeline option off altogether. Or turn off all your driving aids. Or fix the in-game camera inside the car, if you're mad.
All the while, you're competing against some of the most aggressive, most realistic racing opponents yet seen in any videogame (and, yes, we include Bowser and Donkey Kong in that). It's like your Xbox has finally got bored of you punching it in the face and shooting its limbs off over the last 30 months, and has decided that this time, you're going down, bitch. Tense? If you're not tense after all this, then you're clearly some manner of Nigel Mansell drone-o-bot, and we recommend you close the magazine before the gorgeous screenshots make you do a drool in your circuitry.
Compared to TOCA 3, GRID has scaled back the number of racing disciplines considerably (not such a bad thing, as the few that remain have been crafted with a renewed focus). Our favourite challenge is the engrossingly epic cat and mouse tussles known as the downhill togue races. The drift challenges are the crying girl in the bathroom that threatens to spoil the party - the PGR-style chain-drifting just doesn't suit GRID's game engine in our mind, but we've seen lots worse.
Our only other reservation is that perhaps the presentation is a wee bit dry throughout... but then again, motorsport has never been the most whimsical of subjects - just ask Mr Ortiz. Like its predecessors, GRID is a bewitchingly addictive racer, astounding in how much content it has to offer. You'll never get so much mileage for £40. With today's petrol prices, you can't afford not to.
Racing action as strong as the walls you'll get shunted into. Seriously good.
- Girlfriend-stealingly gorgeous
- Terrific sense of speed
- Exemplary level design