Many gamers have that one developer and/or publisher they grew up with. Names that often come up are Sensible Software, Westwood, Bullfrog, 989, even companies that now come under public scrutiny like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. For me, Codemasters is that developer. All I used to do was play driving games and Codemasters was, and still is, credited with making some of the best in each generation of consoles.
When I was a kid playing on a PSone, I played Toca 2, Colin Mcrae Rally and Jarrett & Labonte Racing obsessively. When the PS2 came around many more hours were put into Toca Race Driver 2 and 3 and the continuing Colin Mcrae series. Granted, some of Codemasters titles that didn’t focus on driving weren’t so great. Damnation, Operation Flashpoint: Red River, Bodycount; not exactly a roster of winners. On top of that, all of these came out while Codemasters were on a role with their racing games. Colin McCrae Rally evolved into DiRT, Toca Race Driver evolved into GRID and everybody kind of forgot FUEL but that’s okay, because DiRT 3 and GRID were considered by many to be some of the best driving games of the last console generation. And, to top it all off, these master developers got their hands on the F1 license and have been turning out games in the series ever since their debut title in 2010.
So when Codemasters decided to get rid of their baggage and form Codemasters Racing a lot of people reacted with “It’s about damn time,”; however, since the new banner their games have been going in a slightly different direction. Their F1 games still appeal to the hardcore as well as newcomers but DiRT: Showdown and GRID 2 caught many longtime fans off guard with their new focus on arcade-like driving instead of towing the line between arcade and simulation. I too was caught off guard, a longtime fan finding myself power-sliding around corners at 100mph+ like a Need for Speed game. Despite that – and maybe I’m in the minority on this – I really enjoyed GRID 2. Sure, it’s different, but that’s not the same thing as bad. It had a certain personality and style that many driving games lack.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I’ve spent four hundred words or so not discussing GRID Autosport yet. Well, I needed to explain Codemasters’ past to show just how strange this game was for me to play. When I first heard about Autosport, I was kind of shocked. I wasn’t expecting to see another game so quickly, especially after GRID 2 came out five years after its predecessor. So I booted up the game thinking I was getting a glorified expansion pack, a game the developer puts out quickly so they can make some money as they’re figuring out how to get the most out of the new consoles. It wasn’t long until I discovered that this game is quite a bit more than that.
I first went in playing the same way I did with the second game, relaxed in a chair with a controller in hand; however, I noticed that I seemed to be crashing a lot more. When I broke out my G25 racing wheel and set up the controls, it all made perfect sense and the game become a lot more fun. Playing with the controller wasn’t bad by any means; you just benefit from greater precision of the wheel, unlike in GRID 2 where it almost felt redundant. After all the complaining from Codemasters fans, the UK developer has finally caved in and given fans more or less what they wanted. The game should’ve been called Toca Race Driver 4 because it shares a lot of similarities with those games from the PlayStation 2 era.
The physics are much closer to the simulation side of racing while retaining a handful of arcade elements. You can still power-slide your car easily enough but it’s no longer the default method of getting around corners like in GRID 2. You’re rewarded for being precise, delicate, and achieving the best line around a turn. Races can be tense with over a dozen cars on the track and narrow roads. There’s a lot going on in each race. Thankfully, Codemasters hasn’t lost its touch when it comes to artificial intelligence. After playing Gran Turismo 6 over the past year, it’s refreshing to have opponents fight to get their position back, even if it’s only 7th place.
Many of Codemasters nuances are in this game and for the most part they’re welcome. The customizable difficulty is still here, allowing you to choose any preset or fine tune such things as traction control, stability control and length of a race. Full damage also returns. Not only does it look great but it also has a profound effect on your car’s performance. In-fact, it’s almost too good. There were so many races where I ended up with my vehicle’s steering being damaged it was almost comical. I have no problem with this per se, but it’s the inconsistency that becomes annoying. There are times when I would inadvertently slam into another car’s rear end and get away with only cosmetic damage, while other times my steering was permanently effected from the slightest of fender benders.
This inconsistency also translates to the penalty system. On some tracks you can cut through entire corners without missing a beat, while on others you are penalized for putting a tire a fraction of an inch over the white line. If we’re going to talk about problems though, let’s move away from the nitpicking and head straight to the elephant in the room. In previous games you would choose an event, normally one with a race or two in different locations. From there, you would choose your car, and away you go. It works. I don’t see anything wrong with it but apparently the developers did because Autosport brings a new progression system to the table.
There are five main season types: Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner and Street. You earn experience points in each of these and once you’ve got all of them to certain levels you can enter the GRID championships, which combines all of them into one long season. When you pick a season to start, you select a team that features different goals for you to achieve, so you can gain more experience and be provided with a vehicle to use in each race. You don’t get any say in the matter though and the only way you can use a different vehicle is to go to a different team.
What’s strange is that Autosport very clearly tries to address one of GRID 2’s main problems, repeating race locations. It does this providing more tracks, but because you’re locked into a specific type of racing in each season, it still feels repetitive. It’s especially bad when the game forces you to participate in two races on the same track with no alteration to the course’s weather or time-of-day. As a result, the career mode can feel quite padded at times.
Thankfully, the gameplay itself is good enough that racing a second time isn’t as much of a chore, but it does bring the game down a bit. What doesn’t help is that even without previous knowledge, it’s obvious the game was developed in a year. The padded career mode, lack of music and occasional glitches – like cars magically going twenty feet into the air – all add to the feeling that the game was rushed to market.
Autosport’s multiplayer is just as good as any other of Codemasters racing game. The menus are easy to navigate, there is money to earn so you can buy your own vehicles, and the racing is fun. Internet connections are handed better than most games of any genre. I was able to play with people from Japan to Germany with barely noticeable lag. Plus, the game showcases it’s variety a lot better than it does in the single player. You still have to deal with dickheads that ram people off the road but it’s easy enough to exit a game and find a new lobby with better players.
The presentation in GRID Autosport is pretty much what you would expect from a game made quickly and released for last generation consoles. On the Playstation 3 it doesn’t look bad. The lighting is still the best part with beautiful reflections from sunlight. That being said it isn’t as smooth as the original GRID, the sense of speed isn’t as exciting and the blurry interior views leave a lot to be desired. But hey, I guess we should be happy it even has them at all.
For me Grid Autosport was a strange game to review. Honestly, I didn’t like it at first. I thought they were just pandering to all the whiners that thought GRID 2 was an abomination just because it had no cockpit view. Don’t get me wrong, they ARE pandering, but in a good way. Longtime Codemasters fans should be very happy with Autosport being a throwback to the good old days. Personally, that’s my issue though; it’s a throwback, not its own thing. GRID, and to a greater extent its sequel, had a certain style and agency that Autosport lacks in comparison. That and the career progression prevent this game from being brilliant. Ultimately though, GRID Autosport is a consistently satisfying, intense and rewarding game, one that I can’t wait to continue playing.