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Precise control and miles of detail boost Grid Autosport toward first place

Read out full Grid Autosport review.

With Codemasters’ Grid 2 having just passed its one-year anniversary, it’s fair to wonder why there’s a need for a follow-up now in Grid Autosport. Polished video games are always an enticing proposition during the release-light summer months, and Autosport comes to PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on June 24 (June 27 in Europe). But with shiny, new hardware and a growing library of so-called “next-gen” games to choose from, what could Codies possibly have to offer that builds on or steps away from last year’s game in any meaningful way?

Quite a bit, as a recent, extended hands-on look demonstrated.

Story/Concept

Choose your own racing career. The multi-discipline racing that’s always been at the heart of the Grid games gets fine-tuned in Autosport in a way that makes the game feel a bit more approachable. Grid 2‘s fictional World Series Racing league is gone, with the thin attempt at delivering a pre-conceived narrative replaced by player-guided progression that breaks all multi-race events up across five categories: Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner, and Street.

Each one requires a very different approach to how you play, and each also carries its own “level” progression that informs which events are available and how much juice different sponsors brings to the table. Your first Touring event might only have one sponsor with limited vehicle upgrade opportunities available, but complete that event and you’ll have the opportunity to work with other sponsors (and their increasingly diverse garages) in the Touring circuit.

GRID Autosport

The intent is to let players focus on finding success with whatever style of racing suits them most. In our limited time spent with Grid Autosport, there didn’t appear to be any penalty for sticking to a particular discipline. In truth, advancement comes even more quickly when you take the time to really commit to a discipline, especially since there are additional XP bonuses to be had as you turn off difficulty-easing features like Steering Assist and Traction Control.

Gameplay

It’s about finding a middleground. Grid leaned very heavily in the direction of simulated racing, and Grid 2 put the brakes on simulation to deliver more accessible play. Autosport seems to strike a balance between the two. Car handling doesn’t break physics completely, but rules are bent here and there for the sake of fun. The flashback feature also returns, allowing you to rewind a few seconds of an offline race at the press of a button, say after a poorly executed turn.

The temptation with racing games is always to dive in and get to the action, but we quickly learned that in Grid Autosport, it’s a very good idea to take advantage of the Practice and Qualifying rounds that precede each race. You stand to secure yourself a better starting position from doing well during the qualifier, and there’s also a lot of value in learning how to handle your car going into key turns. Each car has very different characteristics, and the pre-race rounds are just as valuable for learning the car as they are for learning the track.

GRID Autosport

More than anything else, the tight controls are what stand out. That may not be a surprise given Codemasters’ deep background in the genre, but the careful balance between precision and accessibility is immediately apparent when you pick up a controller. Cars handle like they’re supposed to, and flashback gives even the most lead-footed players an opportunity to quickly and easily learn from their mistakes. This isn’t any kind of revelation for racing games, but there’s a level of craft present here that translates to a very satisfying experience.

Presentation

These are sweet rides. There are nicer-looking racing games out there, but Grid Autosport puts a welcome emphasis on delivering smaller details. The race tracks benefit the most from this, with responsive environments that become increasingly trashed as 16 automobiles traveling at high speeds collide with obstacles and spin into walls. Everything outside the bounds of the racetrack is similarly rich with detail, right down to the individually modeled spectators gathered to watch the action.

The cars themselves look sharp, but once again, it’s the level of depth behind the textures that wins here. There’s a lot of visual feedback connected to damage and natural wear, with front ends crunching in and sparks flying off of tire-less rims. Beaten-down rides don’t just look the part; they sound and act like it, too. Sputtering exhalations are a constant reminder when your exhaust system takes a hit, and unintended weaving or downright broken steering marks a decimated steering column.

GRID Autosport

Ultimately, all of these minor details come together to make you feel like you’re right there on the track. There are even two different cockpit views to choose from, complete with the muffled sound that you’d expect to hear when inside a car. Again, nothing new for racing games, but realized with a level of precision that screams “polished,” even in (admittedly release-imminent) preview form.

Takeaway

It’ll be hard to say for sure until we can spend some time with the finished product, but Codemasters seems to have justified the existence of Grid Autosport barely a year after Grid 2 arrived. It’s a decidedly different game than its predecessor, with a more streamlined approach to progression that favors player choice and mechanics aimed to bring back those that prefer the first Grid to its follow-up. June 24 is just a few weeks away, so you’ll be able to find out for yourself soon enough.