The Other Black Sheep
As it stands, currently the two frontrunners in the racing "simcade" genre are Gran Turismo and Forza, each offering something unique to racing fans. In my ongoing series where I discuss Gran Turismo 7 content, I discussed what makes GT a "driving" simulator over a racing one. I've even briefly discussed how Forza, its 'competitor', focused more on racing over its GT counterpart. There is, however, one other racing series that belongs in the "simcade" conversation. That would be none other than Codemaster's Grid series. Originally beginning as TOCA series, Codemasters eventually created a spinoff series known as TOCA Race Driver in 2002 and ended with Race Driver 3 in 2006.
These three games focused on a fictional plot featuring sanctioned racing tournaments complete with team and business management. As the partnership between TOCA and Codemasters waned, the latter dropped the "TOCA" branding and evolved the series into Grid. While it was a "simcade," the series lauded itself on realism in racing. Sponsorships and various disciplines gave players a designated path to focus on. Those who wished to focus on racing could do so while those who wish to burn tires in drifting championships can commit to their heart's content. While a revered series in its own right, Codemasters suffered through an identity crisis.
Going Off The 'Grid'
Following the breakout success in Race Driver: Grid, Codemasters rode the momentum with its sequel, Grid 2 in 2013 five years later. This would polarize fans of the original as Grid 2 was notoriously stripped down to an arcade version of its former 'simulation' self. Compared to the previous entry, the cars were easier to control and much more dynamic, essentially doing a better job than what Need For Speed was doing at the time. Unfortunately, for the older fans, this wasn't exactly what they wanted. Grid 2 was a solid title and is one of my favorite racing games, but the shifting reception made Codemasters go back to the drawing board.
Enter Grid: Autosport, released almost exactly a year later in 2014, as a "companion piece" to Grid 2. This was Codemaster's way of creating a title that returned many features from its TOCA Race Driver days. While Grid 2 would be for one section of racing fans, Autosport would be Codemaster's title for their core audience. As such, it would favor realism and a career mode similar to Grid while using an altered engine based on Grid 2. While this title was received well by critics, the writing was on the wall. Whatever would come next in the series would have to find a way to cater to a specific fanbase or try to reach a compromise. The Grid 'reboot' arguably did neither.
What Went Wrong? Or Did Something Go Wrong?
I remember when Grid was announced for a 2019 release and my reaction was that of excitement. For the longest time, I felt like Codemasters favored Dirt over its tarmac sibling. So to see my beloved racing series finally make a return, I was excited. Then the early reviews came pouring in, followed shortly by disappointment. It was "okay," it didn't shake the room nor was it a disaster. It was just "average" to the majority. Eventually, I would pick up the title on sale to see for myself and at the time I'd be inclined to agree. The menu system is similar to Autosport yet the career progression has elements of Grid 2, featuring a "choose your own league" approach.
Much like the former, you select a league, choose a corresponding car, win the championships and progress. There are several different leagues ranging from GT cars, tuners, classics, and more. Players will start with a limited roster but they can earn credits as they win races, which can be used to purchase more cars. Customization was never Grid's strong suit nor was it Codemaster's intention. Each car is pre-tuned to race-spec standards. Players can edit liveries, but that's the extent of the customization. Pick your favorite car and conquer the Career mode.
Grid 2019 Is No Frills, Yet It's Misunderstood
Aside from being a part of a racing team, in which you have a racing partner that co-exists with you on the grid, this is essentially Grid 2019. There are no "fans" or "social media" to tend to nor are there quotas to complete like in Grid 2. The sponsors mechanic that had existed since the original is also gone. In many ways, this reboot is more akin to Codemaster's early racing genre days. Back when it was all about the racing and less about the "bells and whistles." The actual racing seems to be an amalgamation of all three Grid titles, leaning towards a more lenient Autosport.
Graphically, it was one of the most impressive-looking titles in 2019 despite the title being well optimized for lower-performing PCs. Two and a half years later, played on a beefier rig, Grid 2019 continues to shine. With every setting set to its highest, including dynamic resolution and VRS, its quality is comparable to Dirt 5. For a game that was released during the twilight of the previous generation to be compared graphically to a next-gen launch title is a high compliment. Reflections and shadows are dynamic, casting off the lights of buildings, the glistening rain, and other cars. It's a very beautiful game that holds its own to the current greats.
Seeing Its Potential Brings Grid A New Lease On Life
Experiencing this game in a way I never could in the past, made me think differently of Grid 2019. At the end of the day, watching beautiful cars engage in hard-earned scraps at fast speed is the end goal for this game. The AI was always aggressive, fighting with the player and with each other.
Watching car pile-ups aren't as uncommon as one would think and its the unpredictability that makes this game enjoyable. Sure it's "what you see is what you get," but it's not a bad thing at all. With Grid Legends now available, it's nice to look back to when the series was redefining itself again.
Grid 2019 is available on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One.