Grid PS3 / Xbox 360

Grid PS3 / Xbox 360
Codemasters’s reputation for racing games has been built upon a more realistic type of game, such as their Colin McRae Rally series, but recently they’ve shifted to arcade-like games that are more accessible right from the start. That has translated into much more enjoyable games with more forgiving controls but not an end product that feels particularly complete as a result. So their TOCA Touring Car series has been re-imagined as GRID, a wonderfully diverse game that is simply fun to play.

It manages to capture the visceral thrill of speed in a way that almost rivals the Burnout series, plus it has a few nifty tricks up its sleeve. The most obvious of those is "Flashback,” the ability to turn back time to before a crash or mistake and have another try — simply rewind the "Instant Replay” to a more favourable time and start over. Naturally, there are a limited number of times this can be done during a race and it verges on being almost too powerful, but it’s an incredibly useful tool to have during early attempts at events where tracks might not be completely familiar. Plus, when a game moves this fast, it doesn’t hurt to have a safety net, as a split second decision can be the difference between first and last.

The diversity comes in the form of the wealth of cars and events. The expected race circuits are there, such as the legendary Le Mans, but the street racing in San Francisco with muscle cars or the demolition derbies bring plenty of challenges that simply don’t usually show up in this kind of game. Even more compelling are the Pro Touge stages that demand complete and utter concentration as you hurtle down a narrow hillside track, trying to maintain speed but not touch the opponent’s vehicle.

GRID is all about balance. It appears that players have a huge amount of freedom in the single player "GRID World” but there isn’t much in the way of customisation. Yet it doesn’t matter at all because between managing a successful racing team, accumulating as many cars as possible and maintaining a decent reputation, there isn’t much time to fiddle about with trying to extract the best performance from every car. And with the cars looking so spectacular when they crash, there’s something very enjoyable about watching the occasional collision.

While there are some issues, such as the slightly annoying drift events, GRID does more than enough to stand out from the already crowded field of racing games. With its lovely graphics, great presentation, plus imaginative and innovative features, it could well turn out to be the best of the genre this year. (Codemasters)