When it comes to racing games, there are two distinct camps. Arcade-style racers like Mario Kart emphasize fun and flash, providing an easy learning curve for those who just want to zoom around with their friends. Simulation-style racers, like Codemasters' GRID Autosport, are methodical and serious. Like, tax audit serious. But beneath GRID's stoic veneer lies the beating heart of one of the most in-depth, technical racers to hit consoles in a long while.
For the most part, GRID Autosport offers realistic racing action, asking players to consider factors like gear ratios, suspension, how fast/furious your racing team partner is, etc. There are no numbers to crunch here, but there are countless vehicle parameters to fiddle with, which, though it may seem daunting, allows you to drive a car most specifically tailored to your style and the types of tracks you'll be on. Nearly everything about your play experience can be customized; GRID Autosport's interesting take on traditional difficulty settings presents a wide array of choices, like steering assist, cornering assist, or enemy driver AI. If you want to play a more challenging game you can reduce/turn off most of these niceties, and in doing so you'll gain bonus experience points and unlock stronger car modifications more quickly. It's a brilliant take on the traditional easy/normal/hard settings found in most games, and, like most of the options in GRID Autosport, it puts the power of control in the players' hands.
The races themselves are lengthy, requiring players to drive precisely and with intelligent intent lest they end up hood-first into a wall. You'll need to consider each race course carefully while driving, as flooring the gas pedal out may snag you first place on one track stage only to send you crashing into last in another. Thought and precision are your friends here, and pondering how to approach each race is a key factor in victory.
While GRID is primarily a realistic driving simulation, there are occasional bits of video gameness to it, like the Flashback ability, which lets you rewind the last few moments so you can undo a gnarly crash or poorly-handled turn. You can use Flashback as little or as much as you'd like; GRID lets you pick. You'll get more XP if you reduce its number of uses or turn it off, but if you want to be a racecar driver in control of time itself, go ahead. Flashback not only helps players win races, it helps them learn why they won (or lost) when they did. If you do something wrong you can Flashback to undo it and try something new until you find what works, subtly instilling a sense of proper driving technique without ever beating you over the head with it.
GRID's thorough campaign mode offers six major types of races: Touring, Endurance, Tuner, Street, and Open Wheel, each of which focuses on a particular type of races, and Grand Slam, which is a combination event composed of race types from each of the previous categories. Some events are more fun that others, with Endurance, in particular, being a weak point thanks to races that often close in on nearly ten minutes apiece. Hungry drivers can spend countless hours in campaign mode fiddling with their vehicles, managing their team memberships, and trying to shave precious seconds off of their racetimes. Again, it's all satisfyingly complex. One complaint, however, is the lack of flash to be found throughout most of GRID Autosport. The menus are classy and elegant, though a bit dull to look at, and while being able to customize cosmetic aspects of your car aren't exactly necessary, they go a long way to helping you express your identity while keeping the fun factor high. GRID's excellent soundtrack shines throughout most areas of the game... except for the races themselves, where all you're likely to hear is the bee-like hum of engines. GRID's graphics are mostly top-notch, with shiny cars racing through gorgeous streets and tracks, but occasional weaknesses like the less-than-impressive crowd animations or fuzzy cabin interiors mar the experience a little.
GRID Autosport isn't for the faint of heart, nor is it for the casual racing enthusiast. It's technical, (fairly) realistic, and puts substance over style. It's a gearhead's dream come true, offering a massively replayable experience that rewards players who are willing to dig in, think deep, and put the pedal to the metal.
This review is based on a purchased retail copy of GRID: Autosport for the PlayStation 3.