I’ll let you in on a secret: I have never been a big racing game fan. When people mention ‘classics’ like Gran Turismo, Destruction Derby, Rollcage, F-zero or Need for Speed Underground I usually just shrug and ask them if they’ve played Hogs of War. In recent years my habits have slowly been changing. Mario Kart is a regular fixture in my house. Forza Horizon 3 gave me a wonderful twenty hours and I even loved Driveclub – that was mainly due to graphics. I was skeptical when offered the opportunity to go hands-on with GRIP Combat Racing at Gamescom. Would I enjoy it? Would I be able to do it justice? Thankfully this excellent preview from Drew Fox helped put me at ease. The game sounded incredible. It has a prestigious development team. What could go wrong?
It turned out nothing went wrong. GRIP is a dream to play. Essentially it’s a beautiful blend of Mario Kart and Wipeout. You thunder round the tracks at incredible speeds, all of which are customizable when you set the difficulty, and attempt to destroy and race your way to the front. The combat is visceral and free-flowing thanks to a very intuitive weapons and control system. You can collect two items at any given time, one on the left bound to L1 and one on the right bound to R1. By holding either button you can absorb the other to power up one item. A turbo becomes longer. Your shield lasts longer. A missile may become three. This and the game’s ‘rubber-banding’ – which ensures no one drops too far behind, help to keep the game’s high octane intensity flowing. You can hit speeds of up to 800mph and you really feel that not only for yourself but with your opponents. When you take one out with a weapon it feels like you’ve derailed them at a high speed and not just simply stopped them in their tracks.
What I absolutely adore about GRIP is the split-screen multiplayer. I was lucky enough to get to try this out alongside two French Canadian journalists. They did not know what hit them. As well as featuring single-player races, GRIP features several other modes; carkour and battles. It was in the battle mode than the aforementioned ‘hitting’ occurred. Here you receive points not just for defeating opponents but for dealing damage and causing carnage. It works akin to Twisted Metal or Mario Kart’s battle modes. You drive around an arena, collect weapons and take each other down. The arena we played was a large field and it looked and played excellent. It’s open with hilled terrain, meaning you always have an idea of everyone’s position but actually lining up the shots becomes complex. This helps to alleviate the risk of screen cheating, something MK fans no doubt are very familiar with. The thrill of victory in this mode is amazing and really plays into the general intensity of the game.
I can’t not talk about the racing. We played two tracks and messed around with different speeds. The good news is that the game is very accessible. Lower speeds will help you get familiar with controls and track layouts and you can take this knowledge forth into higher speeds. The other good bit of accessibility comes in the tracks themselves. There are several different planets with different aesthetics you can visit. Each has tracks which are labelled based on difficulty. Some are simple ovals that you’ll rally round. Others are more complex with numerous twists and turns. This adds a nice gradient of difficulty that you can conquer as your confidence grows. After only two races I felt I had adjusted well to the pace and learned the mechanics. After 4, 5, 6 races I was setting the pace at the level the group chose. Leading the pack is an absolute thrill. You’ll literally sweat at every millisecond as you focus on outpacing your opponents at every opportunity. It’s a truly intense feeling that most racing games totally miss out on.
The little aspects that help make the game unique all tie together to compliment the intensity. These include driving on the walls and ceilings. This never feels disjointed and always feels natural. While it isn’t overly sign posted where you’re meant to be headed this works in the game’s favor. The game demands you focus and concentrate due to the sheer pace of it. Other little aspects are the ability to take multiple paths, some of which can function as shortcuts, again the game demands your full attention during races and you can’t lose focus. It’s a good thing then that most races will be over in a couple of minutes outside of the lowest speed. This means they don’t lose intensity and never outstay their welcome. The rubber banding effect means that you’re always in the race even if you make a few mistakes. It isn’t so strong as to disadvantage first place though. If you’re in the lead and having a strong race without mistakes you’ll comfortably win. It’s here than the developers, Caged Element, have really struck a fine balance. Throw in online leaderboards and GRIP is going to be a real competitive thrill.
Last but not least is the logo. It’s genius. Sheer, downright, unbelievable genius. Look at it, can you work out why? Take your time.
If you’re reading this on a phone, tablet or even laptop turn it upside down. See it now? How cool is that. No question mark because it isn’t a question. It is seriously brilliant. 10/10 for graphic design. Honestly, when you’re at a show like Gamescom and you’re getting things thrown at you left right and center, you’re playing loads, developers are hitting you with constant buzzwords and show-goers are bumping into you constantly, special things stand out. This logo stood out. GRIP stood out. It’s a spectacularly intense experience that should be on every racing game fan’s, whether that’s Forza or Mario Kart, radar.
GRIP is going to be playable at EGX this weekend! You won’t be sorry if you give it a go. It launches November 6th on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.