The Switch may have a bigger library than the one at the start of Ghostbusters by now, but it’s still lacking in one area where many other Nintendo consoles have also suffered in the past: it doesn’t have a ‘serious’ racing game that’s truly worth recommending. The Gear Club Unlimited games leave something to be desired in the handling stakes and V-Rally 4 has countless issues, meaning Switch fans craving some proper racing action have been left waiting for something truly great. Until now.
Originally released in the summer of 2014, it’s fair to say that GRID Autosport went under a number of gamers’ radars, mainly because it only launched on Xbox 360 and PS3 even though the Xbox One and PS4 had already been out for eight months. It’s a shame, because it was actually one of Codemasters’ better racing games, doing away with a lot of the nonsense – the convoluted career mode stories, the obnoxiously style-heavy menus – that had become an unwelcome staple of the studio’s racing output over the years and focusing mainly on the racing.
With this Switch port, GRID Autosport gets a second chance to make a first impression, and it’s a strong one. There’s a lot of racing for your money here, and it’s varied too. Indeed, this variety is the central focus of the game; rather than shoehorning in a bunch of different race types and forcing you to play through them all (even though you may not like some of them), GRID’s career mode is split into a bunch of smaller seasons and lets you choose which of its five disciplines you want to take on each time you start a new one.
These five styles of racing each have their own unique personality, and you’re under no obligation to work your way through them all. Want to focus purely on the glory that is the Touring circuit with its heavily modified road cars, or would you rather opt for the quicker but more dangerous thrill you get in the Open Wheel division? The choice is yours. More interested in Street racing, Endurance races or the Tuner division with its variety of drift and time attack events? You can put all your attention of any of those instead.
As you progress through each discipline you’ll unlock a wider range of more powerful cars, and if you do well enough in all five disciplines you’ll eventually unlock the overarching GRID discipline, which takes all five into account. But, again, there’s no obligation to do this. If you were a big fan of Codemasters’ TOCA Touring Car series back in the day and you just want a spiritual successor to those games, you’re more than welcome to get stuck into the Touring category and pretend the others don’t exist. It’s a refreshing level of choice in a genre that often leads you by the arm, going: “Okay, now here’s a time trial, now here’s a drift race, now here’s an elimination race, now here’s...”
Of course, this is all well and good, but a game can’t succeed on variety alone; after all, if someone kicked you in five different sensitive areas on your body, it’s not like you’d at least appreciate the diversity of their assault. Naturally, then, the game’s performance on the track is always more important than anything else, so we’re thankful that it’s all positive here, too. Handling is solid, there are plenty of camera angles to choose from (including a pair of in-car views), AI opponents feel realistic enough (they even make unforced mistakes from time to time, like real racers would) and there are a wealth of aids and assists available for anyone new to realistic racing games.
The default controls will be completely acceptable for most players, though you may want to turn off some of the more extreme aids like steering assist to make sure you aren’t fighting against the game when you go round corners. Other players, however, may turn their nose up at the fact the buttons for the pedals are digital – you accelerate with ZR and brake with ZL, which removes some of the nuance and can occasionally lead to some spinning if you don’t have ABS turned on.
Codemasters has tried to implement some solutions: there’s an alternative control system that uses the right analogue stick for accelerating and braking – the higher up or down you move it the harder you push each pedal – and there’s even support for GameCube controllers and their analogue triggers (as long as you have a controller adapter). It’s also added an option to play the game with motion controls, where you turn your controller (or the entire Switch in handheld mode) as if it was a wheel. Don’t do this, it’s rubbish.
Impressively, the range of options extends to the actual quality of the game’s graphics. In a move seen in very few Switch games (or console games in general, really), GRID has three different visual optimisation modes that affect the game’s performance and can be switched between on the fly by simply pausing during a race and changing them over. There’s Graphics mode, which turns on all the visual bells and whistles and runs at a fairly stable 30fps. This is the default option and it’s easy to see why: the game looks its best here. There’s even the option to download a free hi-res texture pack for the cars to make it look even better, but this wasn’t yet available at the time of writing.
If you’re more of a frame rate fiend, there’s also Performance mode, which turns off some of the more processor-intensive effects and aims for 60fps instead. Commendably, it manages to hit 60 the vast majority of the time, only dipping during more action-packed scenes. Finally, if you’re playing on handheld mode and favour your battery life more than anything else there’s Energy Saver mode. This reduces the visual quality a tad further and drops the frame rate back to 30fps, but is still perfectly playable and should last you a good deal longer on the go.
In all, then, GRID is an impressive game that will finally answer the prayers of those craving some serious racing goodness. There’s only one issue, but it’s a major one: it’s single-player only. There’s no online racing, there’s no local split-screen, there aren’t even any online leaderboards to encourage you to work on your Time Trial results. Given that the last-gen version did have both online and split-screen racing, this is a let-down. That said, when you consider it also includes all the previously released DLC – which still comes to around £30 to this day on the Xbox Store – then as long as you’re a solo gamer, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth here. Update: Developer Feral Interactive has confirmed that a multiplayer patch is currently in development.
With over 100 cars and more than 25 different racing venues set over five distinct disciplines (as well as bonus DLC ones like destruction derby and drag racing), GRID Autosport is that rarest of beasts: a jack of all trades that doesn't sacrifice quality as a result. The addition of all previously released paid console DLC – right down to the cynical XP boost – is extremely welcome, but the complete removal of all local and online multiplayer features means this a strictly solo affair, and that might be a turn-off for many. Still, that doesn't change the fact that this is one of the best racing games on Switch.