Sunday, June 15, 2008

Race Driver: GRID - More Impressions

The Japan racing league is really interesting. If it hasn't been mentioned yet, there are three leagues in the game, one set in American street tracks (usually inside cities a'la PGR series; and there is also a destruction derby mode), another one set in European racing tracks (touring cars and F1000 - F3 cars), and a Japanese league (which feature touge races and drift races).

I'm really beginning to like the diversity of styles of racing in this game. It's practically several racing games rolled into one. The only type of racing not featured is RALLY racing, which I guess goes to the Codemasters' DIRT racing series.

Spent a bit more time with the Japanese league today. Drift racing has two types (that I've tried so far)....the regular 'Drifting' competition where you have to score points and score higher than everyone else....then there's the FREESTYLE drift competition, where the game puts you in an area that's wide open (though there are roads and obstacles) and you're supposed to drift as creatively as possible to score as many points as possible. Later on I think I can unlock other drifting modes, such as downhill drift (drifting down the mountain) and drift racing (which involves several drift-tuned cars together on one track, racing for 1st place)

Then there's pro touge, where it's a head to head race. It isn't as simple as getting first place, though. The car with the least total time wins the competition. In touge you go down the mountain first and then the game gets your times (and the difference between you and your opponent is displayed). Then you go up the mountain and again, the game gets your times. The person in front isn't necessarily the winner. The one who wins is the one with the least time. This happened to me in one race where I got first place down the mountain, then I got second place when I went up the mountain. I still came out the winner because I was driving very close to my opponent, who overtook me at some point while going up.

Another interesting bit about touge is contact....if you hit the other car, you will be penalized. Surprisingly, if the AI car hits you, the game can [to some extent] detect this and will penalize the AI.

That's new to me because last I remember (reading on Forza 2 forums) programming to determine whose fault an accident is, "just isn't possible". Well, granted there are only 2 cars on the track, so perhaps the programming for it is easier to do. On one occasion the AI hit me and it was penalized over 10 seconds because it was a major hit. On another occasion I hit the AI and I was penalized with 2 seconds (because it was just a small scratch). Overall I thought this was a really interesting feature in GRID....those guys at Codemasters really do know how to make great racing games.

After finishing the series of J League Rookie Races, a new mode was unlocked:

Midnight Touge - A one on one race down the mountain at night, with incoming traffic. Apparently this race type has no more just have to win, and avoid the civilian cars....I'll be giving this a try later today :D

This game goes absolutely nuts with the types of racing available. The purchase is well worth it....I still like the way the career mode progresses, I like how seasons are so short and you can get a shot at the 24 hour Le Mans every four races. This is the best pick-up-and-play racing game I know of, at this time. You put it in, and in less than a minute you're off racing, and it's [b]quality [/b]racing....with so many racing styles/disciplines, an incredible sensation of speed, great AI opposition and more. I know that it's been mentioned that there is 'catch-up' but it's hardly noticeable after playing several races in 'Serious' difficulty. I've had races where the AI could never catch up to me anymore by the third lap. Maybe on lower difficulty the 'catch-up' is more noticeable, but in 'Serious' difficulty whether you win or lose does make sense, and I haven't seen anything incredibly ridiculous happen yet.

I also love how a random accident or spin out happens during the course of some races. It doesn't happen every race, but it does keep you on your toes. Sometimes you'll see smoke billowing in the distance, and you know it's trouble (even before the announcer tells you there's an accident) just forces you to react quickly and drive differently, it forces you to change up your game and that's what makes the game not feel like routine. Normally most racing games can be very sterile and straightforward, and if you know your racing line extremely well, you can finish well and race with one hand tied behind your back. GRID's environment feels much more alive....again, since the other cars occasionally (but not always) make mistakes, and things like tire walls and obstacles can fly and break apart....did I mention that these things stay on the track for the duration of the race, and they can mess you up/damage your own car? The amount of "stuff" going on every time you race is simply fantastic. It keeps you awake on the wheel when you know that around every turn there could be a three car pile up.

Also, the AI drivers really do have their own human-like personality. In one race in Okutama I got to race against Youichi Iwamura (AI)...and man, that guy was really aggressive. During the race, my AI teammate, Eiji Matsuke, charged to 2nd place ahead of me...I was directly behind him and he was trying to overtake Iwamura to his left. On a straight in Okutama, I saw Iwamura intentionally try to run my teammate off the road. It was uncanny and eerily human-like was near a bend but obviously Iwamura wasn't going for positioning at the racing line; he was really trying to take out my teammate. Luckily, he didn' teammate simply slowed down and simply turned to Iwamura's right, and overtook him.

Seeing that moment blew me away. Perhaps it was scripted, I dunno how Codemasters did it....but it did catch my attention, and it's something that I've never seen happen in other racing games that have been released for this gen of consoles. The AI's behavior can be human-like at times and it really adds to the immersiveness of the whole experience. It doesn't feel like you're racing against a bunch of lifeless bots. You could probably play GRID competely offline and still enjoy yourself because the AI is just so entertaining to play against. In a way, this game has a lot of moments that feel so 'cinematic' for a racing game.

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