It’s the last lap, I’m in 3rd place and the 2 cars ahead of me are way out in front. I’m hitting every speed boost pad I can and am closing in fast but I’ve only got a hand full of corners left to catch up. I grab a weapon pick up. A speed boost, which I use immediately to barrel down a straight and into a tunnel. Using the down force, I rotate around to the roof of the tunnel and grab another weapon pick up located between 2 ramps that I avoid by mere millimetres. It’s a homing rocket. Bingo. Just what I need to steal second place. The 2 cars ahead are now within range and I wait for the tracking to kick in before letting fly. The reticule goes green and I fire. The rocket darts up and then forward but just as it does, the second place car applies a shield. I swear a few times as I watch the shield extend outwards across the back of the car, protecting it from my rocket. Boom. It explodes and the second place car rolls stoically on against the damage – but the first place car wasn’t so lucky. It was close enough to get caught in the blast and it’s losing control. It’s swerving right, then left, losing speed when the second place car ploughs straight into it. They’re now neck and neck and I’m faster. I take my chance, veering to miss the fast moving pile up and go around the outside. Finish line. 1st place by the virtue of 1 tenth of a second. I’m not ashamed to say I did a happy dance right there and then in my living room. “Grip: Combar Racing” is a game filled with these clutch moments of high octane action and vehicular mechslaughter but those moments come with some caveats. The reason I was in 3rd place to begin with was because I got stuck in a rock by the side of the track…
Grip: Combat Racing wears its inspiration like a badge of honour. That inspiration is the late 90’s, Psygnosis published racer Rollcage. In case you didn’t get to experience the majesty of Rollcage back in the day, it was a racer that put you in the cockpit of impossibly fast vehicles that can drive on any surface, including the walls and ceilings of the track, because of the down force they generate, all backed by a pumping soundtrack featuring Fatboy Slim. Grip takes that core idea and builds on it, modernising it for today’s discerning gamer. Slipping into you’re racer, you’re tasked with beating your opponents at either speed or firepower to cross the finish line first, using physics and speed based down force to stick you too any surface.
There are a number of different types of events in Grip: Combat Racing to get your teeth into. There’s standard races that ask you to do a number of laps around a track with or without weapon pick-ups, arena battles that ask you to do as much damage to your opposition as possible within a time limit, 1 on 1 rivalry races and the “Ultimate Race” which is set on a race course but plays using the arena battle rules. Straight from the off, you can jump into any of these events online against other humans (with a mix of bots to fill unfilled seats as an option) or offline against AI bots or in split screen.
The single player campaign content is made up of a collection of these varied events, broken up into 10 different tiers of difficulty which unlock as you complete the tier below. This campaign has been created to ease you in gently, beginning with the easier tracks and AI that’ll drive into a wall rather than win before getting progressively more aggressive on race tracks that have their own pitfalls and nuances. There’s no difficulty spikes here. It’s a gentle increase in difficulty and is well designed to introduce you to new aspects and race types before making your foes more difficult. This means that if you’re learning at the pace that the game is increasing the difficulty, you’ll win or at least place in the vast majority of tiers without having to retry.
There’s a hefty amount of rubber banding included in Grip: Combat Racing, at least to begin with. Make a total mess of a corner and flip out of the track and your opponents all bunch up and slow down until you’re back amongst the action again. Similarly, it’s difficult to put much distance between you and any followers when you’re out in front. This does make the game far more action packed but it takes some of the tension out of proceedings during early races. This rubber banding does lessen the higher the difficulty becomes but it doesn’t ever feel like it disappears entirely.
The inclusion of rubber banding makes a lot of sense when you first head around most of the tracks in Grip. Aside from 1 track that is the shape of a donut, all other tracks have pitfalls, walls, blind corners and a myriad of obstacles that can easily throw you from the track should you hit them. Some of them are intentional, some are just rough edges to the track design. Respawning on the track isn’t instant in a lot of cases, meaning you could end up wedged in the side of a mountain for a few seconds as the entire pack of other racers passes you. Most of the tracks are incredibly hard to read during your first race on them too. Unlike a lot of games that let you barrel around tracks at impossible high speeds, Grip often forgoes giant arrows telling you where to go next. There’s subtle hints, such as small red barriers with arrows on them, but you’re often going so fast that you crash into them before you can read the direction they’re indicating to you. The more you play, the less of an issue this becomes as you explore branching paths and see where your competitors go, but at first Grip’s track design can be bemusing.
Grip has an unlockable progression system that overlays all of its content. After each race on any mode, you’re awarded experience based on your performance which is tailored to the race criteria and difficulty. Earning XP eventually allows you to level up which unlocks new tyres (a cosmetic change only) and vehicles which each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some cars have great acceleration and top speed but can easily destroyed while others can take a real beating but have a low top end speed. This system means that as you progress, you can choose a vehicle which suits your driving style or, for more experienced drivers, which car is best on what track and race type. You can customise the aesthetics of your car too with decals unlocked through the same levelling up system.
Visually, Grip is gorgeous. While this game doesn’t have a massively varied colour palette, often going for dull greys and off greens instead of their vivid cousins, it really makes use of those colours to give this impression of an broken futuristic world you’re driving through. The lighting is lovely in those levels that aren’t cloud covered too. There’s some very rare frame rate drops during play, always during a nasty crash, which means it doesn’t interrupt play. It’s the art style that shines through though in Grip. The UI, for example, has this retro-futuristic, Nostromo from Alien type vibe and cycles up and down the screen like a broken CRT TV when you’re hit with a projectile. There’s also this lovely fiery, tunnelling effect that surrounds your screen when you’re hitting huge speeds, really lending to the feeling that you’re going at impossible speeds.
Grip: Combat Racing is a content filled tribute to a fan favourite racer from the good ol’ days. If you liked Rollcage, you’ll likely love Grip. Slick combat, fast racing, splendid visuals and a pumping soundtrack from the likes of Hospital Records including Full Kontact and Mart-E that’s driving you ever forward, it’s a joy to play…eventually. The track design and it’s lack of obvious visual clues on where to go next, however, make the first few hours with Grip a litany of crashes against its unpolished edges.
Grip: Combat Racing is launching on 6th of November, 2018 for PS4 (reviewed on a base PS4), Xbox One, Switch and PC.
Developer: Caged Element
Publisher: Wired Productions
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publishers. For our full review policy, please go here.