Codemasters is well known as one of the leaders in the racing game market, but with the PGR, Forza and Gran Turismo series all leading the way the UK-based publisher needed Race Driver: GRID to be something special. With the most impressive visuals ever to grace a racing game, brilliant variety and game-making rewind feature GRID is everything we wanted it to be and quite possibly the racing game of 2008.
GRID sees you driving for a new racing team. To begin with you need to earn enough cash to buy your team's first car, and from then on it's all about earning cash and reputation points. Cash buys cars needed to enter new events and reputation points add up to earn new licences and access to new event tiers. Essentially, if you place on the podium regularly you'll soon be raking in the money and rep.
Things aren't quite as simple as they seem though. The events are split into three territories: USA, Europe and Japan. Your cash is put into a global pot, but your rep points are territory specific. So, you could focus on the drift and head-to-head race events found in Japan, achieve a new license and access to a new tier of events in that territory, but still be languishing in the beginner races in Europe and the USA. How many rep points you earn also depends on the difficulty settings you choose to race with.
Choosing harder AI racers, a fixed in-car view and disallowing race restarts all increase the potential rep points, but a harder difficulty also affects one of GRID's core gameplay features: flashbacks. At any point during a race you can pause the game and rewind back a few seconds, with the number of times you're allowed to do so being determined by the difficulty you've set - four by default. At first this magical ability seems like a copout, but it makes complete sense given GRID's arcade-style racing.
While previous games in the Race Driver series have been pretty hard to get into due to the simulation handling, GRID feels far more like PGR than Gran Turismo. In fact, it feels slightly more forgiving than PGR's already quite flashy driving model. With an emphasis on speed and some rather competitive AI drivers you're going to be having a lot of fun, but will also find yourself buried in a tyre wall fairly often. Heavy crashes can even result in your car being totalled, so being able to rewind is a huge relief.
Whereas in other racers you might take your foot off the pedal during tricky sections of track, perhaps settling for second place instead of first, in GRID you feel compelled to go for the win. Instead of worrying about every corner, you're free to drive how you really want, which actually has a very beneficial effect on your performances. The initially twitchy controls soon fade into the distance as you scream around each track, often not even thinking about flashbacks.
Although the early parts of your career will see you racing in the bottom rung of cars available in the game, you can accept freelance offers from other teams to earn some extra cash. These offers always see you driving in a high-powered car. One of the best examples of this is the yearly Le Mans 24-hour race - shortened to 12 minutes of game time. Unless you want to fork out for a proper racing beast your best option is to drive freelance for another team, hoping to place in the top three in your class. With a full day and night cycle winning this race is seen as the pinnacle of your racing career.