GRIP (Early Access Review)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access 2, Release
GRIP, from the developers of Rollcage, is, in essence, a Future Racing game about cars that don’t care which way up they are, going fast and blowing each other up. And oh, boy, is it fun already, despite not being finished yet!
However… There is a shadow over this fun, that I want to deal with as we go along as well, because it overshadows… Pretty much the rest of it. In a word? Aggression.
Despite the game undeniably looking pretty at this early stage, aggression is definitely a problem with the game as it stands, in many aspects. In some others, clarity is a problem in some small ways. But aggression… Ahhh, that’s the real problem right now. The AI is very aggressive. When it’s turned on, the rubberbanding is aggressive. And the weapon/utility selection in this Future Racing game? Is very much tuned toward aggression over defense.
In the developers’ favour, the default options tone this aggressiveness down somewhat by allowing the player to partake in the rubberbanding as an option (on by default), and a damage negating option, protecting them (and the AI, by extension) from the spectacle of going boom when hit enough times, losing them the race (also on by default.) Turning off either one of these options, however, reveals the real GRIP, and the balancing problems therein. Possibly one of the first Future Racing games I’ve encountered where piloting at my best is, in fact, the riskiest possible move I could make. Why?
Let’s talk about Blue Shells. You may have heard the term, one of the more despised weapons of Mario Kart: A weapon that targets the person in the lead, regardless of distance, and homes in with unnerring accuracy, also regardless of distance.
This game has a Blue Shell, in the form of a blue-ish trailed missile. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t have is more than one option that reliably deals with it. The only purely defensive measures, in fact, are a backwards facing shield (Which will be destroyed after one of either what I’m calling the Blue Shell Missile, or normal, lock-on requiring missiles… Or enough machine-gun shots, but we’ll get into the machine-gun in a minute), and maybe (I haven’t been able to reliably check), the EMP Burst weapon, which seems pretty damn rare. No, more common are the machine-guns (Pretty short ranged, but, as I discovered, have a utility in dealing with mines), the mines (Still presenting somewhat of a colour blindness problem by their warning lights being red and not too visually distinct, value wise, from the track, although the new markers and upwards light-ray do help a little), lock-on missiles, the aforementioned Blue Shell Missile, and turbo boosts.
As it is, with catch-up turned on, and destruction off, there’s tight, tense gameplay where mistakes are paid with a loss of at least a couple of positions (Thankfully re-attainable.) With destruction still off, and catch-up also off, it becomes much more variable, where a few mistakes or a string of missile locks could well cost you the entire race. With destruction on, whether catch up is on or not? Getting into first place is asking to be blown up. Staying in the pack until the end is asking to be blown up. It becomes, in a word, un-fun. In more words, the challenge suddenly becomes a nightmare, and “normal” tracks become hellish torture chambers where travelling more than a few hundred yards without being attacked by something is a blessing from the Powers That Be. I have, no joke, been hit twice by a Blue Missile for 80% of my damage, stayed in first for three whole laps… And then had two missiles hit in quick succession in the final few seconds of the final lap, instantly relegating me from 1st… To 9th.
The Assassin, as this Blue Shell style missile is called, is a painful beast. Doing a hefty amount of damage, and making its way to the leading racer almost unerringly, the back shield isn’t a guarantee of protection against it, and the AI have a very nasty tendency of firing off an EMP burst just before it hits, whether they were the ones to fire the Assassin or not. When this happens (More often than I would like), this makes the race feel, not so much a race against individuals, so much as a race against a hive mind united in not wanting you to win. Even on medium difficulty, the AI… Is effectively too good at times.
Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, with catch-up on, and destruction turned off, it’s challenging, and mistakes will cost you, but you can win, even if you’ve been knocked back quite a few times. It’s still a bit of a gamble, but it’s an entertaining gamble. The control scheme is very simple, the music is dark and pumping, fitting a game mostly set in grim industrial wastelands, and the tracks give you lots of opportunities for GRIP’s real draw: Being able to drive on most level surfaces. Tunnels, where you can loop up, then drop onto a powerup. There are multiple paths on the tracks, and each has something to recommend them. And each track, so far, is visually distinct. There are lots of cars, from the slow but tough , to my current favourite, the Speed Car of Doom, the Dominator, and, while visual distinctiveness on the track is a problem, it’s currently not terribly important to know what you’re up against, considering… The cars are mainly customisable by colour, and, so long as you remember not to screw with that destruction setting, this is by no means a bad Future Racing game.
Of course, it would be a better Future Racing game if, amusingly, either destruction wasn’t quite so, er… Destructive, or, at the very least, there were some better repair/defensive options. But as it is, with Destruction off, and Catch-Up Assist on or off to your taste, it is definitely enjoyable… But it would be nice if Destruction on weren’t a death sentence.
The Mad Welshman sobbed as he heard that dread beeping. The beeps were getting closer together, and soon, soon, his car would stop. Oh God. Oh God.