Do combat racing games still grip people’s attention?
Developer: Caged Element Inc.
Publisher: Wired Productions
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
By Chris Jarrard | The Mercury News (TNS)
Any dedicated PC gamer that was around in the 90s is likely familiar with the assortment of futuristic racing games that were popular at the time. Titles like “WipeOut,” “POD,” and “Rollcage” carved out a niche that focused on raw speed and bleak aesthetics. As with anything that reached a small amount or popularity in the golden years of PC gaming, these futuristic racers are being reborn thanks to the new wave of indie games and crowdfunded projects.
The folks at Caged Element set out to bring these classic racers into the modern age with “GRIP: Combat Racing.” While it is still rough around the edges and at times unforgiving, it is likely to find a dedicated audience who buys in to its design and will keep it alive as a cult hit for a long time to come.
ROCKET ENGINES AND BIG, KNOBBY TIRES
The world of “GRIP” is full of boxy-shaped racers with big tires capable of handling all types of terrain. Players will find these useful as the events will require traversal of just about any type of surface you can imagine. From standard competitive races to arena battles, “GRIP” plays out over a variety of otherworldly environments. Participants can expect to drive over steel tracks seemingly suspended in the clouds and wet, sandy shores that surround gargantuan mountains. It is nearly impossible to play through all the areas the development team has created and not find a few that tickle your fancy. Some of the events successfully mix multiple surface types across a single lap.
Each of the vehicles have their own pros and cons, with the full assortment being made available as you progress through the game, “GRIP” offers customization to your ride with a rudimentary paint shop where you can set your whip apart from the rest. You can apply decals or swap up wheels and tires, along with the ability to fine tune the colors of most parts. You will also be able to pick up powerups from the tracks for use against the competition, just like “Mario Kart.” These pickups aim to help those running behind have a chance to even the odds against the field of drivers.
IT ALL HAPPENS SO FAST
Many racing games live or die on their sense of speed and “GRIP” is able to get you up and moving at a breakneck pace in no time. The whole experience can feel like you are on a bullet train that is out of control until you become familiar with its driving physics and how the rides react to the environment. Knowing when to take advantage of what the tracks give you can mean the difference between winning and losing. You will have to take to the walls, ceilings, and the air to shave seconds off your laps.
While “GRIP” has its roots in the floaty feeling future racers of the past, the team made sure that you are always aware of when the rubber meets the road. The oversized tires are not for show. Ensuring that they are pressed against the racing surface and not colliding with other cars or static objects is crucial to your success. This is not a game you can pick up and master in a few sessions. There are no training wheels here and your hand will not be held. I fully expect the skill gap between veterans and newcomers to be vast and possibly off-putting for those at the start of their journey.
The track designs, while creative, offer little or no indication for what the player should prepare for. I often found myself unsure of where to go or what parts to aim for without lots of trial and error. Missing jumps is always costly and there is no real way to know the sweet spots for a given vehicle and track without lots of failing. While I liked a few of the powerups, I never got the hang of when to use them or how to make them work for me in the most efficient way. It is not hard to fall so far behind the pack that the powerups feel worthless. In the PvP battle mode, they all feel more at home.
THE CHECKERED FLAG IS IN SIGHT
“GRIP” runs on the Unreal Engine 4 and can be quite the looker depending on what track you find yourself on. I played the PC version and had no performance issues at all and users with mid-range PCs will have no trouble getting super-smooth gameplay from modest hardware. Online play was easy to join and the netcode felt solid in every match I participated in.
On the whole, I felt good about my time with “GRIP.” It still feels like it could use more polish across its track design and some more fine tuning to balance. All too often I would make a mistake, be placed back on the track, then be knocked back into trouble by the AI racers in a punishing loop that I felt I had no control over. The tire physics and the racing feel are unique and will likely reward those who commit for the long haul.
I feel that “GRIP” will draw lots of strong opinions on either side of the spectrum and that the diehards will stick with it for the foreseeable future. It’s not likely to set the world on fire and will appeal mostly to the nostalgia of older PC gamers, but does enough to be more than a pretty paint job on top of old ideas.