Wipeout on wheels.
Reviewed on Xbox One X
When it comes to racing games, the divide between “arcade” and “simulation” is often relatively clear. Your simulators, like Forza and Gran Turismo, can get super complex and competitive. Arcade racers, on the other hand, focus on frantic and sometimes silly gameplay. These games, like TrackMania and Hydro Thunder, rely on mastering various courses to increase replayability as opposed to a more mechanics heavy focus. So imagine my surprise when I jumped into GRIP, which somehow combines the high-speed competition of a racing simulator with the awesome destructive spectacle of an arcade racer. Toss in some hints of classics Twisted Metal and Rollcage, remove the perfectionist mundanity of a typical arcade racer, and GRIP cements itself as a true hidden gem of this console generation.
For just $40 (US), GRIP is a hefty package. Along with plenty of game modes and race options, the game’s single-player campaign is substantial and never gets repetitive, which is saying a lot for a racing game. The campaign consists of 10 tiers, and each tier contains three to five different tournaments with three races each. These races explore the various game modes and introduce players to GRIP‘s weaponry and unorthodox game mechanics. By playing the campaign, players gain experience and can level up their vehicles. Customization is fairly deep in GRIP, with everything from tires and decals, to tertiary color schemes being changeable. This helps make every car on the track feel unique and personal -I felt compelled to play on and unlock more and more for my vehicle because it was distinctly mine.
My first exposure to GRIP was at PAX East this past year and it made an instant impression on me. I was blown away by its beauty, and thankfully the finished product remains just as visually impressive. That said, however, do not play GRIP with the film grain on – the game defaults to a 50% film grain, which makes the visuals look like an old-timey movie, at the expense of the game’s naturally gorgeous aesthetic. Simply put, playing with the film grain on at all does a massive disservice to the game. This setting can be found in the options menu, and you’ll thank me once you see the difference. Post-grain effect though, GRIP‘s visuals are some of the most realistic and eye-catching I have ever seen in a racing game. Truly, GRIP rivals Forza Horizon 4 in the graphics department, and for an indie, that’s a huge compliment. The scenery helps to provide a variety of stunning visuals, what with some tracks modeled after futuristic dystopian cities, and others feeling reminiscent of Mad Max wastelands. The lighting effects shine through (no pun intended) in every brake light and every explosion. Water, wind, and sand add to the messy-yet-breathtaking action onscreen – GRIP is really a sight to behold.
GRIP is really a sight to behold.
The aforementioned explosions are the real beauty of GRIP. You see, GRIP isn’t your typical arcade racer – think Mario Kart on steroids, and you’ve got an accurate depiction. What makes GRIP so unique is its combat-based racing system; most tracks consist of high-speed battles for first place, with varying amounts of laps and enemies. On top of its gripping combat systems, GRIP also offers up a variety of different game modes. One such mode is an arena deathmatch, which feels like a cross between Twisted Metal and Rocket League. These matches sprawl across wide open domes and require players to destroy each other while competing for the highest score. These arena matches also include capture the flag and Time Bomb modes, the latter being like a game of hot potato on wheels…and with a huge explosive instead of a potato. These can even be played online, as can any other mode, which adds to the hectic fun.
With the inclusion of some subversive race types, GRIP isn’t just about coming out on top, throwing the coveted first place out the window. One such mode rewards players with points every time they cause damage, either to other players or the world around them. The player with the most points wins, regardless of who comes in first place. It’s a unique spin on classic racing game fare, and it definitely helps add to GRIP‘s replayability. Further still, GRIP includes some TrackMania-esque racing trials, which put your skills to the test in solo runs against the clock. Whereas in typical arcade racers these courses can get monotonous, here they serve as a nice break in GRIP‘s nonstop action. Trials range from managing your speed to navigate hills of various sizes, to tunneling through endless tubes while utilizing GRIP‘s roll cage functionalities.
The vehicles in GRIP control like high-speed mini monster trucks.
GRIP‘s most enticing feature can be quite the double-edged sword: the rollcage. The vehicles in GRIP control like high-speed mini monster trucks – I don’t think I ever drove under 400 miles per hour, and with the added speed boost from hitting the gas right at the start, it’s quite apparent that GRIP is constantly propelling you forward. How this affects the rollcage, though, can be quite frantic and occasionally too much. Though I must admit, it’s a blast to be able to jump off a ramp and find myself riding on the ceiling, or to drive all the way around a pipe to avoid obstacles in my path. Also, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as getting thrown into the air by a nearby explosion, flipping all around, landing upside down and continuing the race at over 500 mph.
Unfortunately, GRIP is not without flaws, which are evident more frequently amidst the chaos than one would hope. Many times I found myself getting glitched along the track, which really messed with the game’s pacing, on top of pulling me out of the action. One track, in particular, had an invisible ceiling – on all three laps – which continuously killed my position in first place. Obviously, the destruction onscreen can make for some dizzying moments, but save for the occasional invisible wall, the bedlam ensues without a hitch, and it is glorious to behold. The only other hiccup I noticed was the frequent pop-in of textures on the environment. Honestly, though, I was so beside myself admiring the beauty once they did pop in, that my complaints feel mostly unnecessary.
I truly struggle to describe well enough just how beautiful GRIP is. At its core though, it’s a thoroughly entertaining racing game that straddles the line between arcade and simulation in a way that’s even more satisfying than its visuals. The campaign is extensive and promotes perfectionism in such a subtle, enjoyable way. Race modes are diverse, weaponry is explosive and thrilling (from gatling guns to homing missiles), and progression is surprisingly complex. I’ve found myself returning to GRIP over and over for days now, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite games this year. It takes a lot to draw my attention away from quite possibly 2018’s game of the year, but fortunately, even up against Rockstar’s latest epic, GRIP holds its own, and that deserves its place in the limelight.