As the legendary Murray Walker used to say, catching is one thing but passing is quite another. Be it Formula 1, Formula E, or the LeMans 24/7, getting past can be almost impossible.
Games have been pushing for realism in graphics, sound, and feel for the user. This generation of consoles has seen remarkable improvements in all of these aspects. You only have to look at the visuals and mechanics of a game like Red Dead Redemption II to see just how far we have come from Xbox One launch titles like Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Racing games can sometimes let a pursuit of realism get in the way of fun though. The likes of Forza Horizon struggle to create gripping races, with AI cars often stuck like glue to the racing line rather than trying to battle for position.
Codemasters’ flagship Formula 1 series of games has made some strides to making AI drivers that try to get past and make moves, but they are bound by the aerodynamic and circuit restrictions of F1, which can more often than not lead to race processions with AI that jump out of your way rather than risk contact.
This is where GRID comes in.
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Welcome to the future of racing
Codemasters’ latest racing title is free from the constraints of an overwatching power like Formula 1. Instead, they have been able to create the kind of racing game that speaks to motorsport fans of every level.
GRID aligns 400+ AI personalities against you, from ultra-conservative drivers to divebomb-gods and wheel-to-wheel battlers. The field of drivers that can line up to race you varies and GRID developers have even included an in-form model that will give drives a little boost here on a good day and a little clip there for an off-day, mirroring the fluctuation that can happen to even the best drivers in the world.
"We have focused on creating truly unpredictable personalities to challenge our players and achieve that feeling of authentic drivers’" - Chris Smith, Game Director
While the depth of competition may not be something every racing game can replicate, wouldn’t it be amazing to see a run of bad form, like Sebastian Vettel’s last 12 months, creep into an AI’s performance? The relentless perfection of AI that make every apex and never put a wheel wrong produces a lack of realism that this form model works to correct.
This move to bring form into AI driving is the kind of forward-thinking step racers have been asking for, but that isn’t the main revolutionary step for GRID.
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Make rivals on the track
Motorsport captivates audiences across the globe partly for the noise, speed, and danger of the races, but it is the drama and specifically the rivalries that have always sparked major interest at the top level of motorsports.
The clashes between James Hunt & Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna & Alain Prost, and Michael Schumacher & Fernando Alonso drew more eyes to Formula 1 than any technical perfection achieved by Red Bull or Mercedes in recent years.
While some racing games might tell you who your rival is, or allow you to pick one in a menu to win credits or perks, GRID lets you create rivalries on the track.
Thanks to GRID’s focus on fun you can bang wheels, even in the usually fragile single-seater cars, without crippling performance. And as a result of the more flexible AI personalities and one little splash of genius, things can go from friendly rival to bitter enemies in a flash.
Every driver has a line, and if you cross it then you should be prepared for retribution. That goes double in GRID.
The Nemesis System is a simple idea, but one that has been needed in motorsport games for a long time. If you keep banging into an opponent, pushing them into barriers or cutting them off then you trigger a nemesis.
A radio message and a HUD indicator points out who it is, and that driver will become more physical and aggressive with you, and only you.
It is a remarkable feature that clean and consistent drivers could never touch, but the more aggressive and ragged racers will end up feeling.
Triggering a nemesis doesn’t result in someone trying to shove you off the race track or pit manoeuvre you, that would be infuriating, but it causes that AI driver to focus more on overtaking you with late lunges and defend their position against you far more aggressively.
It sprinkles an element of human personality into offline races. Nemesis mode mimics the red mist that can descend in an online lobby when racing gets a little too physical, but without the ridiculous Danil Kvyat-esque effort to end your race.
These AI changes don’t sound all that radical, but the result is a race that feels alive. An offline driving experience that feels like an online lobby without the infuriating carnage.
It is nirvana for motorsport fans.