GRIP: Combat Racing Review
By: Stewart Leadingham (StewThePoo), on 09/11/2020.
GRIP launch trailer
GRIP: Combat Racing is a hardcore racing game available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Steam and Nintendo Switch (Steam version reviewed) it initially released back in 2016.
You might think it unusual to describe a racing game as `hardcore` but trust me, the game earns the descriptor.
If you played Rollcage back in the day, this games aesthetic will be instantly familiar. The unique selling point is the oversized wheels on the vehicles which allow you to seamless drive between the floor and ceiling. The level design absolutely leans into this gimmick and it helps the game stand out among its peers of futuristic racing titles.
The aforementioned Roll Cage was a favourite of mine when I was younger. Back in the 90`s I sank countless hours into the game, and GRIP does a fantastic job of carrying on it's legacy. Psygnosis would be proud. After having played it for nearly 50 hours, I can find little to complain about.
So hopping right into single player mode, you can expect the typical progression. You have a variety of modes, modifiers and escalating challenge in the A.I and level complexity. Tournaments have a fun addition where you can challenge rivals for a XP boost, but can also lose it all if you fail. It's a nice risk/reward inclusion which is unobtrusive.
Courses have a great visual variety. There's red planets akin to Mars. Underwater tunnels reminiscent of F-zero's Big Blue. Sky high risky roads, snowscapes and even space stations. My personal favourite is the lightning field, it's pretty intimidating on a first playthrough with the striking effects and dramatic lighting.
There's fantastic variety in the level design. It scales from the very simple (the starting map is basically a oval similar to baby park from Mario Kart) to labyrinth gauntlets which sprawl indoors and out. There's some pretty awesome stage hazards to discover. Many are often times activated by a stray missile missing its intended player target, and instead destroying a key piece of scenery.
The best one by far, is a ferris wheel of sorts, which once shot will roll downhill and wreak havoc on the rest of the course. It's pretty badass.
On a visual level, the stages serve their purpose. This is by no means a triple A title. It comes from a smaller studio (with an initial kickstarter which was cancelled) so we aren't expecting Wipeout or Mario Kart levels of graphical polish. The harshest criticism I can surmise is that some levels are a bit bland or static. But it more then makes up for that with epic stage hazards and the wide colour palette and tropes.
Everything sounds great so far right? Now onto the most divisive aspect. The handling. At best, its rewarding and engaging. At worst, its needlessly punishing and overly sensitive.
I've lost count of how many times a perfectly good run has been spoiled by a pebble I brushed on the side of the road, or a incline I approached a mile too fast/too slow.
I'm obviously being hyperbolic but my goodness, the physics are an acquired taste. I'm 50 hours into the game now, so it's safe to say I've gotten a handle on things now, but it was damn rough.
Its definitely an aspect which is more rewarding the more effort you put into it. The high risk of failure makes success all the sweeter, but it can feel like its overly stacked against you. Maybe I just need to get gud?
One positive in this regard, is that the game has a large variety of vehicles for you to try out. Aside from the wheeled vehicles, we also have anti-grav hoverships similar to wipeout. And from those two vehicle types you also have three subcategories. Speedster, Aggressor and Tank. These all handle very differently to one another. So its worth trying them all out to find out which one you like best. Once you get a good feel for one, it goes a long way towards mediating the difficulty curve.
Combat obviously plays a large role in the title, being its namesake after all. Landing a fatal strike on a human opponent in a online multiplayer match is a highlight, but some of the weapons are downright useless.
Honorable mention firstly to the Scorpion missiles and the Ramraider. I never get tired of firing a super death laser through multiple opponents.
On the other hand, the upgraded Ramraider is a pointless powerup which barely lasts and isn't worth the time spent charging it up. And the front shield (the charged up painkiller) is some kind of joke considering there's no landmine type weapons in the game, or ways to fire behind you.
Charging up weapons involves cannibalizing whatever's in a alternate weapon slot by simply holding down the respective fire button. Doing this slows down your motor for a brief moment, so you can skillfully time this instead of braking around sharp corners. That's a free pro-tip, only from CrispySinger.
Aurally the game is faultless. Sound effects help highlight the impact of combat and the roaring power of the engines. The music is worthy of high praise. There's a diverse array of hard hitting drum and bass tracks. A lot heavier than the average futuristic racing game soundtrack and it helps give the title a unique identity.
One quick aside regarding the (masochistic) handling. There's an easily ignored mode in the game called Carkour I recommend you avoid it if you have a low tolerance for frustration. It involves you navigating abstract zones gathering collectibles and its phenomenally difficult. I'm two achievements away from 100%-ing this game, and sadly one of them is tied to this.
Online multiplayer is fairly active. I'm playing on Steam so I cant attest to the playerbase on other systems. On the weekends there's upwards of a dozen lobbies. Most weeknights there might be one or two. Being fair to the game, its a 2016 title.
On that note, local multiplayer is a welcome inclusion. The 4 player split screen obviously has some minor slowdown but it can be alleviated on PC by tinkering with the visual settings. Be warned though, with the speed and intensity of the gameplay your gonna want a large television if your going 4 player.