review – race driver:grid

due to the high temps in germany, i was not really in the mood to spend time seriously with gaming. but i found the demo of ‚race driver: grid‘ from codemasters on a magazine dvd and thought, let’s give it a try. i have read that this game is quite demanding in terms of hardware requirements and so i was kind of interested to see how my system is able to handle the game. the installation of the demo took some time but was showing some nice screenshots of the game. after the installation, the game is placed in the games section of vista, so no seperate menu item. there is no external setup, everything is done inside the game. usually, this is quite nice because you do not have to leave the game for changing the settings for graphics or sound but the game requested restarts (of the game, not the system) for most of the changes which takes some time and makes no difference to an external setup. anyway, the settings for graphics are very high level, as well as for sound and controller. there is no chance to switch to a specific soundcard nor controller and most of the settings are more like on/off, low/med/high. the demo provides 3 races – race track with a bmw 320, drift with a nissan sylvia and street race with a ford mustang. the overall game navigation is quite nice but very console-ish.

graphics:
without any doubts, the game looks nice. the scenery is quite detailled and the objects placed everywhere are giving the tracks a ‚life‘ touch. the objects are detailled, breakable (if you can reach them) or animated (eg: people). the lighting is related to the time of the day or the location and adds a nice touch to the scenery. an eyecatcher is the package of effects. the game is using hdr effects a lot and so there is a lot of shiny reflections, blooming, pupil adaption simulation, sparks, smoge, back fire, broken mirrors/windows, scratched or broken body parts and so on. the cars are detailled as long as you watch them not in the rear view mirror. here they become very boxy and all those mentioned effects are gone as well. this is very pitty, especially for the drift events where no smoke is visible in the mirrors at all and to look at the mirror during a race is so disappointing, you feel yourself set back to the late 90s.
the overall mood of the graphics is kind of flat, not as colorfull as sega rally. if i compare the game graphics to photos i’ve shoot at races or other car related events, it could use some more saturation.
the interior of the cars is very well done. lot’s of details, different gauges, steering wheel, legs, pedals and so on, this is very impressive and for me, it set’s a new standard for car interiors. this comes in very nice, especially during the replays because you’ve got different camera positions inside the car as well.

sound:
hm, this is a little bit difficult. the setup is strange, you’ve got the choice to use hardware acceleration or not, whatever this means. on my xfi card, this means, 5.1 or not, on different other soundcards, i don’t know. there is no option to select your sounddevice as well. this is really not very user friendly.
the sound coulisse is not bad, a lot of environmental sounds, bounces, gearbox noise and tire squeaks. but, especially the sylvia or the muscle car comes quite flat in terms of engine sounds. i expect more presents for the engine for a game which offers this amount of effects overall and the balance of the volume for the different sound effects needs more attention as well.

controls:
same here, no choice to select a specific controller. you’ve got 2 profiles, standard and custom and as the name is telling this, the custom controler setup can be used to create an input scheme which fits to your needs. by whatever reason, i was not able to get a usefull forcefeedback on my momo race. the wheel is without any resistance or rumble effect. sometimes, during heavy bounces or very fast steering actions, there was something like an effect but this is far away from the very first forcefeedback titles back in the windows 95 aera. not sure if this related to the demo, vista or the wheel. overall, there are some deadzone and linearity settings, which is nice and stands out of the other settings for the game. the response to throttle, brake and steering is good and direct and provides control over the car. overall, this game is best driveable with a controller, especially the drift race requires very fast steering actions and this is going to be kind of demanding with a wheel. but this is typicall for arcade titles and with some tweaking and a more ‚lookahead‘ steering style it is fun as well. fortunately, the throttle and brake is very sensitive, so it is not this pure ‚button-like‘ throttle/brake driving style.

physics:
this may be a little bit disappointing for the ones looking for a more sim-like racing game but this is codemasters. race driver:grid is arcade pur. for me, it is in line with nfsu2, nfsc or sega rally. basic load balancing, understeer/oversteer but very drift-ish and forgiveable. the opponents moving around like they haven’t got any physics at all and even a heavy crash isn’t really able to push them or you out of the track. sometimes, the opponents spin, as you do as well if you steer in too fast, but this is really just something that happens because it is the intention and not a result of a physics engine. other parts on the track breaking, fallling down or flying some meters after a hit but this is already seen in titles like burnout2 as well. overall, the feeling of the car is kind of ‚weightless‘ and it reminds me a lot of other codemasters titles like TOCA or DTM Race Driver. acceleration and decelleration is done within a blink of an eye and there is no major slow down in bends. the opponents are often really bullish, they turn in into a bend without paying any attention to you and so you find yourself often in a situation where you get rammed with full force. it is not really possible to drive without any demolition and if you want to win at higher difficulty, you have to add some brutality to your style, like in former codemasters race titles before. it seems like this is a mandatory part to present the damage model 😉 overall, the pack is suffering from rubberbanding, it is no problem to catch up if you are a couple of seconds behind and it is not really possible to get rid of the pack, the biggest advantage i’ve had was a 18 sec gap in frisco and 15 seconds for the other race (serious difficulty, no driving aids).

overall:
it is a nice, fast paced arcade title. the presentation is nice, the advertised volume of the game sounds interesting, the handling is easy (even if the drift race needs some training). the demo isn’t really presenting the options you will get in the full version so you have to read around a little bit. i’m not sure if this title is worth the full price. compared to forza (xbox) or forza2 (360), it comes in a little bit low, because there is no real tuning nor parts shop. the graphics are nice but tend to be unsharp or boxy. this is a strange effect because sometimes it looks like i’m playing the game with 800×600 stretched to 1280×768. on sloped tracks, this leads to a loss of orientation and turn-in’s becomes a little bit tricky. the performance is quite well, i get constant frame rates above 50 fps, with 1280×768/4xaa and everyhing on max on my 3.6ghz dual core with 8800gt (overclocked as well). for 20-30 euro, this is something to consider if you need something to relaxe after a hard day at work but for full price, well, you have to be focused on arcade racing.

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