GRIP Review

By Kevin Tavore, 17 days ago
When I was a kid, I loved remote control cars. The thrill of controlling a vehicle to my whims and doing badass stunts was simply unbeatable. The only problem, and I'm sure those of you who are like-minded will remember, is that these cars could tip over. When I drove my Sidewinder off the stairs, it was more likely to land in a shattered heap at the bottom than to masterfully tackle those stairs in an elegant fashion. Then, somewhere inside a company, a lightbulb went off above an engineer's head and thus was born the Tyco Rebound.


If GRIP has a mantra, it's probably "in your face flips," because let's be honest, that's awesome and it's correct. GRIP isn't based on the Tyco Rebound, but I gotta think the developers found a bit of inspiration there as they crafted this ode to nineties sci-fi racing. The game is far from perfect, but it's certainly got plenty of zing for its zoom, which is probably something someone from the nineties would say.

So how does the Tyco Rebound play into this? If you watched that commercial above, it's basically gameplay from GRIP. At its core, you're driving a car capable of flipping over due to wheels that are taller than the body and you're driving it way too fast to have any real control, so you're definitely constantly flipping. This is complemented by the ability to drive on walls if you're driving fast enough. Together, these concepts work together marvelously so that the second to second gameplay is really good. It's super fast and you'll hit objects that will send you flying, but you'll always land on your feet and be back to high speeds in no time, so those failures don't feel punishing at all times. It just feels fun.

There are also weapons, as any sensible racing game will allow you to launch bullets and missiles at your opponents. Every track is littered with powerups to find that give you a boost, a shield or a weapon to battle your opponents. There's a variety of weapons that play a bit differently, from your standard homing missiles and machine guns to a "blue shell" missile that hits the racer in first, which brings plenty of variety to the gameplay.

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The tracks you'll race on are also well designed. You'll find tight corridors and side paths that are probably shortcuts if you can handle them properly. You'll find boost pads and jumps. You'll find straightaways to really show off your speed or for opponents to send an easy missile your way. These levels aren't full of memorable landmarks — one environment could be swapped for another and it's possible I wouldn't notice enough to recognize them as the same track — but they are fun enough that there's plenty of value in playing through them multiple times.

If you're able to play this with a group of 10 online, I'd wager you'll have an absolute blast. The game is frenetic and exciting, with plenty of opportunities to both excel and miserably ruin your own race as you flip skyward into oblivion with a smile on your face after hitting a rock the wrong way. Unfortunately, since I was playing pre-release and servers were dead (I tried, I promise), I was stuck playing the campaign against AI. That brought the worst aspect of the game front and center: the AI is terrible.

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The problem isn't that the AI doesn't know how to drive. Sure, it'll sometimes do something truly arcane and unexpected so that you'll run into them and have your speedometer hit zero, but mostly they race in reasonably straight lines and are fine to interact with. The problem is that they are catch-up AI. After all, we have a sci-fi racer with powerups that's unintentionally based on a popular nineties RC car. Why wouldn't another nineties staple be present? There's some value in having a bit of catch-up in your AI. You don't want to be at a point where a game with no difficulty setting feels hopeless. But there's also taking it too far. If I can race a perfect race (and there's an oval track, so I can assure you I basically did) and still have a "very easy" AI on my heels, that's a problem. There needs to be some reward when I crush my opponents and that's just not a feeling this game ever captures.

The catch-up AI isn't all bad. At the very least, it works the other way around too. If I have a bad crash at the start of the third lap and go to last place, I'm not out of it. I can race well and still take first. So for every time you get hosed by catch-up AI, you'll likely take advantage of it too. But the main problem with this style of AI is the feeling of meaninglessness. Every race feels like the first two laps don't even matter, they're just killing time until you get to the final lap where you can easily take first if you drive well. It's a bad feeling that this AI often brings, and GRIP does nothing to avoid it. That's a shame, as the gameplay is only hindered by this major detail.

Speaking of meaningless, let me shine a light on this campaign. It's basically a series of seemingly random events with no context or story or progression of any kind beyond getting experience to level up. You could play campaign or play single player races and have literally the exact same experience. A racing campaign is tricky and no one's expecting a tense story or even a story at all, but a good racing campaign will give something to drive the player forward. I'm not sure what that should have been here, but I can confirm that the lack of motivation is noticeable and it doesn't work.

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The achievements were still hidden at the time of this review, so I can only comment on what I unlocked. I popped achievements for winning races, doing well in deathmatches and increasing tiers in the campaign, of which there are many. It stands to reason that there are more, similar achievements as well as a few miscellaneous ones like the one I got for hitting a player with a missile while I was in the air. There's also an experience system, so it'd be unsurprising to have achievements tied to that.

Check out our Best Xbox Arcade Racing Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

GRIP is truly an ode to nineties racers and its core gameplay is really quite fun. The frantic pacing is complimented well by a very forgiving gameplay design that allows you to flip around and generally have fun without worrying about crashing and having to reset. Weapons and boosts offer additional ties to the nineties while also ensuring the gameplay has a bit more depth and variety. With friends, it could be a great deal of fun and those hours would be worth the investment. Alone, it's a bit of a different story. The AI is a dreaded catch-up AI and it definitely doesn't work here, with campaign races feeling meaningless until the final lap. A dull campaign mode doesn't do the solo experience any favors. Ultimately, GRIP has fun gameplay at its foundation, I'm just not sure this first attempt takes the game everywhere it needs to go.
3 / 5
GRIP
Positives
  • Fast and fun gameplay with lots of flips
  • Weapons and sci-fi feel work well with the gameplay
  • Track design is fair, showing off what the cars can do
Negatives
  • AI is quite poor, relying substantially on catch-up mechanics
  • Campaign mode is meaningless and very dull
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent five hours fighting the AI in the campaign mode, learning the tricks of the trade in this racer. An unknown number of achievements were unlocked along the way. The game was played on an Xbox One X. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.