Reviews

GRIP: Combat Racing review – Gripping to the Past

"Remember those remote-controlled cars that could drive either way up? You get to play as one of those! Well, for me, that was the basic hook of the PS1 game, 1999’s Rollcage. GRIP rises from the ashes of the long-forgotten industrial arcade racer, with a freshly welded chassis. It’s a bit like an episode of Scrapheap Challenge, really."

GRIP takes the usual sci-fi/industrial, dark/gritty/dusty visual setup for an arcade, fast-paced combat racer, throwing in a shedload of modes and online play. Races are fast and relatively short, where you’re pushed to concentrate on sticking to ground as best you can. GRIP is designed to keep your vehicle rockin’ and rollin’ all over the place, across its four planets and twenty-two tracks.

GRIP2

Grit

There are some neat touches, like being able to hop from the ceiling to the floor in certain areas and the sense of high speed is captured well, especially during boosts, giving the arcade vibe the genre aims for. Another example is that there are some advanced moves, like braking when an opponent’s missile impacts to reduce the blast effect. Add to that a fantastic difficulty level which pushes towards up-skilling, rather than cheesing; it’s tough as nails but feels massively rewarding to win a race through grafting to improve. Once you know the track layout, it comes down to speed management and doing everything you can to stop your vehicle flipping out of control. The challenge often lies in regaining control of the vehicle one it’s airborne; nailing the landings can mean the difference between pole position and the scrapheap. Anyone familiar with this format of arcade racer should feel comfortable with this element, but a tough time awaits the newcomer.

 

Tracks contain multiple routes and tend to have a mix of wide-open areas with natural obstacles in the way, and narrower sections with the option to ride up walls or on the ceiling. It’s as fun as it sounds and when inevitably catapulting into the distance when pushing your luck, a quick hold of the ‘-‘ button and you’re teleported back in the fray with a nice sci-fi beam-me-up-type visual animation.

Growth

As much as the gameplay holds up against Rollcage, it’s never going to sit in the league of say, later Wipeout games or F-Zero GX. Switch owners only need look to Shin’en’s superb zero-gravity racer, Fast Racing RMX to see what the Switch is capable of, though Fast Racing RMX’s groundwork was already done and the devs had early access to the hardware, so it isn’t an entirely fair comparison. With that said, the comparison is unavoidable as, for my money, you’re getting a far better deal. In terms of comparison to Rollcage, there is another area where GRIP falls short. Rollcage’s destructible environments were plentiful, well-paced and genuinely added strategy. The absence in the regard is felt.

These games have evolved since the days of Rollcage though and, though maintains a bit of a cult status with some PC and PS1 fans of the era, never truly stuck the wider gaming audience for future years, though was well-received critically at the time. GRIP being made from the DNA of Rollcage only feels like a minor step up in core gameplay. Like pressing a sports button on an old Micra; it doesn’t do anything new. Now, this is by design, for the most part, but it also doesn’t give GRIP a free pass. The project feels a lot like the Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter. We’re offered a relic with some polish, then realise that relic isn’t as fun as it was at the time. Both projects delivered what they said they would, so backers will likely be content.

GRIP1

GRIP’s development is one heavily influenced by player engagement, which is fantastic to see. The devs clearly spent a lot of time fine-tuning and balancing handling and weaponry. For me, this shows in that it didn’t really come up as a problem. The fact I barely gave a thought to balancing until taking notes for the review, speaks volumes.

Gripe

The biggest pitfall, speaking of the Switch version specifically, is the visual presentation and performance. The visual compromises likely stem from multi-format development including having to get to a grip (I will not apologise) on the new hardware, but with fidelity as low as it is, GRIP would have really benefited from delivering 60FPS.  It’s not a deal-breaker and it certainly isn’t a necessity, but the actual frame drops are less forgivable when considering the overall graphical package. During the average race, in handheld mode, the frame rate seems steady but with a bit of a frame-pacing issue and, when there are a few racers firing off weaponry or a busier screen, there are occasional but significant frame drops. It’s not frequent enough to matter for an average session, but just know going in that GRIP isn’t going to deliver consistent peak performance. Texture work on the ground is basic, not entirely unusual for a game of this speed, but there’s no apparent anti-aliasing solution and everything looks muddy, with noticeable pop-in. Without the good implementation of motion blur, you’re left with what sometimes feels like an up-scaled PSP game. Again, I can appreciate sacrifices are an absolute necessity for stability but there’s too much give with any take. There are some more modern flourishes here and there, with darker levels showing off lighting for example, it’s just all a bit low-key. There’s some lovely artwork on the loading screens.

GRIP6

I suspect other platforms won’t have many of the performance and visual difficulties found on the Switch version, however, it does at least scale nicely on the Switch’s screen, making it a perfectly feasible way to play.

The soundtrack isn’t my cup of tea, there’s no getting around it. I found the beats to be generic, repetitive, similar per track and with nothing of particular merit. It didn’t get me pumped, in fact, it didn’t evoke anything beyond mild irritation.

Vehicles are impressively customisable cosmetically, allowing you to select colours of sets of panels with hue, saturation and brightness sliders. You can change the look of the tyres, add decals and the like. I naturally made all mine look as saturated as a brightly-coloured anime mech, because, why not?

 

Gripping

Gameplay modes are plentiful, with a full campaign mode allowing you to progress through tournaments. Classic race modes allow for an impressive level of customisation, featuring race-types like ‘Ultimate Race’ in which additional points are awarded for a heavier focus on blasting your opponent, or ‘Carkour’, which is just as it sounds; jumping over ramps and platforms, making a pseudo-platformer out of the core racing mechanics. It sorts of works, and is a nice distraction for short bursts but it’s also flimsy with the style of handling. All this is before you’ve explored the multiple battle-type modes in ‘Deathmatch’, ‘Steal The Stash’ (a variant of capture-the-flag) and ‘Time Bomb’ (player has a bomb-countdown, any players hit by the explosion are turned into bombs, last car standing wins). Better still, you can line up multiple events to create your own tournaments.

GRIP5

Local split-screen is also supported, quickly becoming a standard feature in many Switch titles. Interestingly, there isn’t a great further downgrade to facilitate split-screen play, which further draws the question back to why the single-player had such significant downgrades. Online play is present and supports all modes for up to ten player races, with AI bots filling the gaps where necessary. Unfortunately, perhaps owing to the release date, I really struggled to find a game and was unable to test the stability. Should I ever manage to arrange a game, I’ll update this review accordingly.

Carkours it’s a Good Idea

GRIP is a competent arcade combat racer but there are similar and better games to chose from. It excels more in concept than execution. With twitchy handling not quite meeting the standard of its peers (though still functionally fine, I hasten to remind readers) and track design particularly bland beyond the game’s core gimmick. The variety in game modes is good to see but the handling of the vehicles doesn’t feel attuned the arena battle experience.

I’d love to see what the team could manage with greater resources and sincerely hope for the success of GRIP as, while it’s not quite up with the big guns, a technically superior version with better, more interactive track design could see them reach greater heights. I mean, after waiting for the follow-up to Rollcage, it would suck to keep your wheels on the ground for too long, right?


Verdict:

Graphics: 5

Presentation: 6
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 7

Overall Score:           6/10


Pro-Tip: Playing the Carkour mode will do wonders for your handling skills.

Format: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Price: £34.99 (UK eShop)
Publisher: Caged Element
Developer: Wired Productions
Age Rating: PEGI 7

Release Date: 06/11/2018 (UK eShop)

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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