So, we're at that time of the year the kids are out of school and summer is in the air. Normally the summer is generally devoted to the game shows such as E3 and Leipzig leading to a drought of new game releases as we wait pensively for the overwhelming slew of games during the autumn and winter months. Back in the twilight of May Race Driver: GRID was released for PC/Xbox360/PS3 and was praised by reviewers and currently holds an 87/100 on metacritic.com but will the DS port hold up against its home console sibling?
Before I delve into the world of Race Driver: GRID DS I would like to point out here and now that although the game has been rated 3+ by the PEGI it is not suitable for this age classification. The game has copious amounts of text that stretch across both screens at times and most of the single player events require you to be able to read what the challenge entails. For this reason if you are a parent looking for a suitable game for your young child I cannot recommend this title.
Right with that out of the way onto the game. GRID DS sports "37 licensed tracks + 29 licensed vehicles" All spread out across three areas around the world. The game works on the principle of the more races you win and the more 'medals' you get that will in tern determine what gets unlocked such as tracks and challenges. The game has many and I stress many different types of challenges that can be unlocked, anything from break tests to racing up and down a mountain in Japan is all there, I particularly liked the 'survival' challenges where you were given a head start and then chased by an AI opponent, if the AI caught you, you lost. I did not however like the time trials as I found some of the set times you had to reach in order to get 3 medals a little unfair when compared to how easy it is to get three medals in a regular race.
The game also has an online multiplayer mode which was dead at time of writing but it also has multi cart play for you and up to three of your friends. As with all multi cart games the experience is watered down, in this case only Milan, Detroit and Donington Park race tracks are available to play though. You can arrange the tracks in any order or even just race the same track three times by selecting which track you want to race and when you want to race it to make your own custom mini GP. The download from DS to DS was rather quick but the actual load time for races was a little long for my tastes.
Now onto driving the core element of the game. Well its good news as the driving and feel of the cars is solid throughout. Most racing games today on 360/PS3 utilise the trigger buttons to control acceleration but since the DS does not have trigger buttons A and B are default for acceleration and stopping. I found it awkward being asked to control a racing game in a manner that hasn't been done since last generation so I immediately looked in the options for a solution. Thankfully the control scheme can be changed to make the shoulder buttons control your acceleration and braking making the game feel more comfortable and the cars more controllable, why this control scheme wasn't the default escapes me.
One other little detail I liked was that every car handles differently, some have better grip while others have good acceleration though in a race you don't really choose which car you drive as much as you only pick its colour, later on however there is the option to customise the last selectable car, but this can only happen once you have beaten enough races and earned the correct customisation packs. When you crash on the game you take damage in the form of a set of symbols next to map on the bottom screen, each symbol represents a different part of the overall car and when they reach red they pretty much stop working, I did like when the steering takes a reasonable amount of damage the car will swerve to one side forcing you to correct yourself constantly.
The game also has 'intelligent opposition' meaning the AI cars you race against will simply act more intelligent than they would if they didn't have this feature. Personally I found that if I could get in 1st place within the first ten seconds I would remain there until the end of the race or if I couldn't get in first place right away then the other cars would simply constantly crash into me forcing me off the track leaving me in last place. Personally it felt a little unbalanced as once I realised I could win by simply getting ahead very early on took away some of the challenge from most of the race modes. One race mode where this little trick didn't work was when you and all your opponents race the same car, trying to get ahead when you can both do the same maximum speed can be frustratingly difficult leaving only drifting at high speed around corners the only way to get ahead.
One of the big selling points of this game is the ability to design your own tracks. This ability extends into the single player mode where you'll be asked to design tracks as challenges. The design interface for creating a track is extremely simple, all you have to do is select what track piece you want and tap it down with the stylus or if you get bored with that there is always free draw mode where you literally draw a track out using the stylus as a pen. All commands in this mode are done using the stylus. Everything is customisable, you can lower the track, raise the track, control the lighting, the weather you can even draw little decals and adverts for billboards. Some definite thought has gone into this which shows in its unholy addictiveness as I found after spending many hours just tinkering, wondering what would make the perfect track and testing it out, making roads into cliffs so the cars would fly over them, it is truly a unique experience.
It does however have a few drawbacks, in the single player mode you will be asked on several occasions to build a track in a very confined space, an object you place cannot be rotated until it is placed so if you want to put a piece down but it's facing the wrong way you'll have to place it on top of what you have already done thus erasing all your hard work that just so happens to be underneath it, it's not so bad but it still annoys me a little.
One feature which is very cool and will no doubt make the watered down single cart multiplayer experience seem lame and just well rubbish is the ability to share your race track creations with your friends if they all own a copy of the game. Personally I love this idea because even when the game has been completed and you and your friends get sick of the stock tracks there is the possibility of creating thousands of new tracks, all you're really limited to is a little imagination.
I remember just after the Nintendo DS was released I saw a video for a need for speed game I remember it looked almost like a first generation PS1 game with big ugly textures and polygon models that resembles something from Sega's ill-fated 32x. Ever since then I regarded the DS as a platform that should only remain 2D with the exception of first part titles such as Mario Kart and Super Mario 64 DS that could utilise the machine properly in 3D. It's been quite a few years since that incident and as expected the graphical quality has improved immensely.
The game graphically almost looks like a late era Nintendo 64 game with some smooth car models and some detailed scenery, though some of the textures look a little pixelated but they're never on screen long enough to really notice so it's forgiven and considering the sheer amount of information they crammed onto the DS card I'm surprised they got the levels of detail they did.
And it was going so well, there are problems, some intentional, some not. The original GRID featured real time damage of the car you were driving, this game does not instead when you crash a few polygons fly off to the side giving the impression you've caused damage but the car model stays the same. In the track creator mode you can preview your track with a camera giving you a guided tour, on quite a few occasions there were clipping errors where the camera would raise slower than the track and pass right through it showing a green section below. It's not too bad but I would have thought something like this would have been sorted out in the testing phase. The final problem I encountered was just after a race. Like every race or challenge you do you get a replay with a dynamic camera to show you all the best bits of your race, well to put it simply on the replay my car got stuck on a barricade. In the actual race I came first but in the replay my car inexplicably became glued to a barricade, the front wheels still rotated and turned but nothing, even the camera got stuck on that one view. I'm a little disappointed these problems weren't sorted in the testing phase of the game but they do not affect game play at all.
The music is very generic and forgetful but it does the job it was intended for. I did find the tracks that play in the menus and in the track creator became very annoying especially when you're trying to concentrate on the task at hand and having it loop over and over and over again forced me on several occasions to turn the volume off. To say I'm disappointed by the music is an understatement as it all feels to me like an after thought, the graphics and gameplay are so tight I guess I just expected the same from the soundtrack, I was wrong.
The sound effects on the other hand are pretty good; the cars make the correct noises when they change gears or when they collide. I did especially like the crunch sound whenever you crash to give you the impression you hay have just caused some severe damage to your car, nice touch, oh and the tyres screech when you drift. Sound effects within the ingame menus are simple and not over stated with simple chimes whenever you select whatever you want to do.
Most portable reviews I read don't actually take into account the portability of the game. Games such as the Final Fantasy 3 and Resident Evil DS are not very portable as they require you to use save points, not the most efficient way to save the game if your about to get off the bus. GRID DS on the other hand does it surprisingly well, I took the game on a 10 minute train ride to see how it copes. Within the 10 minutes I managed to complete two races and a challenge and when I was done I simply turned the DS off. The fact the game saves after every race a godsend to anyone looking for a game they can quickly turn off and pop back into their pocket. The races themselves I hadn't noticed before are rather quick time wise which means you can get a few done in a very small amount of time. I would not suggest the track editor though. On my way back I only managed to complete half the track as the editor requires a steady hand with use of the stylus and the trains aren't the smoothest form of public transport, apart from that the game is very portable friendly.
The game is rather massive in terms of content. In single player mode most tracks have several challenges and there is always the drive to collect all the customisation packs to customise your cars. The true length of this game and I have said this before lies in the track editor as it allows you to make tracks you feel are best suited to your own driving style be it drifting or drag racing and in all honesty I wouldn't mind seeing other racing titles incorporate this feature in the future as on home consoles it opens the option of DLC for new track parts and scenery.
Overall if you can look past the bugs and forgettable music you have a solid racing game with very good graphics for the DS and a very addictive track editor, the portability makes it perfect to play on the way to work and the sheer amount of challenges will keep you coming back for more long after you popped it into your DS.