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.