GRIP: Combat Racing for PC Review

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The Rollcage games are cult classic combat racers and contain a unique gimmick not seen in most racing games – the ability to drive on walls and ceilings. The first Rollcage is where it all started and does have a bit of a learning curve. Practice and mastery of the controls and mechanics is the only way you’ll have a chance at winning. Rollcage Stage II is the sequel that toned down the difficulty, making it a little more accessible, while retaining the same fun fast-paced racing action as its predecessor. Developed by Caged Element and published by Wired Productions, GRIP: Combat Racing is the spiritual successor to the Rollcage games, released for PC in November, 2018. It has also been released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch. For this review, I played the PC version. Just looking at it, you can see that GRIP is like a more modern version of Rollcage. Moving at ridiculous speeds? Check. Driving on walls and ceilings? Check. Using weapons to combat your opponents? Check. Thanks to GRIP, I discovered the Rollcage games and decided to play those first. I really enjoyed what I played and have been looking forward to playing GRIP.
GRIP is a combat racing game where you move at high speeds and use weapons and powerups to combat opponents. There’s many vehicles to choose from, most of which need to be unlocked and they come in two different types – rigs and AirBlades thanks to DLC. AirBlades are antigravity vehicles or ships, like what you would see in F-Zero or Wipeout. Each vehicle has different stats in acceleration, maximum speed, grip, brakes, and strength. Whether you drive a rig or pilot an AirBlade, they can all move at crazy speeds, drive on walls and ceilings, and flip and keep going. Every vehicle is equipped with a boost module that charges over time based on your position and allows for an easy recovery after a crash. You can launch your vehicle at the press of a button which is good for jumping from ground to ceiling, wall to wall, and over obstacles. You can also control your vehicle in the air if you let go of the throttle. As soon as I started playing, I noticed the vehicle handling didn’t feel quite right. They feel floaty and need a better sense of weight.

GRIP includes a leveling system. You gain experience points by playing and when you earn enough, you level up. Reaching certain levels rewards you with new vehicles and customization options. You can customize your vehicle with different paint colors, decals, rims, and tires. It is all cosmetic. Each vehicle can store two weapons or powerups which can be acquired from pickups on the tracks. If you have two pickups stored, you can sacrifice one to charge the other, making it more powerful. Many of the pickups from the Rollcage games do make an appearance, albeit with different names. The Firestorm chemical cocktail will grant you a massive speed boost, the Disruptor slows down time for all racers on the track except you, the Painkiller is a temporary shield, the Hydra pick up lets you fire a swarm of micro missiles, the Assassin is a missile that will target the opponent in first place, and the Raptor is a rapid-firing weapon that will slow down opponents. These should all be familiar to Rollcage veterans. You can also acquire the Ramraider powerup that lets you push opponents out of the way and the Spearhead weapon which allows you to fire three explosive darts. You can lock-on to enemies before firing weapons and depending on the game mode or if the “destructible vehicles” option is enabled, vehicles can be destroyed after taking enough damage.

One of the things I really appreciate in GRIP is how fleshed out the campaign mode is. The campaign consists of multiple tiers each with their own tournaments and each tournament has its own set of events. The events are just the different game modes. You need to complete one tier to unlock the next and the difficulty increases as you progress. The campaign includes a rivals system where you build rivalries with AI opponents, resulting in a duel with your rival at the end of a tier. There’s quite a bit of content in the campaign and on the surface it all looks pretty good. But as cool as all of this sounds, the campaign is brought down by the atrocious rubberbanding. The sad thing is there is a “catchup” option that can be turned on and off but it doesn’t apply to the campaign. One crash or mistake can result in you going from first place to last place, it’s not always easy to catch up, and I feel like the AI really shows how cheap it can be during duels. I can’t tell you how many times they fucked me with weapons on the last lap, sometimes near the finish line. It becomes infuriating.
When you play through the single player modes, you can choose from multiple difficulty modes and the engine power when customizing a game. The tracks also come in different difficulties. GRIP includes numerous game modes. Classic Race is all about finishing in first place. Ultimate Race focuses on combat. It’s similar to the TOTAL Race mode in Rollcage Stage II except the developers made some odd design choices resulting in Ultimate Race being not as enjoyable as it should be. For one thing, your finishing position means nothing. You score points by attacking other opponents with weapons and the easiest way to win is to stay behind and pick off enemies ahead of you. However, some tracks don’t include enough pickups or the AI opponents will grab them before you do and when your behind the pack and keep getting Firestorms and Painkillers, that just becomes annoying. The only real benefit to staying ahead or in the lead is to acquire the pickups first. I also feel that an option to damage vehicles by ramming into them would be beneficial here, especially if the pickups are scarce. The mode is flawed and I really question the thought process behind some of the design decisions. Speed Demon is a racing mode where weapons are disabled and Time Trial is where you race to try and earn the fastest time on the track. Elimination is a racing mode where every thirty seconds, the racer in last place is eliminated. This mode is actually a lot of fun and pushes you to drive your best and stay ahead. It can get intense.
GRIP includes an Arena mode consisting of a Deathmatch game type. The goal is to destroy your opponents. The Arenas are wide open with pickups littered about and you acquire points for damaging opponents. It’s like a Twisted Metal type of mode only not fun. At least in single player. It seems like the AI isn’t programmed properly for this mode. They tend to drive around aimlessly and will rarely attack the player or each other. Even on the highest difficulty, it’s not hard to win a deathmatch. It’s the type of mode that I would imagine works better in multiplayer. The final single player mode is Carkour and it sucks. It’s like the Scramble mode from Rollcage Stage II only worse. Each track is an obstacle course and they will put your driving skills to the test but I really don’t find the mode to be enjoyable. It’s just a lot of trial and error. I prefer the speed and action. GRIP does include a multiplayer component but the online portion seems dead. I found one game which was a Classic Race. However, GRIP does allow for split-screen multiplayer with up to four players.

The single player modes outside of the campaign allow you to customize the games by configuring various options and settings and you can choose from a multitude of tracks. You can also set up custom tournaments. The tracks are set on different planets and there is a good amount of environmental diversity. You’ll race through tracks set in space, wastelands, snowy-areas, and other various locations. You’ll speed through a lot of tunnels and tubes, speed pads on the tracks will grant you boosts, and there’s numerous jumps and twisting roads. Many of the tracks are pretty short and some are significantly more challenging than others. The harder ones contain a lot of sharp and twisty turns, you can fall off some tracks, and one has turrets that can slow you down. Just like the Rollcage games, there’s a limited amount of environmental destruction. You can target and destroy objects and structures with weapons which is pretty cool. Many of the tracks are wide open so you’re not really contained. You can easily launch your vehicle way off the track which can become annoying. Tracks that contain a lot of twisting and turning make it very easy to get disoriented since it’s not always obvious where you need to go. And because you’re not really contained you won’t be forced to stay on the correct path. Memorization of the tracks is going to be very beneficial. In my opinion, the tracks need more rails and walls or more obvious signs to at least clearly show you where to go so you can easily get back into the race if you take a wrong turn or jump in the wrong direction. Ideally, I’d rather just crash into something but still remain on the track. There’s a lot of ways to screw up in the GRIP and the floaty handling doesn’t help.
GRIP runs on Unreal Engine 4 and isn’t a bad looking game. The vehicle models look great and are very well detailed as are the tracks. Explosions look pretty good, the smoke and debris that kick up from weapon impacts look good, and the game exhibits an excellent sense of speed. There’s plenty of color and the distinct look and feel of the planets and tracks keep the visual presentation from becoming stale. The tracks look as if they’re actually set on massive worlds thanks to sprawling landscapes, beautiful skies, and distant buildings, structures, and planets in the backgrounds. The high speed action is accompanied by an electronic soundtrack and I could barely distinguish one song from another unless I was really paying attention. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this genre of music in general but I do think the soundtracks in the Rollcage games were a bit better. The game does allow you to play your own music so that’s neat. The sound effects are decent and do help to make the combat effects sound somewhat satisfying. Vehicles roar as they speed along the tracks, the weapons fire sounds okay at best, and explosions have a nice boom to them. On the technical side, I didn’t experience any frame rate dips or notice any bugs.

Ultimately, I’m disappointed with GRIP. I only had fun with most of the racing modes. Anything focused on combat is just flawed. GRIP has several issues that seriously hold it back. The rubberbanding AI can kill any enjoyment the campaign has to offer, the Ultimate Race and Arena Deathmatch modes are underwhelming, the Carkour mode is just awful, the vehicles are floaty, and the tracks need some tweaking. I feel like most of the issues in GRIP can be resolved with patches. Even the racing modes, which are arguably the best modes, are negatively affected by some of the game’s issues. I had much more fun in custom races than I did with the campaign. Mastery of the controls and mechanics and track memorization should basically be accepted if you’re a veteran of the Rollcage games but the floaty vehicles and wide open track designs can result in frustration.

I would only recommend GRIP if you can get it on sale and even then, there are better combat racing games out there. Somewhere in GRIP is a fun racing game but it’s overshadowed by an array of problems that affect even the most enjoyable aspects. If it wasn’t for GRIP, I would have never discovered the Rollcage games but GRIP does not really do a good job at reflecting what made them so enjoyable. Tight tracks and mastery of the handling made the gameplay fun and addictive in those games. GRIP retains Rollcage’s unique gimmick, sense of speed, and combat element but fails at almost everything else.

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