From the moment I closed the lid on Wipeout, back in 1995, my perception of fast was never quite going to be the same. A nerve-fraying distillation of speed, fury, and thumping techno beats set a bar that shaped a generation of gamers. Shortly after that, Rollcage did the same for four-wheeled racing and now an indie team from Canada are looking bring back that excessive propulsion as Grip rolls out of early access today.
Open to early access since February 2016, Grip is an adrenaline-fuelled combat racing game that aims to emulate the intensity of Rollcage’s heyday while bringing things back to the future. Developers, Caged Element, were not just content with selling another spiritual successor to Psygnosis’s seminal speed demon. Instead, they took those ideals, affixed four wheels, clamped on an atrociously large engine, and set to work with Robert Baker, a programmer on the original inspiration for Grip. Grip: Combat Racing is now available on PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch and from the moment you strap in, it is clear the Caged Element means business with this racing game.
The utter plethora of options that assault you from the moment you load up Grip set a definite precedent for the rest of the game. From the first moment, you log in it is easy to get lost in the number of available ways to obliterate your senses. Single player mode, online, local LAN, and split-screen battles all have a range of ill-advised adventures. Time trials, individual races, combat experiences, elimination modes, and arena battles are all adorned with a traditional campaign mode. Grip accommodates all sorts, with time trials for players who are just speed freaks thorough to a version of zombie tag played out with wrought iron roll cages and thermonuclear bombs. When combined with a total of 16 of tracks, this makes for some impressive replay value. Grips’s range of tracks swerves from outworld rallies to more traditional track events. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran of Grip early access, Grip’s three difficulty modes provide something that should keep you entertained.
The Nascar inspired Speedbowl and Haze’s industrial complex are a fair representation of the type of challenge we’ve come to expect from near future racers. High tech industrial cityscapes border the tarmacked arteries of these challenges. Glass and concrete fly past at an impressive rate, while the embers of distant explosions light the way towards the head of the pack. It’s all beautifully rendered. From the various decals of each car to the flags that twist in the breeze over the Fic Outpost track, Grip is impressive enough that you might burn out just looking at the scenery.
The surrounding landscapes of Grip’s outworld rally stages are more than just an artistic achievement. Set on a range of terrain that spans tarmac, tundra, and desert, these off-road adventures go where antigrav racing really cannot. The frozen starting grid of Fic Outpost is a wild ride which takes the clinical performance of Wipeout and mixes it with the unpredictability of the DiRT rally series. Weather conditions are adverse, the landscape is inconsistent, and hazards are strewn all over the map. Shortcuts are squeezed in throughout this particular race and the undulating planes of surrounding environment make aerial combat a common occurrence. What really impresses about these giant environmental hazards is the physics involved.
Grip’s physics engine also allows for some rather flashy action when pulling off the starting grid. Metal doesn’t exactly grind against metal here. At velocity, things get a bit more pinball wizard. Collisions with fellow competitors and protruding terrain regularly send man and machine flying through the air. Coupled with appropriately skittish behavior on snowy surfaces, this makes for some chaotic crashes and various levels of distress when cars flip off into the atmosphere. On more even surfaces, a plentiful application of downforce allows all of Grip’s cars to drive in more than one orientation. Walls are simply no obstacle as many tracks wind up the vertical plane and around obstacles. Up quickly becomes a relative concept, allowing more experienced drivers to appreciate the routes that twist their way through open air taunting the open chasms ready to swallow up anybody too slow to keep up.
Of course, different cars handle the variable conditions better than others and with 9 readily available vehicles, there are enough choices to accommodate most types of racer. While Grip’s aesthetic paints every car as a cross between a monster truck and a rocket-propelled tank a variety of tops speeds, acceleration, and grip that make each one feel unique. Despite the rather dull default paint job, creating a distinct look for your own death trap is possible too. Grip includes an extremely well-developed customization system that, even from the first time you log in, can carve out an unreasonable amount of time. Paint color, decals, tires, and trims can all be modified before you take to the track for the first time. This customization parks itself quite nicely into Grip’s progression system. Competing in events rewards players with XP based on their performance, unlocking a whole host of new options as you crawl up the leaderboard. It’s not a particularly innovative system but it does work without any problem.
While the look and feel of Grip is absolutely spot on for long-term fans of the Rollcage series, something is missing. Where the team at Caged Element has evolved this classic, they seem to have somehow skipped past a core component of this genre. The blistering soundtrack that tends to accompany these gas guzzling games is suspiciously subdued. The range of electronic beats from artists like Full Kontakt is not bad by any stretch, but the soundtrack felt fairly peripheral when compared to the very definite demand that something like The Chemical Brother’s Chemical Beats makes in Wipeout, simply demanding attention as players are dragged through an intense battle to the top.
Unfortunately, Grip’s accompaniments feel lackluster when compared to the obvious comparisons. Caged Element does allow players to add their own jukebox n a nod to old-school CD swapping and it does help mitigate this somewhat.
My minor niggles with the soundtrack aside, Grip is a good game but it still requires a bit of polish. Far too much of my own race season was spent waiting for crash dumps, or simply sitting atop a mountain. More often than not, an inability to complete an assigned race was not due to my own ineptitude or my decaffeinated reaction times. Across a number of test rigs, I found that I was part of the wrong type of crash. While this might be a personal experience, it remained consistent enough to mention here.
Despite these niggles, Caged Element has managed a great update of the classic Rollcage experience. While some of the of challenge mode are derivate, it’s how Caged Element handles them that makes Grip stand out. Some interesting track designs, well-balanced combat, and an inventive use of the game’s physics engine make for a game that had me strapped in for the ride. The only direction that really matters is forward when racing in the future and if you fancy getting to grips with this combat racer, you can find out more on the game’s official website.