GRIP: Combat Racing (PC) Review

By Tomas Barry 02.11.2018

Review for GRIP: Combat Racing on PC

Developed by Caged Element, a studio based in Toronto, and published by Wired Elements, GRIP Combat Racing is a spiritual successor to the Rollcage series, of the PSone era. It's an extremely fast-paced arcade sci-fi racer, centring around its distinct vehicles, which sport such massive tyres that they are effectively double-sided, flappable machines! Cubed3 took GRIP for an initial test-drive around a year ago, while the title was still in its Early Access form. Back then, it was praised for its eye-blistering sense of speed, its crazy vehicular acrobatics, as well as the unrelenting intensity of its combat. Fast-forward to the present, and GRIP Combat Racing finally releases officially, launching on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. After being in Early Access for a period of over two and a half years, not to mention the considerable range of sci-fi racers already available, is GRIP worth the wait?

Although sci-fi racers are nowhere near as popular as they once were back in the '90s, when titles like Wipeout, MegaRace, POD, Extreme-G, F-Zero, and Rollcage were flourishing, there's still plenty of choice within the genre at current. WipEout: Omega Collection for the PS4 is a stellar package, FAST RMX on Switch is rather outstanding, there's Formula Fusion for the PC, not to mention multiplatform racers like Antigraviator and Redout. Consequently, it's important for sci-fi racers to distinguish themselves in some capacity. GRIP Combat Racing certainly achieves that, through its double-sided vehicle mechanics, derived from Rollcage. Conveniently, this also provides the title with something of a leg-up on the competition, by tapping into gamers' nostalgia for that series. Considering the project also benefits from a very long phase in Early Access, going through several cycles of critique and fan-feedback, it seems well positioned to storm ahead of the chasing pack.

GRIP Combat Racing certainly succeeds in this regard. It's one of the most polished and unique futuristic racers of the modern era. It can be incredibly challenging and unforgiving at times, but the depth of its racing and combat mechanics are so substantial that even clinging onto the back of the pack proves to be an exhilarating and satisfying experience. It features a beautiful set of futuristic courses, which are extremely well designed. They sport plenty of death-defying jumps, enclosed cylinders that will spit the driver out every which way, not to mention lots of walls and ceilings to scale along at 700km/h plus. However, successfully navigating these rollercoaster expanses, without getting caught between a rock and a hard place, is only half the battle. Players must also take decisive action in the combat domain, making full use of power-ups, shields, and weaponry to prevail.

Screenshot for GRIP: Combat Racing on PC

This fine balance between death-defying physics and chaotic combat is without a doubt GRIP Combat Racing's greatest strength. The divided emphasis really intensifies the demands of the player. Granted, it leads to a lot more disappointingly average performances than most may be used to from sci-fi racers. After all, it's easy to neglect precise steering inputs when focused on dodging a rocket or unloading some pent-up fury. However, because these two core elements feel so tightly knit together, it only serves to entice the player into mastering the balancing act better next time round. Thus, while the gameplay is inherently cut-throat, with mistakes punished harshly, the depth of the vehicle physics and the combat are such that it always feels like more can be extracted. That may be through better use of a weapon, a more controlled trajectory that avoids track hazards, or a more appropriate combination of standard braking and handbrake.

In other words, its steep difficulty curve only enhances the exhilaration factor, with the player constantly feeling as though they are racing on a knife-edge. It's refreshing that GRIP Combat Racing is not afraid of being challenging in this regard. Plenty of sci-fi racers feature a similar array of features, such as eye-blistering speed, power-ups, and combat, but they neglect the fine-tuning of these elements. This leads to titles that are pretty and visceral but not remotely testing, or overly combat-heavy romps that don't accentuate the sense of flow that should come with threading a vehicle through winding and twisty tracks. GRIP Combat Racing successfully combines these aspects in a way that few sci-fi racers have before, and that's partly down to this unforgiving nature. The fact that getting derailed never turns into a deterring force, illustrates how concentrated and measured these fundamentals are. Players must invest time in mastering its racing and combat mechanics, and the more they do so, the better the performances and the greater the thrills.

Screenshot for GRIP: Combat Racing on PC

The hard-edged nature of the experience is also offset by the neat progression system in GRIP Combat Racing. Everything, whether it's single-player or multiplayer, contributes XP, which in turn unlocks vehicle customisation. There are hundreds of paint jobs, decals, rims and tyres to grab, and although these are purely cosmetic, they are still a nice reward. It's debatable whether performance enhancing upgrades would have been a worthwhile inclusion. They would level the playing field in terms of coping with the rather flawless AI, especially initially. However, they could also disrupt the intentionally steep difficulty curve, encouraging corner cutting. In the multiplayer domain, upgrades could also cause balance issues, with those who have worked their way through the whole single-player campaign easily trumping new players. Considering there's so much depth within the fundamentals, there are no real qualms with sticking to cosmetic upgrades only. That said, there are plenty of racers that have implemented this without upsetting the overall balance.

GRIP Combat Racing also benefits from a healthy variety of modes. The single-player campaign is well fleshed out, with more than eleven tiers of action to work through. These consist of multiple tournaments, each of which comprise three events. There's an impressive variety of different slants on races, providing a strong sense of contrast. Classic races are all about scraping for position, Ultimate places a heavier emphasis on racking up points via combat, Elimination gets rid of the last competitor every thirty seconds, whilst Speed Demon is entirely focused on expert handling. Each of them highlight different aspects of the formula, helping race fans to appreciate the depth of the gameplay. Then there's the arena events, which are combat-centric affairs. Deathmatch sees players accruing points for the destruction they wreak. Then there's Steal the Stash, a team-based affair that sees drivers stealing opponents' loot and transporting it back, and Time Bomb where the last car driving wins, after the unlucky designated driver is saddled with a timed bomb blast.

Screenshot for GRIP: Combat Racing on PC

A lot of these arena match variants really excel in the multiplayer domain. Deathmatch provides the sort of entertainment synonymous with the battle mode seen in Mario Kart, with purpose-built stages providing a very acrobatic, stunt-centric backdrop for combat encounters. Steal the Cash is somewhat like 'capture the flag' and another distinct experience, whilst Time Bomb is guaranteed to provide a lot of thrills and spills. Prior to launch, it wasn't possible to get a game online, but so long as it operates as smoothly as the offline split-screen multiplayer, it's bound to be an absorbing pursuit. The last unique aspect of GRIP to speak of is its Carkour mode. This standalone mode features complex and purpose-built environments, comprising twists, turns, loops, jumps, and other obstacles that require precision driving to navigate. This is a significant change of pace that really hones skill-sets and highlights the title's fantastic physics.

Another aspect of GRIP Combat Racing that deserves praise is its highly polished presentation. The visuals really are quite spectacular, showcasing the ability of the Unreal 4 Engine. Environments are epic, rich in detail, and enhanced by rather gorgeous lighting. Its special effects for weapons and items are also impressively flashy and vibrant. At speed, all of this comes together in a big way, producing something very eye-catching and visceral. Elsewhere in the audio domain, GRIP boasts an excellent mix of drum n' bass, techno, and trance. The high-tempo nature of this mix really complements the intensity of the gameplay. Featuring work from the likes of S.P.Y., Whiney, and Krakota, this soundtrack really gets the player in the right mood for the experience. Even better, for those who wish to, the PC version allows players to drop their own tracks into a folder so they can substitute their own music, too. This is a great freedom to afford consumers.

Screenshot for GRIP: Combat Racing on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Overall, GRIP Combat Racing is a fantastic spiritual successor to Rollcage racing that doesn't just pay tribute to the series, but also carves out its own nuances. It's a highly intense and visceral experience, which pulls no punches in terms of both its challenge and its depth. The visuals are amongst some of the best within the arcade racer genre, whilst the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment for the action on track. Better still, the handling is surprisingly detailed and easy to appreciate in conjunction with the imaginative tracks, which are full of gravity-defying labyrinths and heart-stopping jumps. The lack of in-air weight-balance modification and performance enhancing upgrades is slightly disappointing but, overall, the fundamentals are so addictive that these minor drawbacks are neither here nor there. GRIP Combat Racing is a highly concentrated experience, with a wealth of single-player content that's only complemented by its multiplayer components. Brilliant.

Developer

Caged Element

Publisher

Wired Productions

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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