GRIP Review – Tri Repetae

Remember Rollcage? No, of course you don’t.

It was a PS1 title from back in the day, with the gimmick being that the idea of going upside-down was just another option in the race. You’d be blasting through tunnels, overtaking racers on the ceiling, and if you lost your grip? Well don’t worry hotshot, you’ll land on your wheels each time. It’s just enough of a gimmick that makes you feel like you’re playing an entirely different game, and it’s a gimmick that the developers of GRIP have eyed for a while, it seems.

This is the debut title from Canadian studio Caged Element, who have seen fit to release this with publisher Wired Productions in tow. Wired themselves are the one with the history, who were once under THQ’s wing pitching karaoke games, and now they’re distributing titles like the haunting The Town of Light, the charming Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and the amazingly average Vostok Inc. GRIP aspires to be more of the same indie glory.

 

Plot? There is none, surprisingly. Not even a vague one that has something to do with the coolest dudes ever riding around like the cool dudes they are on planet Coolio, with the coolest cars that cool could ever cool off. This joke has gone on longer than the actual plot itself, but you go through tiers of races until you become the very best, like no one ever was… at gravity-defying racing.

As much as I advocate for simplicity in video games, Caged Element has really cut off all of the frills when it comes to bringing GRIP to the players. No plot, no fancy unique selling points beyond the crowbarred gimmick from Rollcage, and no colour. It might sound like a good thing, but GRIP could have really used some form of life beyond the racing, which is… alright.

Before you begin cruising these wasted wastelands, you must choose a car, all of which look the same and play the same, save for the “Jackal”, which has a useless shovel front. The rest of always feel like out-of-control hotrods, and stuff like the Dreadnought is designed to be bigger, and that’s it. If anything, choose the cars that seem smaller.

 

It was explained a bit above, but there’s a few things that are good, and not so good. For example, there’s Kart Racing elements, where you pick up various power-ups that can cause your opponent dismay, but with a “hardcore” edge to it all. Miniguns, rockets, salvo missiles, that kind of thing, but almost all of them feel ineffective, save for the minigun, which can ruin your shit if you’re not careful.

Sometimes, the game will give you the chance to blow up parts of the scenery with your weapons, but it’s a mystery as to what it achieves. I’ve never managed to alter the game by shooting some random barrels or wood nearby, it never opens up any routes or traps enemies a la Need For Speed: Carbon, it’s just there, and it’s odd.

There’s one defensive power-up, but it’s about as defensive as an argument for liking Limp Bizkit’s music. The shield decides when it wants to actually save your ass, with the frame rate drop from the explosion of the missile more than likely causing you more problems than just letting it explode, period. You’re honestly better off just taking the shot.

 

Driving in GRIP can be fun, but that’s only if you restrain yourself from using the game’s gimmick, because for some reason, you can’t control your car while it’s in the air. That doesn’t sound too bad, it almost sounds realistic, and we’ve seen this before in something similar like Trackmania Turbo, but there’s a difference between them. One of the main reasons is the fact that the cars in GRIP don’t grip as well as you’d think, with it being very likely that you’ll just fall off while upside down, which is fine in theory, but how about sticking the landing?

Also, in Trackmania, you have one of the smoothest racing experiences money can buy. The tracks aren’t bumpy, most of them are wide and offer space to be a little bit rowdy, and how you land depends entirely on how you play. Here, because the landscape is always so rugged and unforgiving, one slight unforeseen bump with no traction can cause your hard-earned lead to disappear in an instant, and I do mean “hard-earned”.

The A.I. in this game is brutally unforgiving when it comes to races. It’s a true fight to the finish, always having an unbelievably close finish near the end. Ten-man races are always these tight clusters of rubber and shrapnel, as the A.I plays as aggressive as possible to make sure their intimidation causes you to lose balance. If there’s anything to take positively from GRIP, it’s the fact that it’s been designed to make sure your skill level is always met by the opponents.

 

Graphically, it lacks any sort of variety. You’ll never not look like you’re driving around assets for Resistance, as the most colour that ever infects this world is in the forest-y sections that is populated by muted green grasslands. Everything else is infected with greys and browns and it just doesn’t feel like we’re driving for anyone’s pleasure, just that we’re driving around a field outside Bristol.

As for an audio component, the soundtrack fits the aesthetic, but it never truly pops out at you. All of the grimy and filthy DnB/Jungle House beats do make the driving a bit more livelier than what it is, but it never truly comes alive, and sounds just as generic as the world we’re driving in. Credits to S.P.Y. making a song other than “Rock The House” though, but as it stands, this batch of tracks wouldn’t seem out of place as B-Sides from the Hospital Record station from Forza Horizon.

The variety of content is thinned out. There’s “races” where you have to get in first place, actual races where you have to get first place, and deathmatches, where the A.I doesn’t even attempt to fight. They don’t know what they’re doing in this massive arena, they always just drive into walls and occasionally shoot one of the weapons they pick up. A lot of the arenas are just generic cluttered squares with no rhyme or reason, and fights are always one-sided wastes of time. You can easily win just by getting one kill and then dipping into a corner until the time limit ends.

 

There are also “Ultimate Races”, which I understand how to play, but not how to win. Basically you get points by attacking enemies during a normal race, but you also have to stay in first place in order to get a massive bonus boost of points. What this leads into is a weird game of dipping in-between 1st and 5th trying to get points by being 1st and by destroying other enemies with the items you get on the road. It’s oddly satisfying, but not at all wield-able.

Then there’s the “Carkour” courses, and if you ever need the definition for “throwaway content”, then look for it in a dictionary, but this Carkour stuff is some obvious attempt to make it feel like you’re getting less for more. They’re simple challenges that require you to know how the mechanics work in GRIP, but some of these are designed as mere shots in the dark, or won’t work with one of the various cars you could possibly equip.

Both of the Nightmare levels are insane feats of luck that don’t even require anything but the right amount of speed, most of the hard levels use the grip mechanic which doesn’t even work all that well, and “Job Site”? Job Site is easily one of the worst experiences I’ve had with a video game this year. All this time, you’ve been required to be fast and precise in order to reach the end, but now? Now there is no end until you collect all 43 random purple orbs dotted around the map with barely a care, and if you mess up once? You have to restart from 0 all over again, even when it isn’t your fault.

 

Can you imagine how boring that must be? Driving around these untextured assets looking for random purple orbs, with no rhyme or reason when it comes to trying to approach them? Does that not sound like the worst thing in the world? No? Dammit, maybe I’m too cynical, but this is still awful, as due to the untextured mess of the map, it’s exceptionally easy to just fall through the map or clip into somewhere that you’re not supposed to, forcing a restart from the beginning, with no accounting for how close you previously were.

The biggest problem that comes from trying to pull off these precise jumps and tricks in a car with no in-air control, is that you realize that there is way too much weight to the cars. It doesn’t feel like we’re racing with nuance, it’s more like Tonka Trucks being smashed around a hamster ball without a care in the world. It’s a racing game sabotaging its own fun, and that’s not fun at all.

GRIP doesn’t feel like an evolution of the mechanic it’s inspired by. Instead it feels like a Game Jam demo with a lot of corners cut. The driving doesn’t feel as graceful as it should, the tracks rarely feel like they’re as topsy-turvy as they should, and the cars don’t feel like the powerhouses they’re visually shown as. It’s a difficult game to cover, not because of its frustrating gameplay, but because of its lack of attempt.

In the end, what feels like it should be the next best thing in kart racing is actually devoid of the life it so desperately needs. Rollcage’s influence brushes by but is not pressed onto the final product, and the fact that you have to avoid said experience in order to have some semblance of fun is kinda disappointing. Ah well, to the future.

This review of GRIP is based on the Xbox One version of the game.

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