Remember that brilliant PlayStation arcade racing game Rollcage, well it’s back, well, kind of back. Developers Caged Element has tried to capture the adrenaline-fueled arcade racing action that once dominated the console scene in GRIP: Combat Racing. While there’s no doubt they have created a true spiritual successor to Rollcage, they’ve also brought about some elements of the original game that really should stay in the past, most notably the absolutely terrible AI.
Before we dive into the misfortunate happenings of the computer-controlled opponents let’s celebrate what GRIP does well – offering high-speed and action-packed racing. Tearing your way through the different stages at over 250mph is a lot of fun and the fact that you can use both walls and ceilings to get a better racing line over your opponents, and you’d think you have all the ingredients for the perfect arcade combat racer. However, for every turn GRIP takes to offering the perfect arcade experience it put a rather annoying speed-bump in the road, often slowing down your overall experience with the game.
The most notable of these obstacles is the simply terrible AI, and it’s terrible for two distinctive reasons. First off you have the cheap AI catch-up mechanic, which literally means you cannot get a certain distance ahead of your opponents – no matter your speed or in-hand weapons and power-ups. The biggest issue with this dated mechanic is just how simple it is to exploit. For example, rather than shooting off to constantly have everyone firing upon you and automatically catching you up, it’s a lot more effective to sit mid-pack in the race and blitz a boost halfway around the final lap – I literally won almost every race with this tactic, which can get boring pretty quickly.
The second big error with the AI is simply how dumb they are. Speed in GRIP is only half the battle, collecting weapons and firing upon enemies is the other half, especially in the ultimate races and arena matches. But, once again, due to their poor design, your AI-controlled opponents will often drive straight past a power-up, or literally in a straight line in front of you, inviting you to send a rocket up their behind.
Playing through the roughly 10-hour campaign will see you partake in a variety of both races and arena events. Although the races start to offer a slight challenge towards the end, the arena matches are literally a joke, there wasn’t a time I didn’t win by at least double the second places score – even on the hardest difficulty.
Although the poor AI does put a real dampener on the game, the easy way around this is to take your battles online – this is where GRIP: Combat Racing really starts to show it’s real horsepower. Every one of the ten’s of online races I played in was a lot of fun and actually offered an organic challenge. The arena death matches also reach their full potential in the online lobbies, too often I’d nearly be falling out my chair due to the edge of the seat action available in online play. The same goes for local multiplay, although I haven’t played GRIP on the Nintendo Switch, sitting next to three friends and racing at obscene speeds is something I can only imagine would be a lot of fun.
So, enough on the poor AI and brilliant multiplayer, what about GRIP as an actual racer? Well, how this feels is going to be completely down to how you like your racers. One thing I was really surprised by was how the handling felt, it’s not quite that of a full sim racer, but certainly nowhere near as tight as you expect from an arcade racer – even more so from one with a title like GRIP. Although understeering and oversteering is a prominent hurdle to manage in the game, I actually liked the way the cars felt; their chunky rears made it easy to double-pump the brakes and kick out around a corner – which feels pretty awesome while racing at 250mph.
While the handling of your car on the ground, or ceiling feels pretty good, controlling the movement of your car in the air is almost the complete opposite. By holding down the R1, the button right above your accelerator you gain the ability to manoeuvre your car in the air, a vital skill given how crazy the tracks can get. The two things that feel horrible about this are firstly the position of the button, you have to take your finger off the accelerator or open up the ability. Secondly, moving your car in the air feels very light, almost like your controlling a feather rather than a car called The Juggernaut. The inconsistent feeling of this mechanic resulted in me often just ignoring the ramps and jumps or only hitting them when I knew I was safe to do so at full speed, which really doesn’t fit in with the overall design of the game.
As you’d expect from an arcade racer in the vein of GRIP, there are many ways to pimp your car out, I mean we’re not talking to the extent of something like Rocket League but enough to put your own stamp on your car. The different car designs are nice and feed into the overall aesthetic of the game, apart from the different cars from a set class. For some very strange reason, unlocking higher levels of a car literally offers nothing, their bodies don’t change, their stats stay the same and the rims and livery that can be added are exactly the same – making you wonder why they’re in the game at all?
There’s no doubt GRIP: Combat Racing offers some fun, especially in the multiplayer modes. Tearing through the different, well-designed tracks at blistering speeds while laying waste to online opponents or your friends shines a light on GRIP at its full potential. But some very poor and easy to exploit AI design make the single player side of GRIP a rather boring and tedious affair that in all honesty, it struggles to keep any grip on my overall enjoyment of the game.