Combat racing games have been noticeably absent from present-day conversation. Kart racers continue to live on thanks to their accessibility and amiability, but modern combat racing games seem to have trouble breaking into the public gaming consciousness. GRIP seeks to bring a forgotten genre back while also boasting tight controls and a blistering sense of speed, but its inconsistent quality isn’t going to win over those who aren’t already fans.
GRIP’s greatest strength is how it feels: steering is satisfyingly responsive, boosts are enticingly exhilarating, and weapons are delightfully impactful – everything feels great the moment you get behind the wheel and the vehicles handle much better than their bulky structures would indicate. While your handling capabilities are hindered at higher speeds, drifting around corners and minute positioning adjustments are always possible to execute with sufficiently precise inputs.
All the power-ups you obtain feel good to use as well, but their lack of uniqueness and originality causes them to quickly grow stale. Your offensive capabilities are limited to a machine gun and a few rocket-based pickups. For support, there’s just a generic boost and a shield. Such an anaemic arsenal would have been run-of-the-mill fifteen years ago, and GRIP’s lack of creativity in that department makes the power-ups feel like they were included merely out of obligation. Their use is necessary as they slow down your opposition, but it’s far too tempting to just turn them all off whenever you have the opportunity.
While the core racing is incredibly strong, the tracks you race through vary wildly in quality. Everything has post-apocalyptic vibes thanks to tracks that take place in desert wastelands and skyscraper-filled cityscapes. Except for one or two courses that consist exclusively of winding city streets, each track strings together sections that are startlingly open. The vastness of these areas, especially when compared to tracks in other combat racers, provides ample opportunities for experimentation. But, as a result, they also lack a clear sense of direction. Boosting off a ramp to do a bunch of flips through the air is cool and all, but you feel discouraged to do so when you’re not entirely sure where the track is. Launching yourself out of bounds causes you to respawn behind your opponents without any forward momentum which could easily cost the race. The baffling lack of track-telegraphing signs and the inconsistent terrain almost always cause confusion and frustration on the first lap.
The tracks that take advantage of the unique nature of GRIP’s vehicles, however, are fantastic. The novel shape and structure of the cars allows them to be driven just as well while flipped upside-down. Certain tracks take excellent advantage of this by hiding shortcuts on ceilings or by incorporating portions that have you hopping between parallel surfaces to navigate complicated obstacles. It’s a shame that only a few of the game’s tracks make use of these elements because they’re what make it really stand out from the competition. GRIP is too eager to shy away from what makes it exquisitely unique.
GRIP’s greatest weakness lies in its lack of longevity. There’s no shortage of things to do, but little of it remains entertaining for long. There are battle arena and ultimate race modes that spice things up by placing the emphasis on damaging other players. While they play very differently, they lean heavily on the power-ups which are far too uninteresting to warrant the modes based on them. The arena modes are especially weak since they don’t take advantage of GRIP’s great sense of speed. Most of your time in the arena modes is spent aimlessly driving around barren maps instead of actively engaging other drivers. On a more positive note, there are a few dozen 'Carkour' obstacle courses that are surprisingly refreshing as they test your mastery of more complex handling techniques, but they’re buried beneath the clunky menus and aren’t as substantial as they should be. Plain old racing is when GRIP is at its best, but even the most dedicated won’t be able to squeeze endless enjoyment out of the limited tracks and lacklustre modes.
The inclusion of a meaty single player campaign is welcome, but it’s stretched too thin to remain enjoyable throughout. You take part in tiers of tournaments that consist of various races and competitions. As you progress to higher tiers, the game gradually introduces new mechanics, higher speeds, and different modes to ramp up the difficulty. The metered structure of the campaign progression works well as an introduction, but it doesn’t take long for the tournaments to start repeating tracks that quickly lose their lustre. It’s unfortunate that the hefty length of the campaign comes at the expense of fun and variety. You’ll also be participating in each of the handful of modes, but thankfully most of the campaign consists of the more worthwhile races.
GRIP attempts to motivate by integrating a levelling system to dole out rewards at a steady pace, but very few of those rewards feel worthwhile. You gain experience for nearly everything you do whether it’s racing against legitimately competent AI or pitting your skills against other humans in the solid multiplayer suite that tragically lacks a server browser. While a few experience levels unlock new cars with different stats, most of the level rewards are car cosmetics. Those cosmetics would be much more enticing if they weren’t so indistinguishable from each other. There are a ton of tires, paint jobs, and decals to unlock, but none of them pop in the game’s dark and cel-shaded art style. Reaching a new level only to discover that you unlocked a set of tires that barely look different from your current set can be incredibly deflating.
GRIP has great racing mechanics, but they’re marred by inconsistent implementation. As a spiritual successor to a turn of the century combat racing IP that only a select few would recognise – Rollcage – it’s best enjoyed in short bursts. Its familiar simplicity is inherently appealing, and its well-polished mechanics make racing fun for an hour or two. As you get your fill of the main mode and begin to delve deeper beneath the surface, however, it becomes apparent that there isn’t much to keep you coming back for more. GRIP has an incredibly solid framework, but it still feels like it’s missing something.