The tone has changed with Grid Autosport. Gone is the raucous, obtrusive, personality-sapping hullabaloo of the poorly conceived and painfully stereotypical "dude bro" aesthetic that characterised Grid 2, replaced by something altogether more subtle. Here's a game that simply asks: what kind of racing driver do you want to be? There's no overarching narrative here, no attempt to coat Career mode in the kind of shallow, scrawny narrative that even the writers of Jack Reacher would be embarrassed to publish. Autosport is about the cars, the tracks, and the opponents.
To that end, variety and choice are placed front and centre right from the off. As with previous Grid games' Career modes, Autosport's brings together a disparate mix of event types under a single umbrella, giving you plenty of options for reaching professional racing stardom. Touring car events, street races, nighttime endurance slogs, time trial runs, and showboating drift sessions are all here and waiting to be conquered; the frequency with which you partake in any given event comes down to how you're feeling at the time.
These event types are split into five distinct categories that are progressed through independently of one another. The touring discipline is defined by wheel-to-wheel racing, with cars bumping into each other regularly as they attempt to race three abreast around a corner. Endurance sees you racing at night in longer races that force you to look after your tyres. Open-wheel places you in what are essentially underpowered Formula One cars (think Formula Three and Formula Renault). Tuner focuses on high-powered Japanese imports and American muscle, while street events take place on fictional circuits around famous cities.
At the start of each season within Career mode, you're asked to pick a discipline. Once you've completed that season, you can move on to a new discipline or stick with the same one. The promise is that once you've experienced each of the different categories, you can specialise in a single one and dedicate yourself to fully mastering it. However, doing so restricts your ability to partake in the game's most prestigious competitions.
Gone is the raucous, obtrusive, personality-sapping hullabaloo of the poorly conceived and painfully stereotypical "dude bro" aesthetic that characterised Grid 2.
You gain experience points for each discipline independently, but only once you've hit a certain level in all of them can you enter the Grid Championship Series events. Unfortunately, this means that in Career mode, you can't opt to play Autosport as just a street racing game or a touring car game--you must indulge in all of the career's facets at some point in order to beat it. The championship events themselves cover all of the included disciplines, so not being suitably practiced in each is a major disadvantage.
This represents a problem. With so many different car and race types on offer, there are sure to be one or two that you don't enjoy. Personally, I'm not a fan of the fiddly drift events or the awkward handling of the American muscle cars, but there's no way to avoid engaging with them if I want to enter and win the championship races. Portions of play, therefore, become a grind. You undertake seasons that you actually want to play, followed by working out the fastest way to level up in the events you don't like in order to unlock new content as quickly as possible.Open-wheel races require more patience on the throttle and more discipline in sticking to the racing line.
As a general rule, the fastest way to earn experience points is to increase the difficulty. Setting the AI on hard, removing the racing line from the track, turning off traction control and forcing yourself to play using only the in-car cockpit cameras sees your level rise rapidly. Conversely, if you're new to racing games, then you'll want to play with assists on full (in particular, I recommended cosmetic car damage) in order to finish in a respectable position. Finishing first on the easiest difficulty settings earns you more points than finishing last using the most testing, after all.
No matter the difficulty setting, however, you must be open to learning how cars operate within the different disciplines. Touring cars tend to be extremely forgiving, reasonably withstanding knocks with opponents and barriers, and they let you brake late into corners and even perform small drifts without losing too much speed. In contrast, open-wheeled vehicles require more precision, because it's far easier to lose control by applying too much power too early when exiting a corner, while their more fragile chassis often mean bumps are terminal.
You undertake seasons that you actually want to play, followed by working out the fastest way to level up in the events you don't like in order to unlock new content as quickly as possible.
Make no mistake about it, though: Autosport is not a simulation racer. None of the disciplines require an enormous amount of work to get to grips with, making the game genuinely accessible and fairly simple for veteran racing game players to surmount. In particular, braking and handling are more responsive than you would expect from a real car.
The AI drivers feel human and diverse. Drivers have different personalities; some are daring and liable to attempt risky overtaking moves, while others drive in a more conservative manner until they've got open road in front of them. Resultantly, Autosport never suffers from a lack of drama. Almost every race sees cars hitting one another and reacting to unpredictable maneuvers, adding a sense of exaggerated tension, because you never quite know when and from where the next danger might come.
For touring car and street races, the AI's approach works great, making the two disciplines the most endearing and memorable of the bunch since cars are usually tightly grouped and tussling for position from start to finish. Unfortunately, for open-wheeled and endurance events, the AI is less impressive. The AI doesn't react differently across the disciplines, making races requiring finesse and precision instead feel messy. In one instance, I had to restart the same open-wheel race eight times (no exaggeration) because there was, without fail, a multiple-car pileup on the first corner thanks to one or more drivers acting too aggressively.In order to master drift events, you must get to grips with cars that are extremely twitchy, the backend flying out wildly at the slightest opportunity.
In the end, I decided that the only option was to hang back and drive across the grass to avoid trouble, losing time on the leaders but keeping my car intact. Stronger AI could have provided a more realistic front for the technical disciplines, and would have helped make each event feel more unique, limiting the instances such as this in which it's almost impossible to continue to suspend your disbelief.
This failing is possibly a byproduct of Autosport's exhaustive approach. There are a number of nice extra features that similar games have shied away from: split-screen multiplayer, for example, and an online component that is entirely separate from the single-player, which means there are essentially two games to progress through. Play it for a few hours, and the cracks begin to show, though. They're not game-breaking, but they are abrasive, and they dull the shine of the early portions of the game. If you're up for some casual racing, Autosport is a decent option, but when you go deep, the experience is soured by the finer details.