The spiritual successor to Psygnosis’ cult classic Rollcage, GRIP: Combat Racing is a futuristic combat racer that throws the laws of physics out the window to deliver an over-the-top, arcade-style experience. Featuring wild course designs, a wealth of game modes, and a punishing difficulty, it’s a high-octane joyride that’s sure to satisfy your inner speed demon.
What sets GRIP apart from other racers is the distinctive buggies that you’ll pilot. These high-tech rides are a major departure from the sleek craft Wipeout and the like. Comprised of a tiny chassis supported by massive wheels, they can effortlessly glide across any surface – including sheer cliffsides and even the ceiling! The freedom of movement this provides makes for some absolutely insane moments as you rapidly shift from surface to surface, firing off volleys of missiles at your opponents while trying to dodge incoming fire and the various hazards that dot every track.
Hell On Big Wheels
The rival racers you’ll go up against are no pushovers, either. Thankfully, much like many kart racers, special power-ups are littered around each track to help level the playing field. There are 9 unique power-ups that range from missiles (both heat-seeking and standard variety) to mines, chain guns, explosive darts, shields, turbo boosts and more. You can equip two of these items at a time, with the right and left triggers firing them independently.
Personally, I love this dual-item system as it allows you to stockpile defensive tools like shields while still allowing you to keep an offensive weapon on hand. Then again, bear in mind the same goes for enemy racers. The CPU is very adept at using these tools to rain on your parade. And their rubber-banding AI just adores sending a volley of explosive death your way just before you can reach the checkered flag, or shrugging off the missile you just lobbed straight up their tailpipe mere seconds ago to take the lead.
No doubt about it, the seemingly omniscient computer AI can feel borderline unfair at times. However, you can replay any circuit as many times as you want over the course of the game’s surprisingly meaty career mode to help you master every course, which comes as a small mercy.
There’s a wide variety of tracks available, each with their own unique gimmicks. One course has you zipping around what’s essentially the insides of a giant wheel with a giant pit in the middle, while a personal favorite of mine is set in a mountainous area that allows you to race along the face of a cliff and through some winding, stalagmite-filled tunnels. Even though these tracks are largely linear, some courses take a more wide-open approach. The added sense of freedom to explore for shortcuts and hidden jumps is nice. Still, I have to admit that their layouts can occasionally be confusing and make it a bit too easy to lose track of where you’re supposed to be going.
Honestly, the occasionally questionable course layouts don’t bother me too much. One thing that did drive me crazy, however, are the very strange collision problems that frequently reared their head during my time with GRIP. Nothing is more irritating than hitting a nice jump only to be promptly swatted back to the ground by some invisible obstruction. Other times I found myself seemingly stuck within the framework of a building or within a solid rock wall, forcing me to restart the race altogether.
Bugs aside, some of the game’s mechanics can also get in the way at times. Needless to say, with missiles flying every which way and obstructions littering every track, you’re going to get knocked around quite a bit during your career in GRIP. Surprisingly, something as simple as trying to turn your car around the right way can surprisingly problematic because the camera always stays in a fixed position. This means you’ll frequently find your controls completely reversed as you desperately try to steer your buggy back on track.
I wish I could say moments like this were uncommon, but they’re not. And when they crop up, they really pull you out of the experience. Still, when everything comes together the way it’s supposed to—which is most of the time—GRIP is one hell of a ride.
GRIP: Combat Racing features an impressive number of modes to keep you entertained. Career mode is probably the best place to start, as it slowly introduces you to each of the various game types. These include standard races, weapon-centric deathmatch battles, and absolutely insane Carkour events set against 23 tracks and 4 distinct planets. All of these modes have their own unique rules that set them apart, and they’re all a blast. My only real gripe is the deathmatch maps are barren and fail to make good use of the gravity-defying mechanics that make the game so unique in the first place.
In terms of multiplayer content, the game features support for both online races and split-screen play for up to four players. Whether you’re burning rubber online or competing on the couch, GRIP is an absolute blast with other players. Here’s hoping developer Caged Element continues to inject new courses and cars over time to keep the community engaged.
Eat My Space Dust
I can’t deny that GRIP: Combat Racing hits a few bumps in the road on its way to the finish line. Nagging bugs combined with an overall lack of polish in places can turn even the most exhilarating race into a frustrating slog after you find yourself stuck in a wall or smacking into invisible barriers. And the seemingly supernatural AI can feel downright broken at times, with its dead-eyed, missile-eating shenanigans. This is a shame, too. Because with a little more fine-tuning, the game could have been an absolute classic.
Despite these gripes, I still managed to have a lot of fun with GRIP. After all, it’s hard to sweat the small stuff when you’re hauling ass across the red planet at over 500 kilometers per hour. With an impressive selection of game types, wild, varied course designs, and an incredibly addicting multiplayer component, GRIP delivers a fast and frenetic arcade experience that should please fans of the futuristic racer genre.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) Xbox One, Switch, PC; Publisher: TripWire Interactive; Developer: Caged Element ; Players: 1-10 (online); Released: November 6, 2018 ; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by the publisher.