GRIP: Combat Racing is a hardcore combat racing game developed by Caged Element which combines insane speeds, armored, customizable cars, and heavy weapons. In addition to ferocious speeds (up to 767mph/1234kmh!!) and smacking around your competitors with nasty weaponry, GRIP harnesses gravity-defying physics to allow players to scale walls and ceilings in addition to your standard, run-of-the-mill, floor-bound racing.
GRIP offers a campaign mode which basically just takes you through tournaments of increasing levels of difficulty. For example, one of the first levels doesn’t even have any other racers, it basically just allows you to get a feel for how the game works. I mean, there’s also a tutorial you can easily access for that, but the game chooses to ease you in. However, despite both of these aspects, the game either fails to explain fairly critical things. For example, it told me to rev my engine at the same time that the race started to get a boost, but it didn’t tell me that R2 was the accelerator. It also lacks what I would call basic features that a racing game should include, such as a recovery button for when you’ve fallen off the track and continue to fall for forever before finally being rescued by the game and plopped back onto the track.
As you might expect, with a game like GRIP where you’re actively playing around with gravity and sliding around upside-down and on walls, falling off the track is an inevitability. If you fall off the track or fall into an obstacle even once, the race is pretty much over for you. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no recovery button as you tumble endlessly into the environment. What’s worse, however, is that sometimes you end up in, say, a pile of debris and you wait for the game to return you to the track. You wait a while and nothing happens, so you start to reverse and move around to find out where you are and only then does the game put you back into the race.
A lot of the time it’s impossible to tell whether you should be helping yourself or waiting for assistance, and it only pushes you further back into the race. There is actually a menu option to enable rubber banding for when you get really far behind, and that’s pretty common in racing games. However, I often find that it works super hard in the AI’s favor when you’re mildly ahead of the curve and suddenly you’re being pummeled with high-level weaponry.
I’m actually quite a big fan of the concept of the anti-gravity system It’s not perfect by any means, but it adds an extra element to the races that you wouldn’t experience in other games. It reminds me of the rush I felt playing Sewer Speedway in Crash Team Racing, flying around on the walls. This feels just like that, but multiplied by a thousand. You don’t see many car racing games coming out anymore, and when you do they’re all pretty standard. I think GRIP had the right idea in trying something not necessarily brand new, but enough to make it stand out. In general the gameplay feels pretty good, but targeting with weapons is a bit stiff and it does sometimes feel like you don’t have a lot of control, which can make one a bit hesitant to use all the glorious speed allowed.
The power-ups aren’t too varied – you’ve got extra acceleration, shields, missiles you can target, the usual pickup that you get when you’re coming last that disrupts everyone else’s controls, and a few others. Only a couple of them are explained in the tutorial, so it’s up to the player to figure out what the rest of them do. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more variety, or maybe even some more distinct colors so I knew from a glance what I was picking up. According to the game description, there are nine different power-ups and weapons, but it’s possible I didn’t get far enough into the “campaign” to see them all.
The campaign is interesting because you’re presented with tournaments that you have to get through, but even if you continue to not place in first, the game will feed you experience relative to how well you did and you’ll still unlock new customization items from each level you gain. I can’t comment on the car customization with too much depth – it’s easy to customize based on speed and grip and other factors because when choosing you get a bar graph readout of what stats will be applied when you race. In total there are 15 armored cars to unlock and choose from, all of which can be customized to suit your racing style. I’m sure experienced racing gamers or car enthusiasts would hold stronger opinions, but I’m neither of those things. Either way, it’s accessible and none too complicated to improve your car. You can also change decals and colors and other aesthetic bits like that, which is nice too.
GRIP features truly appealing track designs. There are 22 tracks in total across four planets and some are really, really interesting to drive through. There’s a particularly red track with lots of towering scaffolding and radio or TV towers where static clouds your screen as you drive below. Caged Element did a fantastic job in making the tracks varied and full of unique design. What’s really appealing is that there are other modes such as Arena mode for when you feel like blowing each other up instead of blowing each other up while racing. As a small aside, the music chosen for each track is a bit repetitive, but honestly well-suited to the game. It’s high energy, thumping dance music with maybe a bit of synth thrown in for good measure. Nothing super exciting but appropriate!
Assuming you have and can find some friends to play with, GRIP features both offline split screen co-op multiplayer and online multiplayer. I didn’t check out the online multiplayer, but I gave the couch co-op a go and it was honestly heaps of fun. The other person is limited to the absolute basics in car customization rather than everything you’ve unlocked, so you will want to keep that in mind if you want to keep it as fair as possible. The split screen was also horizontal, rather than vertical, which was a godsend and the way things should be. You can customize the races based on track difficulty, specific tracks, number of laps, and all the usual stuff. The level of experience customization is really good and would definitely contribute to replayability.
In general, GRIP is a pretty good game, but I want to take this opportunity to point out its most glaring flaw that needs to be fixed:
The load times.
Races last maybe a few minutes if the lap number sits around 2-4, yet the load times are both inconsistent and long. I timed the load screen a few times and it hit over two minutes of loading on several occasions. Yet sometimes I’d select my race and it’d load instantly. I can’t fathom why, especially since I was playing on a PS4 Pro. I can’t imagine what the load times would be like on a standard PS4. It’s honestly game breaking and if it doesn’t get fixed, people aren’t going to want to play it. It definitely hindered my ability to play the game, since I could easily pull up a short video to watch or a thread to read as I waited for my race to eventually kick into gear.
Please fix the load times, Caged Element. There’s so much potential here, I swear, and this is killing your game.
GRIP: Combat Racing is pretty good, but I absolutely wouldn’t recommend it until the developers fix the unacceptable load times. After it’s been fixed, I reckon that this would be a fun party game to have hanging around the house, though I don’t know if I’d bother burning a lot of time customizing things and going through the storyline, as I’d probably just want to play co-op all the time, which was really the best part. GRIP is available now on Steam in early access and coming to PS4 basically right now. If you can’t stand to wait…well, then expect to wait a lot when you actually play the game. If you can keep it together and wait for the load times to (hopefully) be fixed, then I would recommend that course of action.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.