Over the course of the roughly two and a half years since the launch of the Switch, Nintendo’s hybrid console has amassed quite a dense and varied library of games. As far as game genres go, if you can name it, it’s probably represented in spades on the console. However, there still remain a few holes waiting to be filled in the ever expanding fortress that is the Nintendo Switch library, and one such criminally underrepresented genre on Switch is none other than the racing simulator. When it comes to this genre, it seems that many have tried and, be it due to technical issues, poor control, or an unholy combination of the two, all have failed to bring a truly satisfying game of this type to Switch. Enter “Grid Autosport,” an enhanced port of the 2014 entry in Codemasters’ prolific “Grid” series. With plenty of fanfare backing up its announcement and enticing pre-release showings in the form of Nintendo Direct segments and feature trailers, “Grid Autosport” seemed to be on track to become the racing sim that Switch gamers have been so eagerly awaiting. The only question is, does the game pull it off?
Upon startup, players are asked to create their racer profile. This includes selecting either your real name from the in-game catalogue or, should you find your name is not present in the options, selecting from a list of nicknames for your driver. Impressively, this is actually the game’s way of optimizing the in-game commentary to reflect your name of choice, and hearing your crew chief call you by name as he encourages you to tackle the race ahead is an insanely cool detail that goes a long way in selling the experience. After creating your profile, you are given several menu options. You can create your own single races, custom multi-race cups, take part in various side modes (such as drag racing or sprint racing) or dive in to the true meat of the game, career mode.
Career mode begins with your character as an up-and-coming racing driver. During the introduction, your objective is laid out before you. You have been given access to five separate racing disciplines: Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Street and Tuner. Starting as a rookie driver, you are offered various contracts representing real world brands such as Razer, Intel, Red Bull and more. Each contract represents one season of your overall racing career and usually requires you to complete anywhere from two to five races in one of the disciplines. Every contract details a main objective, which is the condition that you must meet in order to complete the season, a bonus objective, which is optional but will reward you handsomely, and several side missions that you can complete passively as you race. Main objectives and bonus objectives usually require something along the lines of “Place 5th overall in the season standings” or “Defeat your event rival two times during this season,” while the side missions include smaller, more complementary tasks such as “Drive above 100 mph for a total of five minutes.”
Completing these contracts is the key to progressing in “Grid Autosport." Every contract you complete earns you experience points, raising your status in that discipline. More experience means a higher level of prestige, and higher prestige means more contracts offering even bigger rewards. Rather than tasking you with amassing your own collection of cars, each contract includes a different vehicle of choice for you to use for that season. While there will certainly be some who see this as a negative, this system of cars being directly linked to contracts works to ensure that no two seasons feel alike, as the player is constantly having to adapt to every new vehicle’s handling style as they race. Ultimately, raising up your ranks in each of the five main disciplines will gain you a coveted spot in the Grid Grand Prix events, where the best of the best compete in a multi-disciplinary tournament to see whose skills truly reign supreme. Taking home the trophy from the Grid Grand Prix events is the ultimate end goal of “Grid Autosport” and it will take dozens of seasons to earn your way up the ranks and get your chance at glory. “Grid Autosport” is certainly not a game that is lacking in content, and the fact that you are almost constantly changing vehicles and disciplines as you speed your way through the game’s myriad of tracks helps to make sure that players are always kept engaged with the action while helping to alleviate any feelings of grinding that may crop up.
However, this hugely in-depth career model would all be for nothing if the gameplay itself was not up to the task. I’m incredibly pleased to say that the controls in “Grid Autosport” are simply superb. Any car, no matter the model, can be controlled with a level of finesse and detail that has not yet been seen on Switch. Overall, the vehicles available here have an incredibly satisfying weight to their handling, and maneuvers such as drifting and handbrake turns can feel almost effortless to pull off at times. Couple this with a customization system that allows you to adjust details such as brake differentials, suspension, downforce and more and you are left with controls that can feel almost tailor-made to your specific play style. Adding to the experience is the game’s fantastic use of Switch’s unique capabilities, providing options for gyro-based steering and making truly astounding use of the system’s HD Rumble feature. Playing with Joy-Cons detached or in portable mode for long stretches of time may potentially cause discomfort due to constantly holding down ZR to accelerate, but when playing docked under a TV with a Pro Controller, the experience here is truly second to none.
Presentation is another area where Grid Autosport shines far above what some may have expected. Players are treated to two different graphical options, optimized for quality and performance respectively. Quality mode enables the best possible visuals and higher resolutions while employing a strict 30 frames-per-second (fps) lock to keep things in check performance-wise. Performance mode, on the other hand, pares back some of the more intense graphical features but presents the action at an unlocked framerate as a result. With performance mode, resolution is lowered slightly, shadow maps are made far less complex, the quality of lighting effects and reflections is reduced, and certain background elements are changed from 3D models to 2D sprites, all in exchange for a framerate that targets 60fps, but it generally tends to hover around the 45 to 50 mark instead. In quality mode, however, the game’s visuals are able to fully shine, and believe me, they shine bigtime. Light sources produce a gorgeous lens flare effect when aimed in the direction of the camera. Car models are incredibly detailed, sporting high resolution textures, real time reflection systems, and even damage models. Street racing circuits in particular feel absolutely packed full of background details, and no textures or background models seem muddy or out of place in a 2019 setting. Consider that, despite all of these features being active, quality mode’s 30fps target holds strong without so much as a single hitch and you have a truly impressive looking game here.
Alas, despite all the praise that I have for this game, there is one issue that could potentially sour this otherwise immaculate experience for some players. Currently, as of the time of this review, there is no multiplayer present in “Grid Autosport” at all. Whether you were hoping for online, local splitscreen or local wireless functionality, “Grid Autosport” is a strictly single player experience. It should be said that developer Feral Interactive has confirmed that a free multiplayer update is currently in development and is planned to be released in the future, but this is sure to be a huge omission for some players, as multiplayer is something that even games that are otherwise inferior in every way to this one, such as “GearClub Unlimited,” offered from launch on Switch.
Still, the lack of multiplayer and a slightly shaky performance mode are really the only major criticisms I can throw at “Grid Autosport”. This is a true blue racing simulator that is packed full of content, controls like a dream, and is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and the fact that this game is being offered at a budget price is the icing on the cake. If you have been disappointed by previous attempts at racing simulators on Nintendo’s hybrid machine, then your days of waiting for a proper representation of the genre have come to an end. “Grid Autosport” is a shining example of a game that fills a void that has existed in the Switch’s library for quite some time now, and any Switch owner with even a passing interest in racing titles owes it to themselves to make this game a part of their collection.