Fighting against gravity?
Somehow, I remember Rollcage quite fondly, despite not remembering what platform I may have played it on, and despite definitely spending more time with Wipeout and Extreme G as a kid. Does this spiritual successor get it right?
GRIP has some really cool artwork for the loading screens, which makes it look like it was going to have a proper story at some point. The art looks like an 80’s video game or RPG (I really like it), but its sadly under-utilised. Again, the story kind of exists, but you have to dig into an obscure part of the menus to discover it. Then there’s the campaign, which has a number of tiers, but no plot or even text between tournaments or tiers to explain what’s going on. There’s no intro or outro… it’s a real shame that more wasn’t done.
Rollcage’s USP was the fact that you could drive on the walls and ceilings of the course, which was a pretty fun differentiator in what was then a very crowded market of futuristic combat racers. What I didn’t know is that some of the game’s creators have been helping the community maintain the game over time, and eventually we come to GRIP, which has had some input from original Rollcage developers. Clearly the IP was unavailable, but GRIP is more than a homage or spiritual successor – it’s basically the same game but with a few modern updates. So, you get 60fps gameplay, a great sense of speed, weapons, and a variety of race types. The game is unashamedly old school, but sometimes things go a little too far (or maybe the budget wouldn’t extend to better?).
The AI is pretty rubbish, and there is clear rubber-banding at play to avoid the races from getting boring. The handle has many of the same issues as the original – gravity doesn’t quite work right,ad whilst driving on walls and ceilings is still exhilarating, you can often find yourself catching an odd angle into the air, resulting in you being catapulted off into infinity or into a local rock formation, all of which can spoil your race (and really feel like its not your fault that this happened). Weapons have lock-ons, but whether they work or not feels pretty random. Assuming you’re desperate enough for a game like this to just exist again, then many of these problems can be overlooked to an extent.
However, over the course of the lengthy campaign, these issues became more and more noticeable, and more and more frustrating. And even compared to racing games created ‘on a budget’ (think some of Milestone or Kylotonn’s offerings) this feels like a really bare package which has been put together on an extremely limited budget.
There’s split screen (hey, because 90’s right?), but also online for up to 10, with a choice of races or arena combat. I didn’t have too much trouble finding a game, but there normally was only 1-2 concurrent matches, so the community isn’t huge right now. You’ll probably as a result have to spectate a match before you actually get to play. In-game, performance is adequate but not spectacular, and I also ran into a few issues with games finishing early because the host quit.
Probably the best part of GRIP is the visual style. There’s a really gritty, dystopian future vibe going on, with wasted landscapes and huge industrial complexes dominating the scenery. The cars themselves look angular, tough and designed for the inhospitable environments you race in. My one gripe is the default film grain effect is way, way too strong, but thankfully there is a slider in the menu to adjust this.
Sound-wise, GRIP really shows off the 90’s roots with a blazing techno/ electronica soundtrack, but like the rest of the game, the budget shows, and the tracks themselves are from artists I’ve never heard of.There’s also no speech whatsoever, not even a race countdown, which is really poor. Thankfully effects are really good, especially the weaponry, which sounds appropriately powerful.
‘GRIP: Combat Racing‘ has all the basics nailed of a mid/late 90’s combat racer, but unfortunately does little to try and update the genre beyond updating the graphics. Adding a cheesy story, some broadcast style intros, or any kind of personality would have lifted the game beyond a decent nostalgia trip and into the 21st century. It’s a shame because the basics are there.
PS4 owners are better off sticking to Wipeout, but for Xbox, Switch and PC players, who have far less choice, GRIP is a decent enough throwback to provide a few hours of fun going down memory lane, without doing enough to re-ignite this once popular genre.