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Preview: GRIP (PC)By The Strat Man At 08.08.2017 00:59

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While GRIP does, as indicated, have its own history and heritage to explore, there's no avoiding the fact that many direct comparisons will be made between this experience and other sci-fi racers currently out on the track. FAST RMX made a very good impression on the Switch, celebrating the F-Zero series above all others, whilst more recently there's been the release of Wipeout: Omega Collection on the PS4, which was very successful.

However, while GRIP does share some similarities with those floating futuristic pods, the double-sided wheel-to-dirt dynamic, meaning that the vehicle can land upside down and the camera will simply flip to adjust, certainly does ensure that the game has its own hook and more rugged handling behaviour. Even more than that, the physics are so unforgiving that drivers need to make rapid corrective and reactive calculations to keep their vehicle under control, rather than lodged in a rock, mashed flat against a wall, or broken into a thousand pieces by an opponent making use of a weapon or an otherwise disruptive power-up. Make no mistake, this racer has a punishing difficulty level and feels generally hard-edged, in keeping with the harshest calibre of arcade racers out there.

Though it's not of the same genre, one of the closest comparisons for the sheer pace and intensity seen in GRIP is something like Burnout 3 or Burnout Revenge on hard mode, when going for gold on some of the later and more challenging stages. Therefore, it's frequently a struggle to keep up, with occasional moments that require either good fortune or very careful and mindful navigation, or better still, a reliable memory for the track. As with FAST RMX, the courses feel quite wide, but the pace is so intense that turning can feel quite tight, and near-misses, unintentional spins and wrecks seem inevitable. Thankfully, with pick-up powers ranging from homing scorpion missiles to EMPs and firestorm speed boosts, your opponents will be crashing out, too, so it's all part of the larger cycle of GRIP.

In the career mode, players can work their way through the 'pirate' racing league, along the way earning upgrades and brand new vehicles, as well as unlocking new tracks, which is a gratifying pursuit since better vehicles substantially improve the handling, and hence the fun. There is a story, although one always wonders what the point is in something with such a rapid natural pace.

The course environments range from lush alien jungles and a floating metropolis, to the surfaces of icy and dessert planets, all of which look fantastic as players blaze through them at genuinely eye-watering speeds. GRIP uses Unreal Engine 4, and it really does stand out, with some of the best graphics seem in any arcade racer around on PC or console. This is particularly true because not only do the particles and explosions look great, but also the HUD elements are very thoughtfully implemented on-screen around the car, making it look very futuristic as it functions in truly ergonomic fashion. It needs to be this way, since the rest is so intentionally chaotic.

However, GRIP should be applauded for its strong aesthetic and technically excellent visuals, since they're very polished, especially for a game in Early Access. This is also complemented by some great high-energy drum and bass music and sub-genres, including contributions from Technical Itch and Dom & Roland, who featured in Rollcage Stage II, thus creating a nice historical link. The vibrant and beat-heavy brand of music certainly helps to intensify the experience, and moreover, suits it quite expertly. The visuals and music work well in combination to create an extremely visceral and attuned arcade experience.

In terms of modes, there's quite a lot of content to get through. On top of the career mode already touched upon, there's a classic arcade mode where you can play any track you've acquired in customisable conditions, a time trial mode where you can race against your ghost and earn ranks on an online leaderboard, as well as a battle arena mode, LAN and local split-screen multiplayer, and finally, 'carkour,' which is an acrobatic navigational challenge you won't want to miss.

While there's certainly some work and tuning to be done on GRIP before it's officially released and eventually makes its way onto consoles as promised, the sheer range of content available now means it's one of the more tempting Early Access prospects around. Caged Element Inc. seems to be quite receptive to feedback, with an active forum-based community having real discernible input on each build.

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