Wednesday, November 14

Review: GRIP - Combat Racing [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ahh, how I love me some combat racing. Going all the way back to the days of playing Racing Destruction Set I’ve enjoyed just about any opportunity that has come along to drive around while trying to blow everyone else up. Probably the last combat racers I remember most fondly on Nintendo systems were Extreme-G and ExciteTruck but while Mario Kart has combat to a certain degree it isn’t quite as down and dirty as I’d prefer. While GRIP may have some issues that keep it from reaching its fullest potential people like me who enjoy mixing racing with some mayhem may get a kick out of it.


When I’d originally played the game at PAX East and then on my PC when it was released on Steam I was a bit surprised this was said to be coming to Switch. It’s a visually-impressive game on PC and mixing that with some high speeds made me wonder how it would hold up in terms of performance. Surprisingly in both handheld and docked modes it actually does quite well, though there were certainly some visual compromises and some haze as a result. Since this is a very action-oriented racer performance needed to come first though. This is especially true as your car is quite capable, driving on walls, ceilings, flipping over and flying through tracks in a way that’s often a bit reminiscent of the likes of F-Zero X. In handheld mode this can be a bit of a mess as a warning, especially if you’re not yet familiar with the track layout. While borders and signs try to keep you on track in many places there are also funky zones that feel like they should be track but will cause you to auto-reset, so just be ready as you learn tracks for a bit of a cruel learning curve at times.


Gameplay is a mixed bag between modes, and most people will probably start by playing through what ends up being a substantial Campaign. Acting as a sort of slow introduction to the many modes and weapons the Campaign does a fairly good job of ramping you up bit by bit. Unlike a lot of games what’s great is that if you struggle in some cases and don’t take first in everything it’s actually quite forgiving, and you can keep proceeding as long as you do a reasonably good job. Local split-screen multiplayer is a great option and works reasonably well, and there’s online support though I’ve yet to have success finding anyone so I can’t speak to what state that’s in, but for now it seems somewhere between anemic and completely dead.


Where GRIP absolutely excels is in modes that involve combat, the best being the Ultimate Race mode where your position is a combination of your racing performance and damage you do to enemies, and then Arena mode. Set in a large environment with some obstacles set about here’s it’s all about grabbing power-ups and then trying to destroy your enemies. Even though typically I find these modes can get dull that very much isn’t the case here. Unfortunately, where the game falters is in the modes where the combat is either removed or where racing is a greater priority. The ability to race on just about any surface comes at a cost of the game having funky gravity and essentially any time you find yourself airborne it can be a mess. In particular in larger open environments this can be a bad thing as you can launch yourself into a floating oblivion just about, so you’ll want to be quick to hit the Minus button and reset yourself if you feel like you’re about to go crazy. I will give the developer credit though, the game seems to have a vested interest now in at least trying to help you right yourself more quickly when you get turned around. It’s a small change but compared to when I played earlier builds I can very much feel my car trying to correct itself a bit more on its own.


While GRIP may not be everything you could hope for in a combat racer it also nails some crucial elements when you play the right modes that make it worthwhile. Perhaps it tried a little too hard to find a more broad appeal with modes that are more focused on racing, and though changing up your vehicles to match the mode can help quite a bit in general the straight racing simply isn’t anywhere near as fun as when you’re trying to wreck your opponents. I’d be fascinated to see what they’d do with a sequel if they focused on the elements that worked well and expanded them and perhaps expended a little less effort on trying to be a racing title.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Some great and intense combat racing with weapons that take some skill to use well
  • Well-designed and diverse tracks that offer multiple viable paths
  • Local split-screen support works nicely

Cons:
  • While performance rarely has hiccups it came at the cost of some of the visual splendor
  • Any modes where combat isn’t involved don’t tend to be as exciting or enjoyable
  • Online play, as far as I can tell, is DOA… at least currently