Get a grip.

Title: Grip Combat Racing
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
Developer: Caged Element
Publisher: Wired Productions
Release Date: November 6, 2018
Console: £35/$40 (free on the Xbox Game Pass)
Switch: £35/$40
PC: £25/$35
TL;DR: It’s my racing game of the year.
Family Focus?: Click here for more information

There’s little point in trying to craft a sophisticated opening for Caged Element’s GRIP. It’s a game that unashamedly wears its simplicity; and while it’s a game that certainly won’t scratch the hardcore sim itch that a lot of racing players are looking for, what Grip offers is undiluted insanity. It’s a return to a more death-defying kind of racer, one that considers your ability to race, shrugs its shoulders, and hands you a machine gun.

So, yes, Grip may very well be a racing game but it’s one that’ll be throwing weapons and boosters your way in every race. Though, I should mention that amidst all the chaos of the game, the driving itself isn’t anything to smirk at. The controls are – as you might expect – extremely arcadey. So, you can expect to drift around with a fair amount of ease but don’t let that fool you; Grip prides itself on being fast and it’s because of that speed that racing becomes evermore fragile with each speed tier. And as the game becomes faster and faster, the more you end up having to think strategically, figuring out which vehicle is best suited for which race, knowing how to best position yourself for taking corners, and of course, knowing the shortcuts available in the tracks.

Because while the tracks in Grip’s inexplicably grimy future setting are short – the longest taking around five minutes to finish a three-lap race – each track is fairly dense. Shortcuts and alternative routes are all hidden in plain sight; turn a little too sharply at one corner and you think you might be a goner, until you realise that you’re not gone at all, instead you’re zooming through a spiralling metal framework and being thrown into the air before getting a bumpy landing as you rejoin the race. It’s not a surprising inclusion for the game but it’s one that’ll have you returning to tracks as you try to figure out the quickest way through them.

But the game offers more than just classic, ridiculously fast races. And while the classic modes still let you use weapons as a helping hand in a race, other modes like the Ultimate Race and the not so creatively named “Death Arena” modes put a real emphasis on the combat side of the game. Death Arena is pretty self-explanatory, right? You’re thrown into a medium sized space and the aim is to blow up as many cars as you can. It’s a little bit trickier than that though because while a lot of the weapons at your disposal are homing missiles – or relatives of them – you still need a clear shot at the car you’re aiming for, which of course lends itself to a great deal of cat and mouse gameplay.

The Ulitmate Races are a hybrid between the deathmatch and classic races, where your final placement in a race is dependant on where you finish and how much damage you deal out throughout the race. These are just two of the other game modes available in Grip – and personally, they’re my favourites. But the game tailors each mode to its biggest strengths; meaning you have races that focus on speed, on destruction in combat and to the environment, and much more. The variety of modes really is a necessity for Grip, and it handles that necessity well; spacing out how often you get to play each mode just enough means that you get comfortable with a variety of modes and figure out which you’d feel confident about challenging players online with.

Grip does more than just online multiplayer though, it also offers split-screen multiplayer for up to four players – a masterstroke which perfectly fits the style of game that Grip is, coaxing you and your chums into a friendly race that’ll have you vying for each other’s blood in no time at all.

But if you want to really excel at the game, then you’ll be heading straight for the campaign mode. As I said, Grip isn’t concerned with anything other than violent racing, so don’t expect any degree of exposition for the game. There’s no influence gathering in Grip, instead, it just throws you into the fray, as you begin completing tournaments and climbing tiers. Tournaments are made up of three sets, which in turn are usually made up of three races. The campaign is very much a space where you’ll be honing your skills, be they racing or combat, learning the ins and outs of the tracks and which vehicles you prefer. And while the game might lean towards being more fun with friends, there’s still a lot of fun to be had by simply chipping away at those tiers.

My only issue with the game is that it does take a fair bit of time to unlock vehicles. Unlocking cars come as you level up, with experience points being picked up for finishing races, dealing damage, and going airborne in a race. Sure, the time it takes to unlock cars means that you get a good handle on what’s available – and to be honest, it doesn’t make too much of a difference what you’re driving unless you’re in a deathmatch, with all the cars modelled after what looks like an eight-year old’s idea of what a car should be.

Grip is a breath of fresh air, in my opinion. We’ve seen a lot of great racing games this year, but in terms of sheer fun, Grip has them all beat in my opinion. The ridiculously fast races that’ll have you bouncing from floor to ceiling and wall to wall; the promise of some much-needed firepower lying in wait as you race towards the pulsating green orbs, and the different modes – each more dangerous than the last, all work in making Grip the chaotic fun that it is. But as chaotic as it may be, Grip is still a game steeped in balance, in keeping an eye on your racing while making the most of your weapons and defence, and of speed and strategy. So, while Grip is by no means going to scratch that hardcore sim racer itch, it doesn’t need to; nor does it need to rival the likes of Forza or The Crew 2, because Grip is an entirely different beast. If Forza Horizon 4 is a show dog, then Grip is the rabid badger of racing games, and it’s brilliant because of that ferocity that seeps into every molecule of the game.

The Good

  • Simple, fun, and addictive gameplay
  • Excellent variety of game modes
  • Splitscreen gameplay is a brilliant touch that’ll win over a lot of players

The Bad

  • I wouldn’t have minded a little more variety in how the vehicles look

Family Focus

ESRB: E for Everyone PEGI: 7

Grip is a combat racer but you won’t see any blood or gore. It’d be a great game to pick up and play with your kids on the weekend.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.