The best news of all, however, is that GRID never falls down where its predecessor did: visual quality. You can never call this game inconsistent. Codemasters’ NEON engine was already impressive in Colin McRae: DIRT, but here it pulls off sterling work, managing up to twenty cars on spectacularly detailed tracks, complete with genuinely gorgeous lighting and some of the most lifelike reflection effects I’ve ever seen, and all with only the most occasional dropped frame or sign of tearing. I’m not usually one for copious post effects and depth-of-field or speed blurs, but here they work to give the game a rich cinematic sheen. And when something goes wrong and you see two vehicles collide in a snarling mass of shattered glass and twisted metal, the effects are breathtaking. In short, GRID really does look hot.
The icing on the cake is the online play. With twelve players on the track it’s fast and furious, and there’s none of the wussiness about car collisions that made GT5: Prologue a slightly odd experience when played live. Admittedly, the lack of Flashback (for obvious reasons) means you can wait several minutes to join a game only to get wiped out on the first tricky corner, but that’s a small price to pay for racing this raw and exciting. This one deserves to run and run.
I hope that, by now, I’ve made my case clear. GRID is one of the premium driving games of this generation. On the PS3, there simply isn’t any serious competition; this is the best road racer on the system, and one that leaves GT5: Prologue feeling sterile and anaemic, for all the excellence of its visuals and its handling. I mean, even the crowd have more meat to them, cheering you on as you pass and cowering back as you plough out of control towards them. On the 360, where it faces Forza 2 and PGR4, it’s still a belter – it’s a far more engaging single-player game than the first, and it’s only the highly tuned gameplay and cool weather effects of Bizarre’s PGR swan song that make it a close call as to which game is the best. In any case, GRID deserves to be a part of any serious racer’s collection, and I’d urge anyone who even likes driving games to give it a look. You might have ignored TOCA, but this time there’s really no excuse.
Forget the underdog tag; this time Codemasters has created one of the finest road racers of a console generation. New features like Flashbacks deserve to become standards, and the visual excellence and richness and variety of the racing make for an exceptional game.