It’s often easy to look at the term ‘spiritual successor’ as something that’s just thrown around to avoid legal trouble with a game’s IP holder. More often than not however, and especially with a game like GRIP: Combat Racing, the term basically shows a love of the source material. Very few other media formats are allowed to go down this route, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the term used in the context of “the spiritual successor to Singing In The Rain” for example. Games allow the respect and love for older titles, to be worn on the chest like a badge of honour when they release their pet project. GRIP for all intent and purpose is Rollcage, the oft forgotten playstation one game that was unfortunately forever in the shadow of Sony’s other futuristic racer with a heavy bass soundtrack, Wipeout.
GRIP takes the basic concept of Rollcage and runs with it. You’re in a car that has massive wheels and as such you can flip your vehicle and with no consequence keep ploughing on through a race. The tracks are built with this ‘always going forward’ concept in mind leading you to be flying down tunnels on the ceiling whilst your opponents are racing underneath you. Being a console racer there are obviously items to run over and pick up on your trip around the various locales including the obvious inclusions of boosts, guns and rockets. Thankfully there’s some progression from its inspiration here with a pickup I’d love to see in more combat racing games, an EMP. Whilst playing GRIP split screen I took great pleasure in gleefully dropping that attack as myself and my opponent neared a 90 degree turn and I would cut their control over their car and watch them continue flying forward off a tall ledge.
By sheer coincidence I actually played Rollcage only a short while ago whilst I was working through some old Playstation One games that I had in my collection. Having it so recently in my mind it’s nice to come to GRIP and safely say that Caged Element know their stuff and they’ve brought the same feeling of nearly unmanageable speed and fluke awesomeness to the modern consoles and PC. There really isn’t a better feeling in Grip than flying out of a tunnel too fast, at an angle and with everyone breathing down your neck only to find that you’ve somehow accidentally managed to be the perfect angle to hit a sloped wall and keep on racing. Unfortunately it’s not always the way though.
One of my biggest gripes with Grip is the random blockages on the track. The best tracks are the ones where the speed is high and the flow is just right to allow for skilful manoeuvres but also some improvisation. The worst are the numerous tracks where the only way you’d only have a perfectly clean lap with non full stop crashes. The only way around this is to memorise every element of it, sure the same could be said of a lot of racing games but that tactic is usually reserved for shortcuts, not a standard lap. There’s one track in particular set in a future city which at first I was psyched to be racing on, but every time it’s come up in rotation since I’ve just been frustrated. You’ll have a great little section of racing before hitting a sharp corner only to be faced with a closed lane sign that you can’t avoid as the only answer is to be prepared and have the perfect angle to run up the wall beside it. These kind of obstacles don’t feature too often but that kind of dodgy track design turns what could be a fun race into pure frustration, and not in a gaming satisfaction way.
It’s hard to talk about GRIP without mentioning its soundtrack. Drum and Base is one of a handful of genre’s that I’ve never really given a full chance, I understand it’s concepts and can reel off a couple of acts connected with it but really if I was in a conversation regarding it I’d be bluffing 90% of the time. A friend of mine however who is hardcore into the scene glanced over the soundtrack being produced by various artists and with tracks supplied by Hospital Records. My friend was surprised at the game pulling this soundtrack together and although he isn’t a gamer he has been listening to the soundtrack in his own time which I can only assume is a compliment if that its your bag. For me, the music works perfectly, there’s something almost synonymous about heavy Drum and Base beats blaring out whilst playing a Playstation One game, so to keep that vibe going with a modern retelling of Rollcage is just icing on the already nostalgia filled cake.
I played GRIP: Combat Evolved on the Switch and it’s hard to say if this is the platform I’d recommend picking it up on. I know from trailers and screens that the other console versions and PC version all run and look amazing, but the same can’t be said for the Switch. A patch went live on launch day that has removed frame drop issues that I encountered before release. 10 opponents on a quite detailed map had nothing but smooth frames throughout my race. With that in mind I have to be honest and say on the whole game looks a little lacklustre; the lighting, the models and the world on a whole just feels a little simplified, from what I’ve seen this seems purely restricted to the Switch version where it looks like compromises had to be made, I guess that’s the price you pay for having a really quite fun racer with potential handheld mode capabilities. When you’re barrelling down a tunnel at an ungodly speed you’re not going to notice these issues, but for those moments when you can afford to look around you will inevitably feel a bit disappointed. This is an issue in handheld and docked mode.
GRIP: Combat Racing is a fun game, that’s the bottom line. It has stayed true to its routes and inspiration but brought it with modern sensibilities, car personalisation in the garage, various death match modes and the wonderfully named ‘Carkour’, where you must complete almost puzzle/platformer like track challenges. All of these add the kind of content you’d hope to find in this day and age. As someone who actively plays retro-games as often as modern it’s hard not to see myself as the target audience for this release. Rollcage was a game I first played on a demo disc from Official Playstation Magazine in the 90’s and I fell in love with the concept, a few years later I picked up a copy and it was still a joy to run with. GRIP: Combat Racing does everything in its power, and accomplishes, to bring back those feelings of gaming in the 90’s with its concept and its music. It’s easy to say ‘for fans of…’ etc when recommending this, but for anyone who has those rose tinted specs for Playstation One era gaming should give GRIP a go, it’s a solid racer that knows what its audience will want. It looks back at the past gaming landscape with a sense of respect and love.
UPDATE: Amended penultimate paragraph regarding graphics/framerate due to a patch fixing a number of issues. This patch was launched before release so purchasers of the game wouldn’t have had the same issues as myself pre-launch.