Big budget games seem to be steadily growing slower and slower as time goes by. Recent releases such as Red Dead Redemption 2 take a relaxed approach to time, in the name of authenticity and building an immersive experience, while the heyday of the twitch shooter has been and gone, currently replaced by more ponderous experiences like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Blackout. As such, the independent scene has been the place to maintain reaction-based games, and GRIP: Combat Racing is no exception.
GRIP: Combat Racing, from Caged Element, is coming out of early access and brings back fond memories of the days of high speed futuristic racing, with super-speed vehicles racing against a mixture of neon-drenched and decaying future landscapes. Whereas some fans of this style of racing game have been calling out for something akin to the long-dormant F-Zero, instead GRIP: Combat Racing has a more niche root, with heavy ties to 1999’s Rollcage.
As the name suggests, this isn’t a game where hovering vehicles are the focus, with instead players choosing from a selection of ground-based vehicles. Grip is, of course, what’s required, with racers needing to swap between driving on the track, walls, and ceiling of each circuit to gain the advantage. Thankfully, the cars are double-sided, and so this makes it easy to accomplish.
It’s a neat gimmick and one that works incredibly well. Quick reactions are needed to work out the best route to take, in order to get power-ups or speed boosts to beat the competition. As such, there’s already a good variety within the tracks themselves, as the player tries to outmaneuver their opponents to get to the top spot.
The tracks themselves are also intriguing, with a variety of locales within its set framework. GRIP: Combat Racing calls back to some of the best examples of futuristic racing games, perhaps not as colorful as F-Zero or WipeOut but certainly taking on the same tone. Equally, those who enjoyed the look of Star Wars Episode I: Racer or Ubisoft’s 1997 cult classic Pod will appreciate the look of GRIP: Combat Racing as well.
Whether the gameplay quite matches the thrill of those initial titles is another matter. Although GRIP: Combat Racing is enjoyable to play, it doesn’t quite capture the same essence as what made Rollcage or F-Zero GX such master classes in this style of game, with the controls feeling a little too lax and the momentum breaks a little too jarring. Then again, it’s a very fine balance to pull off, and nonetheless GRIP: Combat Racing does get fairly close to achieving it.
Aside from that, the rest of the game will feel very familiar to racing fans. Picking up Mario Kart-esque power ups to take rivals down a peg or put up defensive shields all works as expected, adding another game to the roster of titles for those who are a little tired of Mario Kart but don’t want to stray into mediocre kart racer knock-offs. The way that GRIP: Combat Racing manages to straddle the line between high-speed racing and vehicular combat is impressive, similar in feel to 2010’s Blur.
The core to how the game operates, too, feels a little like déjà vu. The player can purchase new vehicles or upgrade their own, and do so by raking in the wins. Getting these victories isn’t always easy, particularly when perfecting the optimum route through a track is tantamount to success, and so replaying circuits to memorize the fastest route and build in that muscle memory is a common strategy.
Beyond that, there are some neat extras as well. There's the almost obligatory demolition mode, where players are thrown into an arena and have to destroy the opposition rather than out-race them, but the best of the bunch is the carkour. As the name suggests, it's parkour for cars, and it's effectively a clever Super Monkey Ball-esque bonus mode that tests the player's understanding of GRIP: Combat Racing's physics.
The best thing to say about GRIP: Combat Racing, however, is that this rarely feels like a chore. The driving mechanics, although not perfect, are still plenty of fun, even if GRIP: Combat Racing never feels quite natural. All in all, then, it’s a solid futuristic racing game that will be a tidy pick-up for those who love the genre but feel starved of new releases.
GRIP: Combat Racing releases November 6, 2018 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant received a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.