Racing simulators have quite the history of avoiding Nintendo consoles entirely. The last really good one I remember playing is F1 2009 on the Wii, ten years ago. Since then I’ve just got my racing fix from other consoles, with their analog triggers and in-house games like Forza offering a very solid driving simulation experience. Suddenly out of nowhere, a port of GRID Autosport has landed on the Switch eShop. I was a little cautious at first, as racing developers have treated Nintendo consoles with the bare minimum apathy in the past. Anyone remember Project CARS on Wii U? Exactly. However here we are in 2019 with the Switch kicking arse and taking names, and GRID Autosport is the real deal.
To say this game delivered what I wanted would be an understatement, it vastly exceeded expectations. Feral Interactive have not just ported the game, but upgraded it in every way imaginable, with a higher resolution and framerate than the original game, and controls and graphics optimised for both docked and handheld mode. This game is quite simply the best racing simulator to ever grace a Nintendo console, and by extension, the best one ever to grace a handheld. It’s an absolute miracle.
I’m mostly going to talk about the Switch optimisations in this write-up, but first a bit of background on what GRID Autosport actually is. This game is part of the long-running TOCA Race Driver series that originated in the Playstation 1 days and has always been one of the best packages out there, somewhat looming in the shadows of the more heavily advertised Forza and Gran Turismo series. GRID 1 and 2 veered a bit more on the arcadey side, but are also very good games with satisfying driving. GRID Autosport was Codemasters effort to make the game more realistic again and capture that feeling of driving on a race weekend with very close wheel-to-wheel racing in a variety of categories, from touring cars, to street racing to open wheel.
The handling in this game is very rewarding and the cars feel alive. It’s an absolute joy to play if you’re a fan of the genre. If I had to rate the handling and gameplay, I’d say it’s better than Forza and probably just behind Gran Turismo Sport. I can’t comment on the more hardcore PC sims like Assetto Corsa as I haven’t played them yet. What sets this game apart though is the overall package, it’s a very well-designed game with so many options and different events. It has a bigger focus on actual racing, with no cars to collect and nothing to unlock beyond career progression. The open wheel cars also feel a lot better in this game compared to Codemasters’ own F1 games.
So how does it control on Switch? However you want it to.
That’s right, this game has so many options it even supports the GameCube controller. How crazy is that? Back in the GameCube days I always craved a racing simulator that would use that controller but it never happened (despite Ubisoft’s best effort with Jacques Villeneuve). The developers know that analog triggers are important for racing games, and went the extra mile to support the GameCube controller triggers for pressure-sensitive throttle control. You can also map acceleration to the right stick of the Pro Controller, and map pretty much any button you want. The customisation is insane and has pretty much everything you can ask for, with full button mapping and even micro options for the steering deadzone. You can create a profile for your button configuration and switch between several on a dime.
I find the motion controls to be acceptable but ultimately turned them off since the stick is just much faster at adjusting. To my surprise the motion controls feel a lot better in handheld mode. In handheld mode you have the extra option of moving the car camera along with the motion controls. The entire screen tilts depending on how you hold it, making sure the car is always down the bottom. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this implemented. It allows you to use motion controls in handheld without feeling like the screen is wobbling. For handheld I actually prefer the motion controls for this reason. You can also adjust the sensitivity of them. Here’s a little screenshot in handheld while turning with gyro, to illustrate how the screen moves. In your hand, this would look straight.
Tilt your head while looking at this and it’ll look like the car is centered. This is the new gyro feature they included to accommodate tilting the screen in handheld mode. It works extremely well, although it was very hard to hit the screenshot button while doing this. The things we do for a good writeup, hehe.
Another feature of this port is customising the graphics. In options you can pick “graphics” to see as much detail as possible at the expense of framerate, or “performance” for that buttery smooth 60fps feeling. It removes some minor details like grass, car details, environmental shadows and funnily enough, the hype from people in the crowd. They are animated in graphics mode, but they are just sprites folding their arms in performance mode. Here’s a little comparison, graphics mode first.
You can see the crowd is not impressed with the removal of shadows. This comparison was very easy to take, with the ability to switch graphical modes in the pause menu of the race. There’s no loading whatsoever too as the pause menu background changes in real-time. Graphics mode also adds more grass and bushes in other areas, sticking out of the ground rather than just being one grass texture. Another amusing compromise in performance mode is the opponents cars have no drivers. It’s a very creepy sight while battling side-by-side with someone and moving the camera over to see the car driving itself.
This is with the “HD texture pack” downloaded, which is a free add-on and a few extra GB. It’s nice they made this an option, so people who don’t care about graphics can save a little download space. The game actually has a third graphics option too, one that only shows up in handheld mode. It’s called “battery saving” mode and sacrifices even more graphical details if you want to keep that Switch powered on for longer while traveling or such. This would honestly be a good game to take around the world if you were a racing driver, as there’s never been a handheld sim of this level before.
While GRID Autosport is an outstanding Switch game, I need to add that simulation racing isn’t for everyone. Despite Gran Turismo’s enormous success in the past, this is a bit of a niche genre limited to your love for motorsport and the thrill of driving. That said, this could be the perfect game to get into the genre with a lot of options that accommodate new players. You can put the AI on really easy, turn the racing line on, and set the handling to be more arcadey at first. If you’re used to arcade racers or just Mario Kart, probably the biggest thing you need to learn is braking hard for corners. Then you need to accelerate gently instead of going full throttle instantly. Driving a real racing car on the limit without spinning is all about keeping your balance. It’s quite rewarding and once you learn the basics and get comfortable with one, every other racing sim will suddenly be easier to play as well. I find GRID Autosport to be a little more forgiving than other sims with traction control off. It’s a bit easier to adjust the car and save it.
Online multiplayer is coming a bit later, in a patch. I’m going to save that for another writeup, but until then the single player is looking quite meaty with a good variety of tracks and cars. It’s very challenging too with a lot of customisation so you can slowly work your way up. The racing in this game is extremely good, with advanced AI that knows how to race and block. They can still knock you off the road if you’re not careful, but it’s not annoying and cheap like Forza Drivatars. There’s no rubber-banding in this game whatsoever. The track selection is quite refreshing too with different city circuits exclusive to the street racing category. You can see stuff on the side like the Washington Monument in the background (pointed out to me while I was streaming) and the Dubai street track has a nice view of the Cayan Tower.
Trippy design. I had to look this up, but this building is actually curved and not an illusion. It goes all the way up to 75 stories with 90 degrees rotation. A pretty cool thing to see while racing. Similar to GRID 2, there’s hundreds of people around the track watching the races too, giving it that wholesome racing spectacle feeling where everyone is hyped for the race.
I’m having so much fun with this game, this is one of my favourite genres and I find it to be a nice balance of challenge and chill. Driving a car on the limit and racing hard requires a lot of focus, but allows you to tune out everything else and go into a zen state. It’s a different feeling to the chaotic nature of Mario Kart, for example. It’s an awesome time to be a gamer with so much diversity on Switch now, I want to thank Feral Interactive for taking this port seriously and exceeding expectations. This is a rare occasion where Nintendo actually got the best version of a game. They are also working on the Switch version of Alien Isolation which is looking very promising now. I’ll see you on the track when the online update hits.