Its somewhat ironic that often the best games for a console appear when that consoles successor is already on sale. Its easy to explain why: it can take developers years to get to grips with optimising their games for a format, so by the time they manage to extract the maximum amount of juice from it, it is effectively obsolete. Grid Autosport provides the perfect illustration of that slightly frustrating phemomenon.
If inclined to churlishness, you could query why Grid Autosport exists at all. It arrives a mere year (microseconds in console-development time) after Grid 2 so, on paper, you could accuse Codemasters of milking its not inconsiderable fan-base like a factory-farmed cow. But the Britsoft developer argues vehemently that there were loads of features it wanted to add to Grid 2 and when it quickly worked out how to incorporate them, it just carried on with Grid Autosport. When you boot up the game, you can see their point.
For a start, it looks magnificent demonstrably crisper than Grid 2, with much better particle effects (like tyre smoke) and a level of car and track detail that could almost persuade you that its running on a next-gen console. The cockpit view, missing from Grid 2, is back, too. But Grid Autosport is far from being just its predecessor with a new set of clothes.
Once you get stuck into the Career mode, you find that its brilliantly structured. First up, you must choose one of five racing disciplines: Touring Cars, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuning (basically drifting and drag-racing) or Street Racing. Each one builds up XP separately, so you can ignore the ones you dont fancy. Endurance and Tuning are new, and refreshingly different from what you find in rival driving games. Endurance races, naturally, are long (and timed), and you drive hugely powerful beasts, so throttle delicacy is paramount; also, tyre-wear is accelerated, so theres a tactical element discretion at the start of a race gives you a better chance of overtaking the field towards the end. If you think that sounds like a mode for the experienced virtual racers, youre not wrong.
Codemasters has nailed drifting in Grid Autosport. The cars you drive in the Tuning discipline are ridiculous: you need to turn them in ages before corners actually arrive, triggering clouds of tyre-smoke, and blip the throttle judiciously throughout, while occasionally resorting to opposite-lock. But the rewards are enormous. Open-wheel racing tests your precision, and offers a welcome echo of Grids predecessor franchise, TOCA Race Driver. Street racing and Touring Cars are familiar from Grid 2 (the former reuses some tracks, but adds others from the worlds most exotic cities). Race-tracks in the game include Brands Hatch, Jarama and Sepang, plus a host of other classics.
Online, Codemasters has wisely left its Racenet system doing what it does providing you with an almost bewildering, constant supply of challenges against your friends and races -- but it adds the concept of Race Clubs (which, with the likes of the forthcoming Driveclub and Forza Horizon 2 doing the same, marks it out as the first instance of a definable trend).
But what really impresses you about Grid Autosport is the car feel. The Career mode keeps you hopping between cars, all of which feel utterly unique. 1960s Minis, for example, have no grip, but understeer in a thrillingly forgiving manner, while you can pretty much back DTM-style rear-drive Touring Cars into corners. The AI is pretty fierce, but doesnt take the mickey. Computer-controlled cars will punish every mistake (luckily, you get up to five rewinds per race), but they do make mistakes themselves crashing out or going wide.
So, Grid Autosport is a petrol-heads dream. Its big, meaty and tests an incredibly wide range of driving skills. Its beautifully structured, looks great and will keep the hardcore fraternity satisfied online, while letting Sunday drivers potter around with their mates. Its possibly the best current-gen driving game ever and now that everyone is getting stuck into the PS4 and Xbox One, its likely to remain so.