How Race Driver: Grid’s rewinding time and deeply unhinged AI made it a beloved racer

Second chances are great. They let you be late for work every now and then. Give you a free pass to be a drunken pillock at least once. Oh yeah, and they’re terrific when you bugger up a hairpin in a Koenigsegg CCXR while racing the Le Mans 24 Hours. Good lord, how we adore Grid’s Flashback feature. Leave it to Codemasters to introduce a rewind mechanic that gave the driving genre the kick up the tailpipe it so badly needed back in 2008. With Gran Turismo 5 still some two years away, PS3 petrolheads needed something to get their engines revving. And Grid delivered in spectacular style. Muscular, brilliantly personable and rabidly competitive, Codies crafted a racer that made Polyphony Digital’s work look downright sterile in comparison.

By allowing you to rewind the clock by ten seconds to cancel out that corner you really shouldn’t have taken so quickly, Britain’s premier driving studio made Grid so much more welcoming than GT. Instead of seeing 24 hours of progress vanish in a puff of super-sad smoke – all right, technically it’s only 12 minutes of in-game time – you can drive with the sort of enthusiasm that only comes from knowing you have a second chance in the trunk. On harder difficulties, Flashbacks are rationed, but their mere existence ensures Grid never gets overly frustrating.

The other star in this car is undoubtedly the game’s aggressive, unhinged AI. They’re fabulous fun to race against. ‘Race’ is a bit of a misnomer. You don’t race the savagely motivated packs in Grid. You survive them... barely. Whether consistently cutting off your racing line, shunting you into advertising hoardings or swarming like frenzied bees around an obese honey bear, these dastards couldn’t care less about the Highway Code. That’s precisely what makes them the most rewarding rivals to drive against of any racing game.

If the average racing teams you compete against in Grid are persistent Stormtroopers (only with much better aim), then Ravenwest is definitely Darth Vader. This gratingly good gang of drivers is the game’s ultimate team, and desperately vying with them for those top podium spots fuels the fires of an excellent, character-packed campaign. Codemasters may never have rendered models for Nathan McKane or Rick Scott, but it doesn’t matter. After all the hours spent fantasising over their engines blowing up, choking down on their fumes in perennial second place, they remain the ultimate villains of the racing genre to us. Show-offs.

Away from the heated rivalries, Grid is bolstered by symbiosis between the handling system and a series of cracking tracks. Coaxing the Nissan 350z through the blade-sharp turns of San Francisco’s bayside course; bullying your way to the front in a Dodge Viper on Detroit’s intimidating street circuit; watching the woods around Spa Francorchamps blink past as you cane the iconic track in an F1 car – Grid’s motors and courses complement each other superbly.

Despite two underwhelming sequels, the memory of being behind Grid’s wheel still burns bright. Thanks to its expertly balanced engine, brilliant courses and madcap rivalries, few titles have come close to stealing its podium place. Oh, and Ravenwest? Screw you.

This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.

Dave Meikleham
Paid maker of words, goes by many names: Meiksy… Macklespammer… Big Hungry Joe. Obsessive fan of Metal Gear Solid, Nathan Drake's digital pecks and Dino Crisis 2. Loves Jurassic Park so much, may burst at any moment.