It takes a lot to carve a niche in the racing genre. Plenty try to do it with an innovation, but it’s hard to break through and stand out amid the biggest names in the industry. On one side, you have Sony’s “Gran Turismo” and on the other, you have Microsoft’s “Forza” series establishing its dominace.

In between, other titles have become household names of their own, mostly because they have a distinct perspective on racing. “Need for Speed” has centered on car chases between racers and police while “Mario Kart” found its bread and butter in power-ups and accessible competition.

Meanwhile, Codemaster’s “Grid,” or “TOCA,” series has always been a jack of all trades. It’s a great-looking racer and has good physics, but it doesn’t have the gravitas of the two flagship series. The developers have worked on racing titles from other disciplines such as high-end racing with the “F1” series and gymkhana with “Dirt: Showdown.”

It’s obvious that the team knows its racing, but they haven’t had a hook to hang their hat on. That could change with “Grid,” its latest entry to the series coming Oct. 11 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC . It follows the same structure as the previous games with at least 69 vehicles announced so far and featuring eight circuits across eight countries, but don’t call it a Simcade racer.

Principal game designer Simon Barlow bristles at the word. He said “Grid” focuses more on accessibility and choice. Codemasters wants to support all driving styles, but they also want to give players an authentic racing experience. They can find that in the artificial intelligence and race choreographer that the team built for the game.

A HUMAN ELEMENT TO RACING
Unlike Drivatars in “Forza,” the team crafted the competitors that players run across during competition. With 400 AI profiles built with their own skill levels and tendencies, they each have a distinct way of racing, but where it gets interesting is that if players brake check one or cut them off during a race, the AI can become upset and turn into a nemesis.

Depending on the driver, this is when the AI goes after the player and they try to do everything in their power to make racing a nightmare. They’ll try to spin a player out or crash into them on purpose during a turn. This will hopefully try to make players race differently. Instead of trying to follow the racing line robotically, gamers will need to read and react to the field. The AI will even carry over grudges to the next race of the series.

For those who want to make nemeses, players can have up to three each race and that can include your partner AI. During the career mode, players start on a racing team and they have a teammate that they can command to attack or defend them during the contest. As they win contests and gain money and levels, they can replace their first teammate for someone better, but they have to choose carefully.

Each AI teammate has its own skill profile and loyalty stats. Players can find teammates that are excellent drivers but have low loyalty. They will breeze through and earn money, but at the same time, they’ll go for what’s best for them instead of helping the player out and following orders. On the opposite end, they can hire an ally who is a poor motorist but will follow directions to a T.

On top of these micro levels of competition, players will also see the hidden hand of a race choreographer. Barlow compares it to the director in “Left 4 Dead” but less heavy handed. It tries to create moments such as “wheel-to-wheel racing battles, spins, flips and mechanical damage,” according to Deep Silver. It could lead to a spin out in end of the first lap that clears the competition or it could lead to two AI opponents becoming rivals and duking it out in front of the players.

FREEDOM TO PLAY
Barlow says players are encouraged to keep on racing, and to that end, Codemasters doesn’t lock content behind race requirements. Players can finish a race and move on to the next series of events freely. That doesn’t mean finishing first is pointless. Players will get extra rewards for making the podium on top of the experience points and honors they win.

“Grid” fans can expect several racing categories. The major ones are Touring, stock, tuner, GT and invitationals. These are competitions focused on a specific type of racing. The differing cars has a major impact on the style of racing. GT competitions tend to have racers give each other space while stock car racing is more rough and tumble with racers trading paint.

The last category is interesting because it loosely follows the experiences of Fernando Alonso, who was the race consultant for the game. Players get to race in vehicles that he drove or competitions he entered. “Grid” will feature Alonso as an AI profile along with members of his esports racing team FA Racing.

As for online play, “Grid” seems fairly standard with casual and standard matchmaking. The notable addition is the private matches that support up to 15 friends. This is where players can curate their own racing series with different tracks that feature time of day and weather. From there, they can get everyone together and have some friendly competition. It’s a way to get private racing leagues off the ground.

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