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Is there still a place for an old-school sci-fi racer that harkens back to the nineties and noughties? A Tribe Called cars takes a look in its Grip: Combat Racing review.

If you are old enough to remember a time when the Argos was the holy grail of books, arguably more emotionally enlightening than the bible, then you will remember the TYCO Rebound.

This bringer of battery-powered joy (no, I’m not talking about THAT) was up there with the Tracy Island, that giant Super-Soaker with the backpack and anything from Lego. This is because its big, chunky wheels and un-flippable design made it the perfect remote control car for launching off high places and over ridiculous jumps.

Grip: Combat Racing – originally a Steam Early Access game and now available on Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One – has essentially turned the idea of Rebound into a video game, minus the constant need to nick the AA batteries from the TV remote and deal with the wrath of your parents.

This is actually something Rollcage first did in 1999. The similarities are more than coincidental, though, as the creation of the development studio Caged Element came about when a home renovator approached a former programmer of the game, both of whom wanted to make a spiritual successor. The rest, as they say, is history.

Grip: Combat Racing: Defying gravity

Grip: Combat Racing review (PS4 screenshot)

In Grip: Combat Racing gravity plays a big role, specifically the lack of, because you can drive on the ceiling. And just like in the WipeOut games, the highly underrated Quantum Redshift and other arcadey sci-fi racers from yesteryear, you get to drive at hundreds of miles per hour while lobbing missiles at anyone who dares overtake you.

There are various worlds to play in, all but one looking like how you would imagine earth after some futuristic AI-induced apocalypse. There are also a lot of cars to choose from. Some have lots of wheels, some do not and you can customise the exterior paint job for that personal touch. Extra items for customisation are unlocked as you level up.

Then you can partake in various types of event, including a career mode which makes zero attempt to bore you with a sub-par, narratively arrested story mode. Instead, you just have to win races, then you can progress up a tier and things get progressively tougher. Make money, buy different versions of Rebound and the cycle continues.

You have the bog-standard race mode, where you have to finish first, as well as an elimination round where you don’t want to be last place as you cross the line. Because then it’s bye bye. There is also a weapon-heavy combat mode and some other stuff, all of which provides some variety.

Grip Combat Racing: Space-age style

Grip: Combat Racing review

Visually, everything blitzes along nearly as fast as the 600mph racers and the visuals are pretty enough to keep your eyes happy. Even on the Nintendo Switch and especially on PC. As you jump from one wall to another while picking up a weapon drop mid-air, you catch a glimpse of Grip: Combat Racing at its best. It can be intense and frantic at the best of times, although there are faster racing games out there.

This all sounds like the absolute dream, much like actually owning a TYCO RC and having an unlimited supply of batteries, but for every exciting moment, there is one where you get stuck in a mountain or somehow end up hitting the only rocky outcrop for ten square miles. Even after the fifth race restart. You can also suddenly lose speed if you hit a jump at the wrong angle, drop off the ceiling, end up facing backwards and generally do things that are immensely frustrating.

It would be fine if there wasn’t a level of unpredictability and inconsistency about it. Hell, games of old wanted their pound of flesh to progress and you were used to giving it in the form of hours of practice. It’s just that in a game where you sometimes need inch-perfect precision, Grip: Combat Racing hands you a wonky-handled sledgehammer.

The AI only serves to emphasise the troubles. No matter how good you are, your opponents seem to attach themselves to your rear bumper like a barnacle to a rock, reducing the incentive to drive super fast and super efficiently. Developer Caged Element says it avoided using a lazy rubber-banding system, yet it rarely feels like that.

Grip Combat Racing: Wiping out

Grip: Combat Racing review

The other problem is that Grip: Combat Racing comes across as too basic in places, not just the presentation but also the scope of the gameplay. It wants to be the modern-day WipeOut and yet it fails to be as captivating, like it has missed a trick in too many areas. The weapons, for instance, do absolutely nothing new and are unsatisfying to use where they could have filled the screen with mega pixel death or shrunk everyone down in size or switched gravity off. Just something different.

It could also be because the soundtrack in Grip: Combat Racing is less memorable than the typical varied collection of techno/dance from the likes of Fatboy Slim – although the Hospital Records drum and bass tunes hit the spot – and because WipeOut has the benefit of nostalgia. But the developers had something even more powerful, hindsight. Decades of it, in fact, and yet nothing really stands out.

On a more positive note, the multiplayer can be fun especially if you all huddle around one display split-screen style. You also get the sense the development team, Caged Element, put some real heart into it and that, having been in development for such a long time, updates will come that smooth over the creases. I can only hope.

Currently, though, there’s just too much inconsistency in the physics system and not enough variety in the gameplay mechanics or level design for you to want to play it to death. It’s not that Grip: Combat Racing is terrible, it’s just that when you try to compete with various classic old-school racers and induce memories of the world’s second most famous book, you have to really nail the gameplay. And that isn’t the case.

Grip: Combat Racing review (Xbox One) ─ A worthy rebound?
Despite a solid premise and visuals, Grip: Combat Racing lacks the originality and flair of its contemporaries to make it an essential purchase but you can still get some fun from it.
Enjoyment
Graphics
Sound
Multiplayer
Longevity
The Good
  • Great visuals
  • Involving multiplayer
  • Decent soundtrack
The Bad
  • Lacking in originality
  • Frustrating physics
  • Repetitive
3.0The Score

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief

Ben Griffin is a motoring journalist and founder of the website and YouTube channel, A Tribe Called Cars. He is also a contributor at DriveTribe.

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