Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GripShift Review (Xbox 360)

Odds are fair to good that if you don’t own a PSP, you probably haven’t heard of GripShift. Sidhe Interactive’s unique racing title originally rolled onto Sony’s handheld two years ago to little fanfare, yet decent critical reviews. Now, just about the time that PSP owners can pick up the game in their closest retailer’s bargain bins, GripShift has gotten a bit of a tune up and made its way to the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade.

For those of you out there unfamiliar with GripShift, the game is, at its core, a standard kart-style combat racer, in the vein of Nintendo’s Mario Kart series. Players choose from a selection of available cars and race around any one of the game’s 25 Race Mode tracks, taking out the competition with an arsenal of weapons that includes homing missiles and TNT land mines. What sets GripShift apart from the usual racing fare is its addition of elements from other genres. Challenge stages have a sort of puzzle/platformer feel, as player intentionally fall off the track down to a lower section to beat a time limit, or jump from a ramp to a nearby floating rock to pick up a special “GS Marker.” GripShift forces players to rev up their brainpower along with their horsepower to complete the game’s 100-plus different Challenge Levels.

Thankfully, Sidhe Interactive wasn’t content to just throw a straight port of the PSP version up onto XBLA and call it a day. The game’s definitely benefitted from spending some time in the garage. Visually, everything looks crisp, sharp and full of color. The animations are smooth, with a solid frame rate that never stalls out. Of course, that’s probably because of the game’s lack of extraneous environmental to get in the way of things. Admittedly, outside of the cars and tracks, there’s just not a lot going on. In the audio department, GripShift seems to be chugging along with a couple of flat tires. There are some basic sound effects and generic background music, but nothing that’ll warrant cranking up the volume on your television.

GripShift’s gameplay makes up for a lot it shortfalls in presentation. In most kart racers, the differences between the vehicles are barely anything beyond cosmetic. In GripShift, though, car choices can mean the difference between first place and dead last. Regardless of which vehicle you feel most comfortable with, though, there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve involved. During the first few races, you can pretty much expect to smack the wall plenty of times and even take a header into the great abyss once or twice. Thankfully, that learning curve isn’t too steep. Before long, you’ll be rounding corners with ease, and the only times you’ll soar off the track is to jump ahead of the rest of the competition.

Speaking of competition, GripShift makes sure to have players covered in that regard as well. Up to four players can battle it out for supremacy of the roadways in head-to-head action on any of the game’s tracks. Once players get tired of chasing each other around in circles in multiplayer races, they can duke it out with one another through twenty different Deathmatch arenas in Last Man Standing free-for-all battles. As much fun as GripShift’s single player experience can be, there’s just no comparison to facing off against real-life, flesh-and-blood opponents. Given time, any player can learn the basic behavior of an AI driver, but human opponents always have that extra factor of unpredictability.

If you’re worried that GripShift is a one-off experience that’ll get stale before its time, Sidhe Interactive is already prepared to ease your fears. As with many XBLA games available these days, GripShift supports the addition of downloadable content packs over Xbox Live. These packs can include new tracks and arenas, as well as completely new game types to give the game a little extra octane boost from time to time.

So, is GripShift the end all be all of combat racing on the Xbox 360? Not by a long shot. However, the game definitely stands out in its genre and makes it a lot of fun to get behind the wheel to put the pedal to the metal—and has a price tag of only 800 Microsoft Points (or about $10). Whether you’re wanting to test your mental prowess in the puzzle aspect of Challenge Mode, test your maneuvering skills in Race Mode or just blow things up in the Deathmatch arenas, there’s something here for everyone. While the game may sport a few dents here and there, it’s got more than enough in the tank earn a spot in your Xbox 360’s garage of arcade hits.

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