The beauty of the Grid series and its spiritual predecessors is their breadth of racing built around a more user-friendly career framework than the car-crawl of series like Gran Turismo. The first Grid introduced a team and sponsor framework, and Grid 2 created the fictional WSR league. Autosport doesn't entirely dispense with these pleasantries – it's closer to Grid than Grid 2 – but in reaching back to the past the game doesn't advance the franchise.
Each of the five racing disciplines (touring, endurance, open wheel, tuning, and street) has its own level progression, but you need to attain specific levels in all of the racing types in order to unlock Grid championships where you must demonstrate your mastery of all the disciplines. Knocking down sponsorship objectives gives you XP to progress and demonstrates how all-encompassing sponsorships are in the game.
Choosing your sponsor determines your teammate, it's how you unlock cars, and get tuning options and upgrades. I like that tuning options and upgrades differentiate sponsors, but the all-encompassing structure of sponsorships gives the player no control over choosing cars and prevents the creation of liveries. These kinds of restrictions give the game a closed-off feel despite the ability to choose your path through the disciplines.
Online play offers slightly more freedom (it's not related to your progress in the single-player), letting you buy and sell cars, create liveries, partake in challenges, and join clubs. Online play also has disciplines that you earn levels in, and goes a step further than the single-player by deducting damage costs from your winnings. The varied feature set is not bad per se, but I wish that some of these were included in the single-player.
In either mode you can keep racing your favorite race type, but it's more fun to sample each of the different disciplines. Touring features the beating and banging akin to stock car racing, street has more narrow courses, open wheel taps into high-horsepower but more finicky cars, tuning contains drift racing, and endurance puts your nerves to the test. Endurance and Touring were my favorites; the former was a challenge, bringing into play the game's effective but relatively forgiving damage system. Nursing a car with a wonky steering and four worn tires makes sixth place a victory.
Autosport isn't a pioneering effort, but it is a solid one. I am particularly impressed with the A.I. competitors on the track; how realistically they act and create a dynamic experience. They jostle with each other, open the door for a pass after bobbling a corner, and lesser drivers change the complexion of races with occasional spin outs on tricky corners.
The noticeable A.I. extends to your teammates, over whom you can extend a modicum of control via bumper commands. In the beginning of the game they are invisible because they never threaten the leaders, but later on they are good enough that you can use them to hold off challengers or put pressure on other drivers for your benefit.
Last year's Grid 2 was different than the original racer, but even though Autosport tries to return the series to its roots, it has lost its bite and raison d'être. The multi-discipline racing remains, but it's an unadorned shell that lacks the creativity that the previous Grids tried to inject into the genre in the first place.
Codemasters brings the series back to its roots, but what else does the franchise need?