I’m coming up on one of my favourite corners in Grid. Under the San Francisco sun, a slalom gives way to a wider stretch of track around which drifting is an absolute delight. As I prepare for the perfect powerslide I can feel muscle memory kicking in: but then the car to my left gives my car a slight nudge, sending me spinning out onto the side of the track as half-a-dozen competitors scream past.
Under normal circumstances this would be the perfect time to take advantage of Grid's rewind mechanic, resetting the race by a few seconds, giving my aggressor an ever-so-slightly wider berth, and squeaking through the corner unscathed. In this particular race, however, the driver in question is my Nemesis. Which meant pride was on the line: so I straightened up, put my foot down, and started making my way back into the race.
The Nemesis system is one of Grid's new flagship features, an attempt to add a little extra spark to the game’s AI and make each race feel like its own challenge. Stay up-close-and-personal with another car for too long and you’ll really upset its driver, marking them with a red warning triangle which basically means 'mortal enemy.' Once you’ve earned yourself a Nemesis they’ll respond to your reckless driving in kind; cutting you up, defending their lines against you a little harder, or giving you the kind of little nudge that sends high-speed vehicles smashing into the scenery.
A little vehicular rough-housing is to be expected in Grid’s crowded 16-car races, but the Nemesis system is surprisingly good at differentiating between harmless paint-trading and actual aggression. The fact that smaller transgressions are often forgiven makes earning yourself a new foe even more satisfying: it feels like you've really pissed them off. Accidents can happen, sure, and I’ve made enemies through the occasional piece of clumsy cornering, but it’s also strangely entertaining to throw caution entirely to the wind, barging through the pack with no regard for your opponents’ opinion.
At your most aggressive you can have a maximum of five foes, although doing so requires some truly chronic bastardry (the largest number of drivers I managed to upset in a single race was three.) Most drivers will cool down between races, drawing a line under your previous moral failings, but on rare occasions you’ll have pissed someone off enough that they’re still quietly simmering the next time you take to the starting line. They won’t technically be your Nemesis - steer well clear and they’ll let bygones be bygones - but the faintest nudge will rip open old wounds and see them cutting you up for the rest of the race.
The system is so effective at raising the stakes that it brings rivalries to life across the entire game. Adding a pinch of humanity to the AI in San Francisco means that when a car shows up dangerously close in my rear-view mirror in Shanghai or Silverstone, I’ve got a greater desire to beat them. As sparks fly from the body of the car I’m jostling with, I put more effort into holding my line round a tricky corner.
Grid as a series has always excelled in capturing something of the track experience, the excitement of long racing campaigns and building yourself a reputation over time. In that sense the Nemesis system feels like a natural extension of what the game was already good at: the corolloray of 'humanising' your AI opponents is that they begin to feel more worthy of opposition.
That's why, for all the amazing tyre textures and whizzing scenery, this latest Grid feels like there's more of a beating heart under the bonnet. Like there's a price to pay for swanning about like Barry Big Boy, an opposition that feels like it watches you and, sometimes, waits to really get you.
And it's why, when I’m sent spinning into the barrier ahead of an important corner, the desire to beat my Nemesis fair and square makes me dig deep instead of just hitting that rewind button.