Just as The Grand Tour show isn't really about the cars, the game isn't really about the gameplay.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May spend the best part of their year travelling to exotic locations with their mates, in supercars commoners wouldn’t even dream of parking next to, powered by a seemingly infinite budget to do with them as they please; and they get paid millions to do it. You are never going to have that life, but good news! For just AUD $20, The Grand Tour Game lets you pretend to be part of the biggest motoring show…in the world; at least for 30 minutes.
Launch review (17 January)
The cross-media concept is unlike any I have encountered before. The idea is you, dear viewer, fire up your Amazon Prime Video subscription (prompted directly from the game) and watch the weekly episode of The Grand Tour Season 3. As each episode becomes available to stream, a new episode of the game is also released, allowing you to play through what you have just witnessed and momentarily live out the fantasy.
With The Grand Tour Season 3 set to premiere on 18 January 2019, we are yet to have that intended experience. At launch, The Grand Tour Game comes with a scattering of content from the first two seasons. To be exact, it features just the first episodes from Season 1 and Season 2 respectively.
Effectively using these episodes as a demo of what’s to come, the implementation is actually pretty good. Selected scenes from the show are used to introduce each segment and then transition into gameplay when something takes place behind a steering wheel. It retains the competitive banter and middle-aged bickering that has made the trio an international juggernaut through video, and allows the player to takeover when the racing starts.
Just as The Grand Tour found success through legions of casual fans more invested in the characters and adventures than the intricacies of motorsport, The Grand Tour Game has its sights firmly set on an audience who considers Mario Kart 64 to be the pinnacle of racing games. This isn’t Forza Horizon 4, and certainly not Forza Motorsport, but it isn’t trying to be.
Both gameplay and visuals resemble a mobile game played on PS4 and Xbox One. Cars all feel similar, regardless of their class, and while there are speed differences between them, the lightweight handling is very consistent. Richard Hammond crashing while trying to handle a gentle corner is a possibility, but there’s no need for a racing line or even a rewind feature, such is the simplicity of the controls and each scenario.
The bite-size events stay in the same lane, ensuring the narrative doesn’t lose any steam and the three characters — they reason you’re playing the game — remain on-screen in cutscenes for more time than is spent playing. Events range from straight up races against AI racers to drag races that are over in a matter of seconds, to drifting challenges and time trials. Then there are events with more personality, such as trying to finish a lap without making Hammond scream or ensuring James “gets the fizz” from the Ferrari La Ferrari. With more episodes to work with in Season 3, we hope to see more possibilities present themselves for unique situations.
The local split-screen multiplayer adorns the menu like a relic from yesteryear. With support for up to four players, and AI to cover any shortcomings, it promotes couch multiplayer over online carnage. Multiplayer becomes more like a kart racer, with a greater focus on Mario Kart-style items, which are scarcely used in the single-player. Boosts are fairly self explanatory, while candy fog blinds tailgaters and text messages are like a combination of a Red Shell and Blooper — it automatically targets a player ahead of you and disrupts their screen with a giant text message insult. I like the humorous twists, but it would certainly benefit from a greater variety of items.
With just three courses and only 11 cars, multiplayer loses its hook after a single Grand Prix. All courses are from the first episode, The Holy Trinity, and none are especially memorable. Yes, the Eboladrome is represented, but it doesn’t come close to the giddy excitement of racing around the Top Gear Test Track in Gran Turismo 5, and later in Forza Motorsport 4, 5 and 6.
According to the stats page, there is an online mode. Except, errrm, there isn’t. That’s not gone well, has it? Presumably, more courses and cars will become available with the Season 3 content, which appears to comprise the bulk of the game. The lack of content, and total omission of the online mode, suggests a barebones multiplayer mode was rushed to make launch, so hopefully it is expanded over the coming weeks.
Start playing The Grand Tour Game after work tonight and you will be done with the single-player campaign before your Uber Eats order arrives. S01E01 takes about 40 minutes, while S02E01 takes around 30 minutes, including video content; hit fast-forward and the gameplay component of each is around 15 minutes. Events can be replayed in an attempt to earn the gold medal, but I obtained 13/15 and 9/11 golds respectively across the two episodes on my first run through.
The small selection of content is also matched by a relatively small price — just AUD $20 (on Xbox, it’s $23 on PS4 for some reason) / USD $15 / £12. I’m pleasantly surprised to see a major franchise price its game adaptation appropriately, rather than charge a premium on name alone. That’s assuming the Season 3 episodes considerably increase the overall content. If all 12 episodes receive a corresponding game update, twenty bucks is looking like a steal. That’s what we are led to believe will be happening. If it’s successful, I expect the remaining episodes from the first two seasons will be added as DLC — the menu is definitely setup for both of them to have more than a single episode, and this version is sold as the “Season 3 Bundle”.
Complete The Grand Tour Season 3 final review (16 April)
The Grand Tour is over, at least in the format we’ve known for the past 17 years (it’ll be back with adventure specials only in 2020), and so is Season 3 of the companion experience. I’m loathe to call it a game, it isn’t really, it’s more a mildly interactive experience that extends your synergy with Clarkson, Hammond and May’s hijinks.
Now that we have the full package to contemplate, I’ve found it to be an enjoyable way to go beyond an hour of escapist television each week. While watching the show directly through the game isn’t the best way to enjoy it — I much prefer the 4K version through Amazon Prime — it’s a good alternative for a second viewing. I picked up plenty through the slightly reduced clips that form the bulk of the game; especially from the more informative films, such as the documentary-style Jim Clark feature and the history of the cars behind the Apollo space program. There were plenty of interesting tidbits I missed upon first viewing, and discovered while playing the corresponding game episode a few days later.
Behind the wheel, the game has helped me better understand the layout of tracks featured within the show. Now I know the Eboladrome like the back of my hand, whereas I only had a vague comprehension before playing the game; in much the same way that I only mapped the Top Gear Test Track in my mind after completing laps in Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Likewise, playing the opening episode of Season 3 taught me the intricacies of the custom-built racetrack at Cadillac’s old factory in Detroit, which didn’t fully come across in the show.
I’ve used the word “game” incessantly, but this isn’t really a game; gameplay remains its weakest facet. But in context of the entire season, some of the negativity around the launch content is misunderstood. As I said, this is an extension of the show. Video is the primary component, and the best gameplay, while simplistic, comprises of well recreated tracks that helped me better understand the adventures of three middle aged men that I will never be able to undertake myself.
Narrowing focus to the gameplay — each episode is about 20 minutes if you skip through the videos or closer to an hour with them — The Grand Tour Game is not a racing game; it’s an arcade puzzle game that features cars. The racing is simple, the drifting is ridiculous, and the photo and puzzle match sections are closer to WarioWare than Forza. The medals plastered upon each scene reinforce your aim is to win gold in each puzzle, and while that might entail winning a race, motorsport has little to do with it.
Of course, for all the well crafted tracks, there is twice as much filler content and repetition between the episodes. It’s clear some elements of the show were given more attention than others, where new tracks were built, whereas plenty of races (that aren’t actually in the show) use re-skinned variants of the same tracks; actually, sometimes there’s not even a new skin, despite being set on the opposite side of the world. But you get what you pay for. There must have been a mandate for around 20 minutes of gameplay per episode, and it’s clear when a pointless, reused race is just making up the numbers.
Having spent more time with it, I don’t understand the inclusion of the terrible split-screen multiplayer mode. There are more tracks, more cars and more items to use since launch, but it still feels like a PS1 relic, and a poor one at that. There’s no online mode, which has since disappeared from the stats menu, but you’re never going to play this with mates by your side over Mario Kart 8 or Crash Team Racing — or any multiplayer game at your disposal. The campaign embraces the interactive Grand Tour experience over gameplay, but the split-screen mode has to reply upon its racing prowess alone, and that’s rubbish.
Viewed in context, there’s plenty of fun to be had here for fans of the show. It’s a AUD $20 interactive puzzle game that expands The Grand Tour beyond the confines of an hour of television each week. It isn’t trying to be a fully fledged racing game, and it isn’t priced like one. Just as The Grand Tour show isn’t really about the cars, The Grand Tour Game isn’t really about the gameplay.
The Grand Tour Game was reviewed on Xbox One and purchased by the reviewer. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.