Well well well, doesn’t this look familiar? It’s not been long since I took a look at DESYNC and yet here is a title that looks remarkably similar in visual style. This is GRIDD: Retroenhanced and as you can see it’s using that retro-futuristic, neon fuzz as a stylistic coat over an arcade style rail shooter. It looks sort of like a game you’d remember appearing in films like Johnny Mnemonic or Lawnmower Man.
As a rail shooter, it’s similar to games like Star Fox or Sin and Punishment. You fly forwards into the screen and are able to move around on a two dimensional plane. The level is procedurally generated with each new run, although in honesty there’s little variance to expect in how it will feel each restart. Obstacles come flying at speed towards the screen and you’re tasked with dodging and shooting your way through. Some of the obstacles form split second puzzles; where yellow blocks can be shot and destroyed red ones can’t and you’ll often encounter a wall of blocks that alternate between each colour. Quick reactions allow you to proceed, or you’ll fly directly into a block and take damage.
Compounding this are chrome blocks that reflect your own lasers back at you. At first they’re few and far between but can soon become a real problem, I probably die most regularly from my own itchy trigger finger.
As the game pushes on more active enemies start appearing, some with an ordinance of their own and others dressed in the same reflective chrome and goading you into a risky shot. You can collect weapon power ups as you go, which are handy in dealing out a lot of damage but only when you’re not on the receiving end. Get hit with a weapon upgrade and you can lose it, which can be utterly devastating if you’re the one who shot yourself. Extra health and shield pickups help to mitigate some of the damage you’ll likely take, but unless you’re better at the game then I am it’s likely a case of minimising where you can. Don’t worry, the chances are you’re definitely better at the game than I am.
The shooting and dodging sections are punctuated by a hacking system that mostly involves more shooting, albeit at the right time, and a fun little item pickup challenge. Complete three of the challenges and you’re rewarded with a backdoor into the system, essentially an extra life.
There’s a cyberpunk story hidden somewhere in GRIDD, although it’s mostly just set dressing for tone. A tone that’s sustained by it’s visuals and soundtrack. The visuals are fantastic, aesthetically pleasing and readable to boot – although the reflective chrome can sometimes be hard to discern. The neon grids evoke Tron and the 3d models could well have been vector sprites from an 8-bit age brought into a new dimension. It’s colourful and very, very 80s. The sound design is competent and fills in the game with a pulsing synthetic background beat but probably wouldn’t fare as well when removed from the experience as a whole.
I found the game rather clumsy at first and I wasn’t getting on with how quick it expects you to react but after swapping out from keyboard to gamepad the feel of the experience improved immeasurably. You might be able to find a more comfortable control scheme with your keyboard but I don’t recommend purchasing GRIDD unless you have a gamepad to hand.
GRIDD can go between moments of intense frenetic energy to slower, calmer moments that allow you to catch a breath. It features the former more than the latter but it’s calm moments help to contrast with it’s late game speed. I think a lot of that frenetic energy comes from it’s decision to lock the camera at a low angle. It didn’t help with the initial clumsiness I experienced but when you’re playing a game like this from such a low fixed vantage point it helps intensify that feeling of speed and makes dodging between the games mix of static and energetic structures very satisfying. It also makes it harder to figure out where you’re aiming, but the game accounts for that with a lock on that is, at times, a little too forgiving.
GRIDD has released on Steam already and should shortly be arriving on both Xbox One and Windows 10 Store.