Honestly, Top Gear ten years ago was unstoppable.
The charisma and stupidity which oozed from the musings and adventures that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May went on, and it was adored by everyone, even non-car lovers. In fact, when Clarkson had that “fracas” that jeopardized the future of the trio as TV personalities, it was close to a national disaster– A tragedy that Amazon foresaw, which is why The Grand Tour was quickly made.
Starting in late 2016, The Grand Tour quickly became one of Amazon Prime Video’s biggest hits for the service, raking in a fair few million viewers. Emulating the now-world-famous Top Gear but with a more bombastic edge to it, it was a perfectly acceptable return to form from the trio. It’s also an apt time to give the trio their long-awaited video game.
Seriously, with the three lads being as much of a cultural pillar as they are, it’s surprising that it took until 2019 for a video game to be made on the escapades, creatively titled The Grand Tour Game. Maybe it’s the difficulty of trying to capture the show’s format and energy, but nevertheless, Amazon Game Studios tried their hardest with this game being their console debut.
The plot is– Well, there is no plot. What Amazon Game Studios have done is quite smart and commendable. Instead of you being stuck in an open-world, or a TV studio attempting to cook up half-baked ideas, you’re actually playing the episodes… kind of. In-between various driving montages that would usually fluff up the commentary and “journalism” present, you flawlessly transition to a driving challenge relating to the vehicle or challenge they’re about to partake it.
This presentation is, quite frankly, a fair amount of genius. There has never really been a chance to show this kind of tech off or a show that could easily translate to a video game like The Grand Tour, and the game does it superbly. One minute, you’ll be watching Clarkson wax what can begrudgingly be called poetics about the latest Lamborghini, the next, you’re actually driving that Lamborghini and playing as Jeremy Clar– Hey, wait a minute.
For some reason, it broke immersion for me every time I turned the camera to see that Jeremy, James, or Richard weren’t actually driving the car in-game. You can’t even play as their professional driver, Abbie Eaton, either. It’s just some berk in a black helmet. It may not sound like much, but when you’re playing an episode like “Survival of The Fattest”, which has the trio in a 4×4 together with no windows, all you see are three nameless men, lifeless in black helmets.
Furthermore, the game continues to break immersion with the locations, or rather lack thereof. Season 3 of The Grand Tour had them trailing across the likes of Detroit, Southwest USA, Colombia, China, Georgia, Malaysia, France, Italy, so on and so forth, yet their environments are swapping between what feels like four or five preset ones. European locations swap between the same mountainous areas and the Scottish Highlands, Colombia and America are apparently the same. There are more examples, but my point is made already.
Nevertheless, The Grand Tour Game can still be called “fun”. Fairly fun, in fact, as the driving controls decide to take an arcade approach as opposed to a simulation-style affair. It plays really well. A lot of the cars have different responses to your input, and there’s enough variety in the challenges at first, along with more than enough content to go around.
Races through airports, drifting in Lancias, speeding through the Alps in hypercars, and Chinese hill climbs are all powerfully executed with Clarkson’s dry wit and terrible teeth. May’s commentary is phenomenal when he gets a chance in the spotlight, and Hammond’s call-to-arms when it comes to the more exotic vehicles on display is admirable to watch unfurl.
You’ve got the entirety of Season 3 to play along with the first episodes of Season 1 and 2, which set the tone better than the start of Season 3. S1E1 has the OTT return to form attempting to evoke emotions now the boys are back in town and a challenge showcasing the comedic finesse the trio possesses. S2E1 gets even stronger, and not just because of the terrifying crash Hammond had while in the Rimac Concept Car.
Once you get to Season 3, the quality of content see-saws between “fantastic”, and “barely serviceable”. Episodes 1, 2 and 3 offer interesting content but rely too much on tiresome, repetitious challenges like photoshoots or repeating the same challenge for May, Hammond and Clarkson. Episode 4 is where the fun kicks up a notch with sillier challenges and more of a focus on their antics.
Episodes 4 to 8 are top-notch entertainment, both to watch and play. Unique locations crop up before they’re used over and over again, the variety of cars keeps you refreshed and eager for more, and there’s no overlapping in terms of challenges or ways you can interact with the cars. I’d go so far as to say that Episode 7 is easily the best the season has to offer, but it goes downhill from there.
Episodes 9 to 12 continue faffing about with uninteresting challenges and relying less on the trio to carry the episode forward. I should mention that you aren’t getting the entire episode when you buy this game, by the way. The segments “Conversation Street” and the Celebrity Timed Laps/Celebrity Face-Off have been cut completely from the game, which I assume is to quicken the pacing of the game proceedings.
I understand the reasoning, but it sometimes leaves awkward gaps between transitions of gameplay and TV content, like some jokes or sound mixing. It doesn’t break immersion, because what immersion is there to break? It’s jarring to watch and hurts the strengths the show possesses when it focuses more on one thing than the other.
Hell, I wouldn’t even mind Conversation Street being present. Top Gear’s news section was fantastic at providing bits for the trio, with Jeremy’s childish critiques and violent manifestos only further bolstering the talent and entertainment the show could possess over rivals. These cut corners present in The Grand Tour‘s episode pacing and gameplay proceedings hurt The Grand Tour Game more than they help it move along.
The reason why I’m harping on this quite a bit is that what AGS replaced the talking head sections with is menial puzzles and wastes of time. Minigames where you have to finish a jigsaw that reveals a picture of a dashboard or a micro-game where you have to correctly zoom into an image in order for a picture to be taken. It’s a faff, a checkpoint that doesn’t belong and just makes you wanna race more.
Even when you do race, you have to suffer the punishment of listening to the most generic car commercial stock music ever produced. This is what makes the main game so insufferable: it’s this filler for more interesting musical pieces to take place. Pathetic attempts at atmosphere-breaking pianos, canned-up drums with no reverb– It’s like a Coldplay album if… if… No, actually, it’s like a Coldplay album.
It’s arduous to get through, but in reality, these critiques don’t matter. This may sound like an odd comparison, but like with the recent Google Stadia, this is quite clearly another experiment to see just how far one can go with interactive media. In Stadia’s case, it’s cutting out the middleman of game ownership, installs, and whatever provides comfort for a game player.
With The Grand Tour Game, they cut out the middleman of getting the trio into a studio, motion-capturing all of their faces, and writing completely new material that would be wasted due to the fact that “well, it’s a video game. Who cares about them?”. That boomer philosophy of not caring about the new age is gone. They can fuse past and present together, baby.
For a first attempt, it’s not bad, but this is going to be something that’s attempted once and only once. Say Amazon decide to try porting other TV series like this. They’ll just be glorified FMVs with less of a handle on player choice. The only thing they can do is keep pumping out new seasons of The Grand Tour until Richard Hammond eventually and inevitably crashes a blimp.
It does suck that Top Gear never got its game, though. There’s an endless smorgasbord of content there, like the Chernobyl challenge, destroying the Toyota Hi-Lux, the high-rise caravans, and the Botswana adventure. This is prime material for a veritable stream of challenges and content there.
In the end, The Grand Tour Game might be more boring than exhilarating, but it does offer bargain-bin entertainment for a bargain-bin price. Aside from Need for Speed, almost every other racing game has more going for it, but The Grand Tour Game does have an innovative, new angle when it comes to distributing media. That is commendable, no matter how much has been trimmed from the original product.
This Review of The Grand Tour Game was based on The Xbox One version of the game.
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