Developers: Codemasters Racing
Can we stop with this whole "narratives don't belong in racing games" business now please? I like context, it shows a modicum of imagination beyond the mechanical and, while story and setting should never be a smokescreen for poor gameplay basics, it provides something to connect to outside of racing your chums online.
The heyday of Codemasters' Race Driver series was a shining beacon for squashing narrative and racing together. Yes, it was often a bit cheesy, but it was also frequently highly entertaining. Such is the story of World Series Racing when it comes to GRID 2. You are a plucky young street racer, and Patrick Callahan is an utterly minted entrepreneur with dreams of starting a global league of racing carnivalia. He packs you off across the world to race in his livery, to drum up fans and sponsors, and to impress your fellow professional petrolheads across a range of driving disciplines.
There are 14 locations across three different continents, and every race type you could want from simple point to point speed fests in the hot Middle-Eastern sun, to snaking, drifting challenges on hazardous coastal roads where amateurish sliding can lead to fatal falls, to overtaking as many pickup trucks as you possibly can as a Parisian crowd roars your name. You'll race through five seasons with WSR, and the game, though, slow to start, explodes with mock social media drama, news bulletins and ESPN-esque presentations of your victorious feats. Rivals present themselves, and there's always someone to beat, new fans to be won, and that enigmatic millionaire backer of yours to impress.
This approach does, however, make for some heavy-handedness when it comes to what you can do as a player. Games such as Forza Horizon and Need For Speed: Most Wanted have fed players a diet of freedom and openness -- giving gamers the freedom to choose what they want to drive and when. GRID 2 takes things back to 2008, with the swathe of events, diverse though they are, essentially dictated to you by the WSR organisers. The idea is that you're ana adaptable driver who can handle anything; you'll just have to prove that, is all.
Much has been made of the game's 'TrueFeel' system by Codemasters, but don't mistake this for the simulation modelling associated with Turn 10 and Polyphony. GRID 2 is a slippery-slidey affair, where oversteer is king, and quickly learning how to flick the back-end of your vehicle back into place is absolutely essential. The tracks rise and fall, and the vehicles in this sequel are much weightier and far more distinct than they were in the original. Although Codemasters have not gunned for simulation modelling, each car has a distinct personality, and there'll be some that, much like a wilful stallion, you'll have to spend a few practice races breaking in.
The AI is fantastic, with a little rubber banding making things feel interesting, and keeping races tight on the higher difficulty settings, but crucially GRID 2 never feels cheap or unfair. The Flashbakcs are now instant rewinds, and you get five per race. But your fellow racers will make mistakes and attempt to take risky decisions to block your passage or catch up to you. They'll cut occasional corners, attempt overtaing moves where there's questionable space, and in over-reaching, they'll sometimes spin-out and end up in a crash. The personalities that begin to become familiar will almost always head out to n early lead that you'll have to claw back little by little.
It's a seriously entertaining racer when playing solo. Your fans, conveyed in a little number after each race to begin with, will soon be visually represented in the stands and, by the time you've swept through the European locations in season two, and are thrashing cars around Asia in season 3, you'll see support swell at your side on race day. Codemasters have presented an outstandingly realised career mode here, with the pomp and circumstance in context matched only in thrilling fashion by the on-track action.
Exactly the way it should be.
It's worth taking a moment or two as well to consider the sights and sounds of the game. Criterion's relatively identikit cities and Forza Horizon's bland Colorado sandbox are put to shame by the locations and vistas that you find yourself speeding through in GRID 2. The cars themselves look utterly gorgeous, and the tracks themselves are well detailed and a feast for the eyes. The sound design, too, is impressive, and I spent a good five minutes just going in and out of a tunnel to appreciate the noise difference because...well...I'm a bit weird like that.
However, there's one big omission, and it will be a dealbreaker for some: cockpit view. Codemasters have already explained away the absence of the in-car camera perspective, saying that only 5% of players used it. However, the alternatives are less than ideal, with the bonnet and bumper cams offering little by way of spacial awareness in a game that often hinges on knowing exactly where your competitors are. We talk a lot about immersion here on Dealspwn and with good reason, and staring at the back-end of the vehicle you're apparently driving can reduce the sense of the epic to a feeling that all you're doing is simply glorified R/C.
Thankfully, though, the depth in content that is exhibited across the five seasons of frantic racing in singleplayer is echoed fantastically online, where all of he modes, cars, and spectacular features ar readily replicated for a multiplayer audience. Flashbacks return in a modified form in certain events, a ranking system of sorts (though clunkier than Autolog, it must be said) called RaceNet links together every facet of the game, and there are levelling opportunities and upgrades to be had, plenty of livery options to unlock, and rivalries with your friends to be had.
The new Live Routes features, which sees collections of track randomised and deployed in real-time to build an ever-changing experience, work very well in multiplayer. Live-streaming a racing course that can shift things up at any moment often makes for thrilling encounters, particularly given the abandonment of the little HUD course map, though that's mainly because you can o longer gauge the proximity of other vehicles. However, the novelty of the mode itself wears off after a bit, and isn't as satisfying when playing with AI-controlled racers because, when all is said and done, the true thrill of GRID 2 comes from finally perfecting that sweeping, drifting final turn and pipping a rival to the post after studiously learning the best driving lines on a phenomenally hand-crafted course.
All in all, GRID 2 is a cracking racer, one enriched with the unmistakeable DNA of its predecessor. But it spits and polishes to present a good game cuched within the confines of a genre that its older brother helped push forward rather than seeking to bust through boundaries again. Moreover, as a content option, Codemasters already arguably went one better with the magnificent DiRT 3, which pretty much has a mode for everyone and their gran. That's not to say GRID 2 isn't a fine game,, because it really is, and it's nice to see a return for the Race Driver series in a field now dominated by games that owe much to that 2007 opus.
- Impressive aesthetics
- Handling model provides nice balance between sim and arcade driving
- Great range of modes and race types
- Very well paced
- Expansive multiplayer
- New ideas rather lacking
- No cockpit cam
- Lack of driver aids might put off more casual fans
The Short Version: GRID 2 isn't interested in making new friends or pandering to an audience that doesn't get skin-of-the-teeth racing. It lines you up with a whole bunch of personality-ridden vehicles and dares you to tame them in a game that offers a rich and varied content diet. It demands that you follow its rules and then challenges you to be the best. And it's a lot of fun, even if it does play it safe much of the time.