GRID 2 Review (360)
Codemasters are the Kings of the racing genre. It has been that way since the early nineties with the Micro Machines games. The success of Micro Machines was the foothold for Codemasters to move on to greater things, and in 1997 we saw the release of TOCA Touring Car Championship for PlayStation. It was widely recognised as the greatest racing game around until the release of Gran Turismo several months later. TOCA 2 followed a year later, and TOCA World Touring Cars came in 2000. By the time the next instalment arrived, so had a new generation of consoles. Codemasters took a new direction with their game by introducing a story to go alongside the racing. For the first time there was a real purpose to going round in circles on the track other than to beat your previous best time. TOCA Race Driver, released in 2002, was the birth point of the current series, and the creation of a new sub genre of Racing Sims, the CaR-PG. Fast forward past two sequels to the current generation of consoles and we were treated with Race Driver: GRID. The demo alone had over one million downloads within the first two weeks that it had been made available, showing the level of anticipation for a “Next Gen” Race Driver game. And once the game was out it was an undeniable success, scoring an average of 87% on Metacritic across all platforms, and won a BAFTA. Strange then it would seem that we would have to wait five years for a sequel, but when GRID 2 was finally announced the level of anticipation was even greater than that for its predecessor. But boy, was it worth the wait.
True to form, GRID 2 has a story behind the racing. Investor Patrick Callahan has enrolled your help in seeing his vision for a World Series of Racing (WSR) come to life. He first tasks you with going around the racing club scene to drum up some support from a variety of racing styles. This format covers the first three seasons of the game as you gain support in America, followed by Europe, before heading out to Asia. Each club has their own speciality and you have to show them that you have what it takes to beat them at their own game. Once you have enough support from each club, you can run a WSR championship before progressing to the next season. After gaining support in all three continents, the WSR can run as a major tournament and there is no need for you to revisit the club scene, other than to hunt down any event wins that may have eluded you via the “timeline”.
One of the major pre-release talking points about GRID 2 was Codemasters decision to abandon cockpit cameras. The decision was made even more baffling by the fact that in the original GRID, you were rewarded for driving in cockpit mode. However, it seems that despite the reward feature, the majority of players simply did not use it. Codemasters have done their research, and even made an announcement about their reasoning in an attempt to quell the internet hate that was the response to the decision. For those of you who clicked that link and thought tl;dr then the long and short of it is that only 5% of players used the cockpit camera in Race Driver GRID, and in order to free up the processing and memory used on a high detailed render of the inside of each car for other areas of the game, they decided it was a small sacrifice for a larger gain.
After reading this my first thought was, “I’m part of a 5%? Cool!” But after seeing how much better GRID 2 looks over its predecessor than I can certainly agree that the loss of cockpit cam is a VERY small sacrifice. And when reflections on a Metallic bonnet look this good, why would you want to be in a camera position that you couldn’t see them. Click on the image to the left and zoom in to understand my point here.
Obviously the most important part to any Racing game is the cars. The cars in GRID 2 look amazing, far better than you would perhaps be expecting. And there are plenty of them. The cars are split into four tiers, and you progress through the tiers as you progress in the WSR. Unlike with the predecessor, you can customise the livery of each one that you own individually. Throughout the single player mode you will build yourself up a sponsor list that you can select from, with each sponsor having its own objectives for you to complete, and these will be placed on each of your cars. You can select between a Race, Street and Drift layout of these sponsors, with some of them also offering alternative colour modes. Along with the sponsors you have a plethora of livery patterns to choose from, along with an extensive paint pallet to work with. Each time you get a new car in your garage, the first thing you are going to want to do is give it a new paint job before taking it out onto the track.
Along with beautiful cars are beautiful tracks to drive them on. As mentioned above there are three main regions; America, Europe and Asia. Each region has a mix of: Road, including Cote d’Azur, Okutama and the California Coast; Street, including Paris, Barcelona, Dubai and Chicago; and Circuit, including Brands Hatch, the Red Bull Ring and Yas Marina. One thing is consistent throughout, beauty. From the detailed surrounding landscape of the Red Bull Ring, to the magical lights and reflections of Dubai at night, to the cobbled roads and unique architecture of Paris. There is something to awe at in almost every circuit. That is if you can keep your car in a straight line long enough to look away from the road.
To go with the variety of circuit types and locations, comes a variety of race styles. Some of these are familiar to the GRID franchise, like Touge and Drift. Some are obvious ones like Race and Faceoff. But the latest addition to the mix is LiveRoutes. These are all in the city environments, and provide a new challenge for racers in the form of truly unpredictable racing. The route changes dynamically as you race, so you never know which way the next corner is going to take you. Even the mini-map is disabled in these events, which are usually defined by a set distance that you have to race. But even the end of the race can be hard to predict. How it works is that at various interchanges in a city route, the game selects which direction the track should go on the fly. Instead of learning a track, you end up learning a city, and the possibilities that each corner can bring. One time past a section it might be a tight left hander, the next time it could be straight on. Technically this is really impressive, as the relevant crowd, barriers and other trackside scenery are all moved about in the environment on the fly as required. The result is a truly unique experience where you are no longer trying to improve monotonous lap times, but instead are required to remain focused and vigilant through an entire race.
Along with the career events, you also get invited to Promotional events throughout a season. These tend to be one of two types, Overtake or Endurance. The Endurance races are mostly a LiveRoutes event over a certain length of time. The Overtake events have you pitting your racing skills against your patience. There will be a series of slow-moving pickup trucks driving around the course, and your challenge is to overtake as many of them as possible, scoring points for each overtake, and a limited time multiplier for successive passes. The patience part comes from avoiding contact of any kind, as it resets your multiplier. So you have to trade-off the fact you may lose one level of multiplier as you wait to get through a narrow section before making your next pass, over the risk of squeezing through without making contact and losing your multiplier altogether. These events at least offer you something to mix it up if you end up frustrated from any of the main events.
Racing in GRID 2 is packed with drama. The AI is very impressive and even quite aggressive at some times. Still there from the original GRID are the occasional AI mess ups that sees a car spinning out in front of you, or even occasionally ending up totalled. Fortunately the game allows you to capture moments like these into replays and upload them directly to YouTube. The system allows you to tag your video with preset descriptions such as “epic win” or “disastrous first corner,” and a quick search of “GRID 2″ on YouTube will have you viewing many gameplay videos of such moments. Back to the AI though. It’s competitiveness is most evident in the one-on-one events such as Touge and Faceoff. Starting from near the back of the grid in a race will have you struggling to fight for a podium position, given that you are playing on the appropriate difficulty level. Toggling whether damage is purely cosmetic or not can add not only to the realism, but the difficulty, as tight Road courses such as the Cote d’Azure will see you scraping as much with walls and cliff edges as you will your opponents.
Once you have exhausted the extensive singleplayer story (or before if you like) you can take your racing online. Whilst in the WSR you are racing for Fans, online you race for cash. You start off with just three vehicles, one for each of the first three tiers. Doing well in races online earns you cash which you can spend on either purchasing new cars, or upgrading and customising your current ones. Upgrade a car enough, and you could see it jump up a tier in classification. Most of the event types from singleplayer are also available online, and many parties will set up a series of events rather than just a single race. There are many options to fine tune your online experience, such as choosing if player contact is allowed, or again if damage is cosmetic or not. One of the nicest things about online is that you can still have individual customisation of your cars, although not only do you need to pay for each new coat of paint, but you have to unlock the various liveries and paint types through online progression. As a result of racing in your customised car, you feel even more proud when you win a race as you know your opponents saw YOUR car overtake them.
The original GRID was a fantastic game, though it had some issues and flaws. Mostly though it had become dated, and we had been left waiting so long for a sequel. Now that it’s finally here, GRID 2 is everything we could have hoped for. The lack of cockpit view has frustrated some hardcore fans, but once you understand their reasoning to leave it out, and see what they have been able to produce as a result, the decision is fully understandable. Everything there was to like about GRID has been improved on. The handling, AI, Flashbacks, vehicle damage are all there and better than before. And with the new features such as LiveRoutes, GRID 2 is going to keep many racing fans happy. At least until the next generation racing titles are out.
5 funky paints jobs on beautiful cars out of 5