Looking back at the huge catalogue of racing games that came out in the 7th generation of console gaming, I would say that Codemasters’ original GRID was certainly up there as one of my favourites. GRID was filled with variety and excitement, and it ended up being an addictive track race that looked gorgeous at its time of release. We must not forget that GRID was solely responsible for the fantastic idea of being able to rewind back a few seconds to correct a mistake in a race, thanks to its Flashback mechanic, which has made its way into other Codemasters racing games and even Microsoft’s Forza franchise.
It’s crazy to think that such a well-received game had to make its fans wait five years to get a sequel. Codemasters were seemingly ignoring the franchise in favour of pumping out Dirtgames (Dirt 2, Dirt 3 and Dirt: Showdown) and their recent wave of great F1 titles. Finally, we no longer have to wait, as GRID 2 is here, but it is a title that has some minor design flaws and also plays it safer than what its predecessor did back in 2008.
GRID 2 tries to bring a sort of story element to its career progression. Longtime fans of Codemasters’ racing games might remember the TOCA Race Driver series implementing the same idea. In regards to GRID 2, it’s about one American billionaire called Patrick Callahan, who is launching a new franchise – World Series Racing (WSR) – and has noticed your dazzling skills in the game’s opening introduction race. From there, you become the material to promote WSR across the world and are given the challenge to bring more people to the sport. How do you do this? By beating all the other rivals around the world. Little videos accompany the career mode to build this story up, but in reality, it’s nothing more than a piece of media – a fancy cover – to build the atmosphere and setting as the organisation gets larger throughoutGRID 2’s five seasons.
An assortment of events populate each season in GRID 2. For example, the first season is set in America and involves racing from point A to point B, but then you move to season three, which is set in Asia and includes events like Touge and Drifting. Along the way you’ll also get to participate in elimination races and overtake challenges. It’s fantastic that the game is throwing a varied amount of events at the player, but one problem I had was that you spend too long racing in the same location. By the time I was getting to the end of season one, I was a little bored of racing in America, due to the sheer lack of different tracks. It would have been much better to have more locations from America featured, instead of the four featured – California, Miami, Chicago, and Indianapolis – with slight modifications to them. By the time season four comes around, the player has already seen every location and event type, and the only thing the game can do is switch the lights off for some nighttime racing. It’s like GRID 2 blows its load too early before coming to a finish in season five.
Even the newly advertised LiveRoutes feature doesn’t do much to compensate for the feeling of déjà vu. LiveRoutes is Codemasters newly implemented course changer and was one of the big bullet points in the game’s pre-release marketing. These events take the track layout and dynamically alter the route you drive through, making it different each time you race in this event type. No map is displayed, so it’s all about keeping an eye out for what is coming. Track changes are done by switching barriers, so where once was a right corner might become a straight or a left into another area of the track. The idea itself is good, but in a racing game likeGRID 2, the unexpectedness of a track can become chaotic for the player, especially one who wants to excel at getting the best time. I find that not knowing what corner is coming defeats the concept of the racer knowing the track to excel at it. At least this isn’t forced upon the player much, as LiveRoutes is one of many events throughout the game’s career mode.
Making your way through the seasons introduces more powerful cars. Even though GRID 2 includes around 45 cars, it manages to cover a range of types. There’s nothing here in the same vain as Toca: Race Driver, where you had Supertruck, Rallycross and various other car events, so apart from the Tier 4 race machines, the rest of the vehicles in GRID 2 are general road cars set for racing on circuits and street courses. Tier 1 includes such vehicles as BMW 1 Series (Sports Coupe class), Dodge Charger (American Muscle class), Ford Focus ST (Hot Hatch class) and Nissan Silvia Spec-R (JDM Classic class), and as you work your way up through the tier list you come to get your grubby hands on some speed machines, like the Ariel Atom 3 or the McLaren MP4-12C. Someone is going to have their favourite cars missing from the list, but what’s available feels evenly distributed across the world’s manufacturers.
Once again, Codemasters has managed to pinpoint that line between realism and arcade racing, allowing anyone who enjoys racing games but isn’t into those that try to represent a serious realism of the sport to come to GRID 2 and get in with humble ease. Cars handle differently as well. Some vehicles are prone to sliding more easily than others, while some will stick the roads like glue, creating a sense of learning and adaption needed for some of the higher-tier cars. No matter how you play, you should be able to find a car type that fits your driving style. The damage system gives an option of visual or complete, with the complete damage model affecting steering and speed of the car if the vehicle takes too many bangs or crashes. Of course, if you mess up or trash your car, you can always use one of the limited flashback tokens to rewind the car back into a more favourable position.
AI, for the most part, is good and feels to have been given an aggressive characteristic, as these racers aren’t afraid to grind metal with metal with the player. While in most race events this is fine, in one event that it is completely infuriating is the Touge. If you've not heard of Touge, then let me explain. The concept is that two racers go head-to-head in a point-to-point race with a best out of three to decide the winner. No cars are allowed to touch each other in the race, as this will end in a disqualification for the offender. GRID 2 has a funny way of deciding its wrongdoer – in other words, it’s always you (well, it seemed that way). I break for a corner, the other car comes from behind and hits me, disqualifying me. I turn for a corner, the other car comes from the inside and hits me, disqualifying me. It’s an event I refuse to play online, because whatever calculation is checking for the disqualification is seriously messed up. Some guy drove full speed into the side of me on a corner, pushing me into the barrier, and – yes, you guessed it – I was flipping disqualified. It’s so damn frustrating.
Ignoring Touge, the rest of the online multiplayer is great fun. Players can set up their own playlist of events and what cars to use. At first, the online is limited with its vehicle selection, since the online multiplayer has its own level-up system. Hitting a target level will unlock more cars, which you can then purchase with the earnings you get from taking part in race events online. I did find it a little weird that the single-player and multiplayer were split up. None of the single-player is carried across into the multiplayer, so you are required to earn all your cars again. What’s even more baffling is that the multiplayer has a performance upgrade system for cars, which is non-existent in the single- player. It’s weird to see a multiplayer aspect of a racing game seem more robust than the single-player outing. The last bit of online content is that the single-player has an “Autolog” style leaderboard for each event, so you can match how fast your time was against a friend’s. Signing up and logging into Codemasters’ RaceNet will offer weekly challenges and new rivals who are around the same skill level as you. Overall, it’s a good online system with entertaining multiplayer, but if you’re already bored of the tracks from single-player, then you won’t find anything here to change that.
GRID 2 is a fantastic looking game on the PC. The cars look great, which makes it a total shame that Codemasters felt the need to rip out the cockpit view, because I can imagine it looking spectacular in this game’s engine. The tracks shine with plenty of details and look great to drive around. Courses can sometimes feel empty, but when a little squirrel runs across the road or a plane swoops in the sky, all those tiny additional appearances give the tracks more personality to stand out from each other. Codemasters are known for their awesome menu designs, but GRID 2 plays it safe in this regard. Menus still offer great presentation, but not as much flair and animation is going on this time around. Sound design is brilliant, with loud, roaring car engines blasting out, giving that sense of power coming from high-performance cars.
The return of the GRID franchise isn't as ground-breaking as I would have hoped for from a sequel to one of my favourite racing games this generation, but that doesn't mean it’s not a great racer. Codemasters still brings that balance of simulation and arcade racing with great graphics, quality sound and solid gameplay, but what stops GRID 2 from being this generation’s swansong racing game is its sheer lack of any real new ideas that made the first GRID such a cutting-edge racer for its time