The first few moments of Grid 2 should be a disaster. You're strapped into a bruising muscle car and immediately asked to negotiate the corners of downtown Chicago amid a cavalcade of roaring V8s. But rather than serving as a messy reminder of why so many driving games ease you in with something a bit more sensible, this opening race is a perfect example of what makes Grid 2 such a blast. This is a game that takes every opportunity to remove the barriers between you and the thrill of all-out street racing. With an exciting career mode and handling that strikes a great balance between arcade and simulation, it succeeds brilliantly at that task.
Whether you're drifting through the hills of rural Japan or careening along California's Pacific Coast Highway, Grid 2 gives you the tools to perform some truly spectacular automotive feats. This is all thanks to a driving model that borrows equally from the forgiving handling of an arcade racer and the demanding physics of a driving simulator. Cars are nimble and highly responsive, but there's a very real relationship between your tires and the surface beneath them. You can give up only so much traction before a drift sends you spinning into a barricade, while accelerating too quickly out of a corner can spell disaster if you've forgotten that you're in a rear-wheel drive. There's this delicate balance between the flashy and the grounded, but it's a balance that Grid 2 pulls off extremely well.
It's only fitting that with such an empowering driving model, Grid 2 treats you as an ambassador to the sport rather than a no-name up-and-comer. You're the poster child of the newly formed World Series of Racing, an organization designed to bring together drivers from all corners of the globe. Your job is to win over these international stars and convince them to join the cause. You do this by traveling the world and competing against everything from muscle cars in Miami to hot hatches in Barcelona to luxury sedans in Dubai. You'll even find yourself driving in supercars on real-world circuits, whether it's the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the relatively new Algarve Circuit in Portugal. All the while you're earning new fans to bolster the WSR, a sort of currency that propels you from one event to the next.
Grid 2 features no shortage of spectacular locations, and every one of them looks gorgeous. From the golden sunset above the construction cranes of Dubai to the glittering lights of nighttime Paris, these environments feature an exceptional attention to detail. The varied selection of cars looks just as great, no matter if they're in pristine condition at the start of the race or shedding metalwork left and right via the game's frighteningly convincing damage system. The whole presentation is simply top-notch, right on down to the immersive soundscape of roaring engines and squealing tires. The frame rate occasionally drops during vicious collisions, but for the most part, Grid 2 is a smooth and technically impressive racing experience.
There's a lot more to Grid 2 than its impressive presentation. This is a robust package with a lengthy and exciting career mode. You're constantly being introduced to new driving disciplines and event types. There are standard offerings such as elimination and time attack, as well as more specialized events such as drifting contests and touge, an automotive ballet where two cars race through narrow mountain roads and any collisions lead to an immediate disqualification.
But the most fun can be found in an event type called live routes. Normally urban locales like Miami and Dubai are divided into six or so predefined tracks, each taking you on a tour through different areas of the city. What live routes do is generate a dynamic layout that stitches together sections from every single one of those six tracks. It's an event where you never know what's around the next bend, which keeps you on your toes as you maintain an exacting focus on each randomly selected turn.
The focus of Grid 2's career mode is very much about getting you on the road and having you experience one crazy race after the other. This is not a game that wants you to spend too much time in the garage. Instead of buying cars and upgrading engine parts, you're simply awarded a choice of vehicles after milestone events. As your garage expands, you develop a collection of grippy all-wheel drives like the Audi RS5, demanding track cars like the KTM X-Bow R, and all manner of other makes and models. With such a varied selection of cars and event types, there's a deeply satisfying sense of challenge in learning the nuances of each vehicle and deciding which one is best suited for a particular event. Rarely does the most powerful car win by default; Grid 2 demands a familiarity with your garage and is all the more rewarding for it.
Even with its forgiving handling, Grid 2 can get quite challenging--especially toward the latter stages of the career mode. There's no driving line to guide you through each corner, and full vehicle damage is enabled by default, meaning your car starts to pull and sputter if it has taken too many hits. As the game ramps up in difficulty, you may find yourself wishing for optional driving assists, which are sadly lacking here--your only option is to raise or lower the difficulty level. Fortunately, Grid 2's fleet of vehicles are such a blast to maneuver that you'll be more than up to the task. Add in the ability to rewind time after a nasty accident, and what you get is a game that challenges you but rarely leaves you frustrated.
As engrossing as Grid 2's career mode is, it's just as easy to get sucked into the multiplayer side of things. Besides giving you the opportunity to race all those same tracks and event types in a competitive online environment, Grid 2's multiplayer serves as a nice counterpart to the career mode by allowing you to get a little more hands-on with your collection of cars. Racing online earns you cash to buy new vehicles, which you can tune by upgrading the engine, drivetrain, and handling. And while you're keeping tabs on your garage, the game is keeping tabs on you by tracking your driving style and ensuring that you're matched up with drivers who race just as clean or dirty as you. The multiplayer is a terrific addition to an already excellent game, and the ability to play local split-screen is just icing on the cake.
Whether you're competing online or off, Grid 2 offers a fantastic blend of arcade and simulation racing. This is a game that wants you to experience the thrill of breakneck street racing, and gives you all the tools necessary to do just that. With terrific handling, gorgeous environments, and a broad selection of event types, Grid 2 slams on the gas and rarely slows down.