Coming from the legendary team who brought us Toca Touring Cars and the first Grid game comes their second stab at the Grid franchise with Grid 2. Can the Codemasters racing team bring the magic they wove onto the asphalt back with a handbrake turn and a well executed donut?
In the game, after the first race you do you are invited to join the WSR. World Series Racing is a new motor-sport series being created by entrepreneur Patrick Callahan into which you are inducted and become a key player in turning it into a world wide franchise. This is pretty much it for story but lets be honest its a racing game, no-one came here for a gripping story line with twists and turns. We came here to drive well gripping cars over beautiful tracks with twists and turns.
The game does stick to its story though, and that brings with it a sense of immersion not normally found in games that aren’t pure driving simulation. Snippets of footage from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and all the other things that constantly spam our phones when we are on the porcelain throne add a reason to the fan ticker which is the games main game-play progress checker that I’ll detail in the next paragraph. Along with nods like real world sponsors and some extremely real feeling ESPN discussion are a nice distraction from the driving and show an attention to detail that Codemasters are known for the world over.
Anyway this fan thing I mentioned before. Essentially instead of earning money to unlock more cars or buy licenses you attract fans to yourself and to the WSR as a whole. When you get enough fans through a number of activities; winning races, competing in races and completing sponsor objections, you are gifted with more things to do. It doesn’t give you the same heart pounding sense of achievement as seeing $10,000 dollars go onto your splash screen but it does something different and unique to Grid 2.
Unlocking these events also leads to unlocking cars, which is what you will be doing a lot of. Grid 2’s single player mode throws away the ideas of money like some sort of utopian society where we pay for things with hugs and the grass sings to you when your dog squats over it and simply lets you unlock the cars you want. At almost every turn you have the opportunity to unlock one of two cars while the other is places into a vehicle event which if you win gives you the other car. I like the system but not winning races to save up enough currency to unlock my next car means I don’t really take a great deal of notice of what goes in. I just drive and drive until the next event unlocks.
This is by no stretch of the imagination a bad thing though, because the driving never feels like a slog or a bore. Tracks boil down to a slightly different layout or length of track for each event with them rarely being reversed or changed. With the licenses Codemasters has thanks to its F1 franchise the lack of use for these does make me wonder what they were smoking but don’t worry. Just because all the tracks in Chicago feel the same do not be disheartened. They are no less thrilling.
Like an artists brush dancing over a canvas every track every corner every landmark is placed in exactly the right spot to make it feel good. A straight never feels like its been wedged in to let you get some speed and a corner never violently skews you off the track just to add 5 seconds to your game time. Levels of detail feel almost surgical with even the game pad vibration motors getting in on the action. Vibration motor syncing with the sounds and texture of roads especially on the cobbled streets is a slight touch but a brilliant little nod that really takes you out of your gaming chair and onto the track feeling for where that lump is for the breaking point or letting you know exactly how much your car can take.
Feeling, now there was an interesting word to use there. Why did I pick feeling when I could have just said looking. That’s because each car is so brilliantly well tuned and different that when you are used to driving them you don’t feel like you’re simply driving a car in a game. Working out exactly how far to push the car and the game feeding back information to let you know when you are just about to plunge over the precipice of grip is this game’s standout feature. This isn’t only present when switching between a Rear Wheel Drive car and a Front Wheel Drive car but even between two cars that are of almost exactly the same stats. When changing your vehicle you might have to take a few corners to get used to it but when you are in sync then all your problems are thrown out the sunroof. Be it driving in the tense elimination races which require a fine balance between brute passing capability and driving care so you don’t come last and get knocked out after 20 seconds or in the touge races where contact is expressly disallowed and if you fall 5 seconds behind your opponent they win by default.
All this is incredibly important when you come to the feature which really sets this game apart. LiveRoutes. It sounds like some ridiculous Google Map style system for Xbox Live but it is in fact Grid 2’s party piece and it needs a grid girl all of its own. After racing a LiveRoute track you know why all of the corners are made how they are, why there are not a massive amount of tracks and locations. This makes the track for you in procedurally generated sections and gives you no map. No track guide. When you first hit a LiveRoute you will find yourself flabbergasted as you look down to the bottom left of your screen to find nothing there. But combining the feel of each car and learning each city and its landmarks you have to guess how much speed you’ll need into that upcoming corner and what’s going to come next. This feature makes Grid 2, hands down without a doubt into the best racing game of the past year.
It does have its problems though. Simulation fans will not be too happy that there are no options for changing all of the little details like tyre pressures and aerodynamic component angles and the lack of the cockpit view but the other views do make up for it. Some people really don’t like the over the bonnet view but I’m a fan of having my view there instead of behind a load of gubbins and gadgets or hanging off the front of the number plate.
The sounds of the game have one minor niggle too. There is no music while you are normally driving and no option to turn it on. This is great for if you are playing for an hour or two but over extended periods only hearing that engine noise even for a devote fan of motor-sport does start to grind on the gears a little. Pair this up with the race engineer saying your name and pointing out the painfully obvious with what sounds like a whole 10 or maybe even 11 stock phrases and you might think they have given the sounds a miss. You would think wrongly however as the musical accompaniment of the final minute of a race or the last lap does get the heart pounding and raises the tension to palpable levels. If only they could have brought this music to the rest of the laps and track.
The User Interface can feel a little off at times as well missing the pit box by a matter of feet. When you are racing the same events in a series the game doesn’t automatically put you to the next race in that set. Ok that’s a minor oversight I’ll admit but it really does peeve me off that I can’t just press yes yes and go, I have to press yes make sure I’m on the right one and then press go. The vehicle style customisation screen also while being in-depth does take a good 15 minutes to get used to before you can get a car that looks reasonable. This 15 minutes lost is gained back when the game overlays each of your designs onto every car in a way that doesn’t repeat over each different model and still keeps them looking good….usually.
Overall Grid 2 is a brilliantly packaged part arcade part simulation racer that will keep you racing and having fun for hours and hours as you drift through each track and rewind time to correct your mistakes while tuning your driving style to each car. There is something missing though. Something I can’t put my finger on. When playing the first Race Driver: Grid it grabbed me buy the scruff of the neck and flung me into a deep game filled with what felt like almost endless hours of fun while Grid 2 seems to have missed that boat by mere seconds. What it actually is I can’t nail down but without it it doesn’t matter. If you’re a driving fan looking to sit in your Recaro seat and belt up in your 5 point harness then you could do much worse than Grid 2.