It’s not enough anymore for a racing game to simply offer challenging tracks and cars that are fun to drive. If it were, Grid 2 would be an instant classic. Spanning across three continents, the locations and tracks here offer more variety than you’ll get in most racing games. The car selection encompasses several categories and they’re all fun to drive without losing their sense of individuality. In many respects, Grid 2 is the game its seminal predecessor deserved, yet it some ways, it isn’t.
Grid often got described as a game that fell somewhere between arcade and simulation, but that only described how its cars handled. What made it a classic though was how that driving model combined with genius track design, stunning visuals, an immersive cockpit view, its bone-crunching damage model, and the array of assist options you had at your disposal. In Grid, Codemasters gave you the freedom to play it the way you wanted to.
Gone is the ability to turn off driving assists like ABS, traction control and stability management, which came as a rude shock.
With Grid 2, a sense of arrogance seems to have crept in, with several of those options being taken away in a quest to deliver a tailor-made experience. Codemasters thinks it knows how you will like to play Grid 2, and so that’s the only way you can play it. The cockpit view is gone because only 5% of players used it, they said. How about perfecting it and working towards increasing that percentage rather than dropping the feature entirely? Also gone is the ability to turn off driving assists like ABS, traction control and stability management, which came as a rude shock. Flashbacks, a feature that Grid first introduced, were handled well in the first game; each time you used it, you made less money. This time, there’s no adverse consequence to repeatedly using them.
It all gives you the sense that Grid 2 is aiming to deliver a more targeted experience that is leaning more towards the casual player. That’s unfortunate because Grid offered that as well, while still giving more experienced players the option to up the challenge. But while there seems to be a clear focus on how the game plays, Grid 2’s career mode feels surprisingly directionless. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way you progress through the career. Rather than earning cash or levelling up, winning events earns you fans, which help you unlock new events. The way fans are earned seems quite arbitrary and aside from seeing a big number on-screen after each event, there’s really no incentive to earn more fans. Cars are also handed to you rather than being earned or bought, so you’ll feel no sense of accomplishment in unlocking one of your favourite cars.
With a lack of levelling up or performance upgrades in career mode, you won’t find yourself attached to any of the cars in your garage.
After a while, you’ll find yourself simply going through the motions, and the only reason to continue with the career beyond the second of its five seasons is to unlock more event types and cars. You’re no longer able to build a team or hire a team mate, which is quite surprising since throughout the career mode, you’ll be coming up against popular racing teams from around the world. With a lack of levelling up or performance upgrades in career mode, you won’t find yourself attached to any of the cars in your garage. There’s a noticeable lack of emotion in the career mode, other than the irritation of constantly having your boss Patrick Callahan and your race engineer in your ear.
It’s a shame that the career isn’t more engaging because the events and tracks it throws up are well worth sticking with it. From the grid-based streets of Chicago, to the narrow and treacherous roads of Cote d’Azur, to the winding climbs and drops of Okutama in Japan, the events are an absolute treat. Accompanying these tracks are new events, such as drift and Touge, both of which become available in the latter part of the career.
Gone are favourites like Spa and Circuit de la Sarthe; replaced by more flamboyant, less technical circuits like Yas Marina.
The one downside here is the reduced focus on circuit racing. Gone are favourites like Spa-Francorchamps and Circuit de la Sarthe; replaced by more flamboyant, less technical circuits like Yas Marina. There’s a greater prominence on street tracks this time around, with locations like Paris, Barcelona, Miami and Dubai included. One of the reasons for this is the new Live Routes feature, which dynamically changes the layout as you drive around it, piecing segments of the track together in random order. It’s a feature that could be a hit in multiplayer, but its inclusion in the career is questionable, considering you’ll be playing against the AI.
Speaking of AI, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more intelligent and human-like opposition in single-player racing games than what Grid 2 has on offer. Opponents will falter under pressure, block you off to hold a position, and won’t be afraid to trade paint with you or with other opponents. There’s a real sense of tension to the proceedings to constantly keep you on your toes, especially during long events and on narrow circuits where overtaking opportunities are at a premium.
From the cars to the scenery, everything looks impeccable, often bordering on photo-realistic.
The visuals also do a lot to build up that tension. The sense of speed is fantastic and there’s always a lot happening around the track you to throw you off your game, be it fans waving their arms over the track to smoke rising from the drains of Chicago. Codemasters have a reputation for creating great looking games and Grid 2 is no different. From the cars to the scenery, everything looks impeccable, often bordering on photo-realistic. The piss-filter has never really bothered me but others will be glad to know that it is sparingly used here, resulting in a visual style that is full of colour. The PC version performs flawlessly even on my mid-range Core i5, GTX 650 Ti powered rig, consistently sticking to 60 fps on high settings.
The lack of direction in the career mode is even more disappointing considering how well thought out Grid 2’s completely separate online portion is. Here, you can level up cars through performance upgrades to give you an alternative to buying new cars. You will earn cash from events and level up your profile as well, both of which will give you access to more cars and upgrade options. All of the event types from the career mode are available online and there’s also an asynchronous mode that pits you against a ‘rival’ that RaceNet picks for you. There are already plenty of players online on the PC version and that number should pick up drastically post-launch.
In all of this, I must stress that aside from some questionable design decisions, both in terms of career progression and the lack of assist settings, the driving model that Grid 2 does present is exemplary. Codemasters often get criticised for how floaty cars feel in its games, but there’s none of that here. Cars feel more weighted now and while handling is more on the arcade side, there’s still a degree of challenge that will keep all interested. More experienced players will want to start out at higher difficulties though.
Having waited five years, this isn’t quite what most Grid fans would have had in mind, but like last year’s brilliant Forza Horizon, it’s still the sort of game this genre needs. With its new targeted approach, it addresses the Need for Speed audience, and it blows the competition out of the water. I can’t help but be disappointed in Codemasters for taking away so many of what made me love the first game, but for what it is, the quality of Grid 2 is undeniable.
- Motherboard: Gigabyte H61ND2V
- Processor: Intel Core i5–3470 @3.20 GHZ
- Graphic Card: Zotac GeForce GTX 650 Ti 2 GB
- Ram: Kingston HyperX 8 GB DDR3
- Power Supply: Corsair 450W
- Peripherals: CM Storm Quickfire Pro keyboard, Logitech G400 mouse, Xbox 360 controller