Grid 2 (or #GRID2 as the menu screen would have you believe) is the latest offering from the studio that was awesome enough to put Violet Berlin into Micro Machines 2. Codemasters have ditched their back catalogue of games like ‘Rockstar Ate My Hamster’ and ‘Dizzy’ and now just concentrate on their racing brand. Although this is a shame for retro gamers like me, it does mean that Codemasters have had the time and the focus to really put a dent in the racing game industry, they without a doubt, bring the fight to Forza and Gran Turismo.
I only played the Nintendo DS version of GRID (no hashtag), and from what I remember it was a solid little racer on a platform that wasn’t built for it. Now I’ve played the sequel on the Xbox 360 I can see why the series has so many console fans. When a fledgling series produces another release it’s hard not to compare it to its peers, in this case the obvious comparisons go towards Gran Turismo and Forza, two console exclusives for each of the big players, sorry Nintendo.
Gran Turismo has a stick up its arse, there’s no two ways about it. It’s a popular series and one I’ve enjoyed to some degree over the past couple of iterations, however it’s not without its flaws, or rather what I see as flaws and others will see as its selling point, mainly the overly complicated nature of it. The requirement to arbitrarily change the oil is my main gripe with Gran Turismo, it forces this weird simulation mechanic on you without actually needing it. Forza on the other hand is a bit more relaxed, it has the car porn elements to it, especially with the AutoVista section, but also the actual racing is quite realistic and forces you to consider braking lines and the optimum overtaking areas. #GRID2 takes these ideas and scoffs at them. #GRID2 is the frat boy of the collection, it’s cool, slightly brash, mocks its professors but at the same time it is smart enough to get into university and earn its place among its peers.
#GRID2 is an arcade racer which is grounded in reality. It sounds like an odd description but it really is the best way to explain it, using front wheel drive or rear wheel drive makes a difference to your cornering as does the weighting of each vehicle, on the flip side there’s an achievement asking you to roll your car 7 times like Bond did in Casino Royale. Crashing is not encouraged directly, but by having it as awesome as it is Codemasters have essentially told the players to go wild. The crash effects, damage and style are all factors in making me drive more aggressively. That first time you send your car scraping along a wall or fence you will see spark effects spray along behind you and I must say this is just one of many beautiful examples of lighting in this game and other games.
One of the main reasons to keep progressing through #GRID2 is the graphics, this is a shallow thing to say, I’ve never been a graphics slut, I acknowledge when a game looks good but I don’t go chasing after an experience just because it looks pretty. #GRID2 has other qualities like fun game play and a crazy amount of features, but it’s design is just awesome. The menu systems are simple and effective, the introduction to the cities are well presented, the crash damage is brutal and finally the tracks are just perfection. Some suffer from being tedious race tracks like the Red Bull Ring but then when you get the fun of Japan’s downhill track or Barcelona’s and Paris’ city tracks with 90 degree turns you can’t help but be in awe of the design. Barcelona for example features the golden hour of lighting, a perfect sun glows in the sky reflecting off the cars around you. This is one of the few times lens flare is acceptable in gaming.
The story in #GRID2 is interesting but not a reason to keep playing. You are essentially a no body trying to build a name for yourself, potentially above your station, using social media and Youtube, you are essentially a games journalist. With your raise in stardom you are trying to become the face and poster boy/girl for a new racing league some financial benefactor has dreamed up. This means going around the world and beating other people’s tournaments thus through humiliation making them want to join your league, I may have potentially misunderstood that process but it seems to fit.
#GRID2 isn’t just about racing, you must use your skills in driving to win elimination rounds, where last place is taken out to the race every 20 seconds, head to head, which pits you and one other opponent on a stretch of track and drift competitions where you must turn all Japanese and slide your car around corners. Certain races give you the opportunity to win a new car, the frequency in which you are given a new motor is pleasantly high, some races require a particular style of motor and #GRID2 prepares you by offering you one of two cars for free. The problem is that you get so inundated with cars by the 3rd and 4th season it’s hard to work out which is best. Rather than numbers their stats are shown in slider form meaning it’s nigh on impossible to spot the slight differences in a vehicles speed. Some sort of comparison would have helped a lot, green bar means better, red means worse. The cars can be styled to your particular tastes, with paint, decals, sponsor messages, wheels all superficially making your car your own. My particular choice was bubblegum pink with orange flames up the side.
Multiplayer is wonderfully supported, with a great online ranking system and style analysis. The game works out whether you’re a clean driver or someone who uses other cars to brake on corners and finds suitable opponents. One thing #GRID2 does great is split screen, local races are great fun and the usual sofa banter really is supported. Picking a track, a style of race and cars from your garage is quite easy and there’s very little graphical drop in the split screen races. In single player if you press Y or Triangle your car will rewind the action until you stop it meaning that you can avoid those nasty crashes a handful of times a race, obviously working this into multiplayer is hard so now the button just resets your car on the track, with a rolling start, but also quite far back. I tend to find that the reset car button will constantly put you in last place and as such is needed to be avoided.
The game has some issues holding it back from being perfect, balancing has to be the main one. I played through on Medium difficulty, this to me says that the game should pose a challenge but after a couple of attempts I should be able to achieve my goal. Early on in the regular races I realised that the game was more than a challenge but thought I could muddle through. The Sponsorship Challenges however fall under cruel and unusual punishment. The overtaking challenge sees you trying to overtake the most traffic whilst building a combo through not having any collisions, sounds simple, however the traffic doesn’t follow a set path really other than it’s going to take the tightest in line on corners meaning if you want to overtake you have to do the outside line and lose speed and time. Also they will crash into you taking away your combo, your single opponent seems to be awesome at this challenge as well but #GRID2 doesn’t display their current score meaning you don’t know whether your 100 points or 10,000 points away (as I was one attempt). I can win most races, I have come first nearly every time, maybe not on first attempt, but consistently top 3 and 1st once I learned the track. This could just be a personal issue on my part but that and the time trial runs to get new cars are both set too harshly by the people who made the game and as such are awesome at it.
#GRID2 comes out with all exhaust pipes blazing. The graphics are up there with the best, the lighting especially is just something that you should marvel at until it causes you to miss a corner and meet the side of the track. The sounds of the cars are as annoying and loud as they should be and are in real life, the few pieces of music that the game does feature are either glorious chill out tunes for the menus or foreboding tension builders on the loading screens. With some issues with balancing of the difficulty put aside this game deserves praise, it’s a fine game to be added to Codemasters truly astounding back catalogue and current range of IP’s. #GRID2 puts it’s own (wheel) spin on the current range of driving games and comes out with something that has depth but also fun. If you like racing games to start with then there is no reason not to own this, if you don’t like racing games then the cars look awesome when you smash them up.