Codemasters has been at this racing game thing for a while. Back in the 90s it was pumping out games based on Micro Machines – remember those? – and TOCA Touring Car Championship. The latter even predates Gran Turismo, the racing simulator that made everybody sit up and take notice.
Many years have passed between those PlayStation classics and today’s GRID 2. The graphics are all shiny now. There’s commentary during the races. Cars are faster, and all kinds of exotic. You can even race against your friends online. But, thankfully, there’s still a very fun formula and the action is incredibly enjoyable.
With GRID 2 Codemasters has dialled back the narrative-based racing experience. Previous Codies racers, including those in the DIRT series, inundated gamers with witty dialogue, a forced plot, and lots of things that detracted from the core action. There’s still a plot, here. You’re racing for Patrick Callahan, who’s intent on dominating the world of racing with his new formula: WSR, or World Series Racing. All through the game a mysterious narrator explains things as you progress, but it’s never more than 10 or 15 seconds of useful information. Even the in-race commentary comes from your engineer encouraging you to be more aggressive or updating you on your position. Welcome tips, and never repetitive. The presentation is very slick, too. There are custom inserts from known media partners like ESPN, and the text-message conversations based on your driver’s progress are customised to feature your display name.
The meat of the game is in the cars and tracks, and that’s where seasoned racers will take issue with GRID 2. PlayStation gamers will be familiar with Gran Turismo, and Xbox fans will know all about Forza Motorsport. Those two series pride themselves in the selection of cars they have available, giving gamers a choice of hundreds of cars from many different manufacturers. GRID 2 only has 58 cars in total, from 30 manufacturers. Some manufacturers only feature a single car, while others have up to five or six models.
When starting out you’ll be stuck with Tier 1 cars – the slowest of the four tiers – to compete in the first few seasons. As you become more experienced and your stature in WSR improves, you’ll gain access to the higher tiers, which will include some race-bred machinery and high-dollar exotica. There’s no garage or credit system. Eventually you’ll have access to all the cars, but when you start out there’s less than a handful to use, even outside of the career mode.
Despite the meagre selection of cars, there’s a fairly advanced physics system to master. Lightweight, turbo cars feel far more agile than American bruisers with their hefty V8s under the hood. Four-wheel drive cars grip and understeer, while rear-wheel driven models can punish you for being too liberal with throttle application. While it’s not the most realistic simulator, GRID 2 makes the racing feel the way you imagine it does. Gran Turismo and Forza can be boring and clinical, but here there’s a visceral feel to the action. The lack of total simulation also means it’s very accessible to newcomers and casual gamers.
While the selection of cars is lacking, the tracks aren’t. GRID 2’s locations vary from real-world tracks, like Indianapolis and Yas Marina, to real world cities, like Chicago, Dubai, Paris, and Hong Kong. In total, there are 82 track configurations across 14 locations, spanning 3 world regions – the US, Europe, and Asia. If you’ve ever visited any of the cities featured in the game you’ll be left smiling. The uneven, manhole-riddle roads of Chicago run between famous skyscrapers. Parisian cobblestone roads can be heard clearly as you blast over them at 200km/h. Even Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi’s famous racetrack in the desert, has the city in the distance, with fireworks going off during night-time races. There’s that old adage about the most important thing in buying property: location, location, location. In that respect, Codemasters has invested wisely.
While it’s not unique to GRID 2, this is the first serious racing game that’s featured dynamic tracks. Here, they’re called LiveRoutes, and what it means is that you’ll have a race on a track where the layout constantly changes. For instance, the Miami location comprises seven different routes. When racing on a Miami Liveroute, the track changes during the race to incorporate sections from all of those routes. It adds flavour, and means you’ll have to rely on your wits rather than learning tracks by rote.
Another first for a serious racer is the variation in race types. Forza Motorsport 4, on the Xbox 360, lets gamers create custom races in multiplayer lobbies, but the career mode has fairly straightforward “5 laps, first to cross the line wins” sorta racing. GRID 2 mixes things up, including point-to-point races along mountain passes, eliminator races that finish with only one car, drift events where style counts, and time attack gatherings, where only the fastest lap matters. It definitely helps take away from the monotony of regular circuit racing, with cars and physics that are far more realistic than games where you’ll usually see those events.
Hard-core simulator geeks won’t appreciate the line that GRID 2 straddles. It offers challenging, semi-realistic physics that most car fans will identify with, but keeps the action accessible for people who don’t care too much about finding the last tenth in a lap time. The lack of cars is disappointing, but sometimes choice is overwhelming. Here you can pick a favourite, master it, and remain competitive all of the time – as long as you don’t mind the occasionally aggressive artificial intelligence ramming you off the road, while remaining stubbornly planted if you try the same.
GRID 2, by Codemasters
Available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC
The good: Gorgeous visuals, variation in racing, visceral action
The bad: Small selection of cars, aggressive AI