The age-old question seemingly for every racing game that comes out is whether it is “sim” or “arcade” in its styling. Make no mistake here, while its foundations in the TOCA/Race Driver series were decidedly sim-oriented, GRID 2 offers a distinct arcade-styled experience. With the original GRID achieving a Metacritic average of 87 expectations for the sequel are naturally high. So how does GRID 2 fare? It isn’t perfect but it certainly is a fun, playable experience.
GRID 2’s single player campaign is focused on the story of a World Series Racing (WSR) series. Founded by a social media savvy entrepreneur, you play as the star driver he has enlisted to help grow the WSR in various markets across the world. Social media inclusions and elements are everywhere as you increase your fan base by winning the various race events presented to you.
There are various types of race events including standard races, time attack, eliminations and even what are called touge events where two cars face off against one another in a race similar to what was found in Need For Speed: Carbon several years back. Events are located in several real world environments such as Paris, Chicago and California to name a few. Sadly, demolition derby events are nowhere to be found. These were a community favorite for us at COG. I understand how they don’t fit within the context of this game it is still disappointing to see such a great damage engine not utilized to its fullest potential.
The first GRID did a great job of really making it feel like you were driving the crap out of the cars. Despite a surprisingly steep learning curve in GRID 2 (even for this seasoned racer) this feeling of driving the wheels off of your car is present and it feels awesome. Rather than plop you in to some underpowered, FWD hatchback you are immediately thrust into the seat of a tail-happy American muscle car. Trying to tame this beast and running clean racing lines didn’t even get me close to winning early events. Only by listening to verbal prompts via my crew chief over the helmet radio did I realize that I was supposed to be embracing the RWD power. Hanging the ass end out through corners improved my times and ultimately earned me race victories.
Many players may mistake the new “TrueFeel” handling as Codemasters’ attempt to make GRID 2 a sim racer. That’s certainly not the case. Braking in pretty much any car you drive feels F1-like in performance and turn-in is almost instant with very little under-steer to speak of. Keep in mind that a sim-feel isn’t what Codemasters was going for here. The result is a handling model that, once you get the hang of it, gives the various cars distinct character allows you to drive the cars to lengths not possible in other racing games. It isn’t as extreme as Burnout or recent NFS games but there is a controllable, progressive feel to drifts.
The problem with all this focus on tire melting, aggressive driving is that half the time there’s just not enough room on the track. Too many tracks are extremely tight road courses with no run off areas and little room for error. This is challenging but navigable when racing alone. Add in eleven other cars and mayhem ensues. The AI in GRID 2 is aggressive, if not ignorant, and will contend for position on even the tightest of city road courses. Purists may bristle as this but you will rely on the Rewind feature in order to stave off the madness and repetition of restarting races repeatedly. Thankfully the Rewind feature blends organically in to the game play simply by pressing the Y button. The action rewinds on its own and all you have to do it hit Y at the point where you want the action to restart again immediately.
Codemasters reputation for strong online play continues in GRID 2 with split-screen support and twelve players online. Multiplayer offers its own set of challenges, an XP system in the form of followers, and RaceNet integration. Most interesting to me though is the Impact Rating system GRID 2 employs. Not only does the game track whether you race clean or dirty, it also claims to assess fault when there are collisions. A simple indicator shows the type of players you are matched up against. GRID 2’s match making system attempts to match like players as best as possible.
I think Codemasters racing games are generally some of the prettiest out there especially due to their lighting model that I believe gives their games a very photorealistic look. The amount of detail in GRID 2 is impressive. As impressively detailed as the cars are, things off of the track are equally as detailed. This comes at a price though. There are several notable moments of graphical slowdown. This occurs most often when racing in a pack and often in corners. This is somewhat of a step down from the 60fps standard that Codemasters pioneered. If a little less detail and atmosphere led to a more stable frame rate I don’t think many players would mind.
In regards to the game’s audio, GRID 2’s sound is consistent with the rest of Codemasters high presentation values. In short, it sounds very good and there is high attention to detail. Engine notes are faithfully replicated and they roar and scream appropriately through an adequate surround sound setup. Atmospheric sound elements include hearing increasing amounts of dialogue specific to your character from trackside as you rise in popularity and a musical score subtly adding drama to races as you approach the finish. The only issues I had with how GRID 2 sounds (and this is a minor issue at best) is that there is an extreme difference between the volume in the game’s menus versus what is presented in the actual races. I would turn things up to hear the voice acting during menus in between races and then be blown away by the volume once a race began. I’m no audiophile but this might lie within the game’s wide dynamic range. There is literally a setting in the options and a manual reference for this.
Codemasters’ typical high presentation values and strong online play are intact. Once you get the hang of it GRID 2 handles like a dream. That being said, things are brought back down to earth with some questionable track designs, uber-aggressive AI and the occasional visual hiccup. GRID 2 may not meet the expectations set by the original game but overall it is still a solid racing experience.