GRID 2 Review

 
Let’s start with this: No, GRID 2 does not have a cockpit view, and no, the game does not suffer one bit for it. Let’s be honest, other than the few of us that own racing wheels, and the even fewer of us that don’t but liked to jump into cockpit view every now and then to look around, none of us really used it on a regular, 100% basis, so why don’t we just move on? Because honestly, it would be silly to condemn this game to fiery pits of Tartarus simply because of that, given that it is a such a wonderful game.
 
GRID 2 is a true successor to GRID, one of my favorite racing games of this console generation. It’s fast, fun, has tons of style, and while there are some additions that aren’t as spectacular I thought they would be, GRID 2 is still ending up as my favorite racing titles of the year….so far. 2013 is suffering from a severe racing game drought, which makes sense, considering the PS4 and Xbox One are just around the corner, and developers are most likely wrapping up a launch racing game for the next gen onslaught.
 
GRID 2 maintains the same gameplay style of GRID with a few notable changes, most of which fall into vehicle handling. Dubbed “TrueFeel,” the new system attempts to straddle the line between arcade and realistic handling. On paper, it’s a major attempt with tons of science behind it, but in-game, it ends up handling pretty much like the first game, or something like Project Gotham Racing. In all honesty, that’s not really a bad thing since GRID was such a fun game, but considering how much press was devote to TrueFeel, I came away just slightly disappointed. The differences are hardly noticeable, and for something that was so prominent in all the marketing, I expected to at least see a noticeable difference.
 
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The final product seems to be a “greatest hits” of individual aspects from both arcade and simulation handling models…which I suppose is what Codemasters was going for all along. With TrueFeel, you get a nice sense of vehicle weight, where throwing yourself into corners results in the car leaning over and weight shifting dramatically. “Boaty” cars like a 1969 Dodge Charger will handle differently than a small, zippy Subaru BRZ. This gives each car its own individual personality, something that racing games need in order to avoid repetitiveness.
 
With TrueFeel you are allowed quite a bit of freedom, as the gameplay definitely leans more towards the arcadey “drift” style similar to the NFS games. Corners can be attacked with late braking and sudden, jerky movements on the controller and wheel without much consequence, and any mistakes can usually be corrected with a quick tap of the analog stick. However, In GRID 2 you can’t just mash down the throttle and hope to “Mario Kart” your way around every circuit. You are asked to maintain some sort of real-world driving sensibility when it comes to races, and with TrueFeel, you do need to feel out your car’s characteristics and learn where that “sweet spot” in your tire grip is. In this sense, GRID 2 tries to add a bit of realism into the game’s handling.
 
I guess what I’m trying to say is that GRID 2 is neither arcade or sim, but it is also a bit of both. Either way, the handling feels good and very natural.
 
As you may have heard by now, GRID 2 adds in a plot, albeit a fairly loose and one dimensional one. If I think back to some previous racing games that have tried to add a storyline, most of them follow the same (or similar) format. It’s hard to do anything otherwise; I mean, it’s racing game, right? Realistically speaking, there is only one win condition: be #1. For the most part, that’s the goal of GRID 2, though it’s wrapped up in a flashy, semi-rags-to-riches, storyline. In GRID 2, wealthy socialite gearhead Patrick Callahan has a dream of forming World Series Racing, a worldwide racing series that consolidates the best racing clubs from all countries under one unified, WSR banner. After catching the eye of Mr. Callahan, you become his first star and jump from club to club, essentially recruiting them for the WSR. As the WSR grows, it eventually attracts some high profile sponsors, including ESPN, and begins to take over the racing world.
 
The nice thing about the story is its heavy focus on social networking. At any given point during any of the cutscenes that pop up, you’re treated to a video vignette of “fans” tweeting each other your exploits, websites popping up dedicated to the WSR and its drivers, and Sportcenter segments discussing the WSR. It’s pretty cool and fairly immersive, even if it sometimes seems a bit forced (you might find yourself rolling your eye periodically at some of the fans’ tweets). It also loses some of its luster, especially if you take into consideration the fact that you were hand picked by Patrick Callahan to be the face of the WSR. It would have had more impact if you were a nobody rising through the ranks and catching the attention of ESPN and the fans. But, to each their own.
 
After a little while, however, it’s clear that the story and all the flash that accompanies it is nothing more than a “front.” It soon becomes clear that the game’s Career Mode format is basically the same thing as the career in GRID, which is work your way through progressively harder and harder ranks to be #1. Props to Codemasters, though, for injecting a bit of personality and life into a genre that typically does not fare too well with a plot.
 
As far as variety goes, GRID 2 gives you the standard racing game fare (circuit races, drift, touge, time attack, eliminator etc.) and also some new additions such as Checkpoints and a very addictive Overtake race. In Overtake, you’re faced with a set number of laps and a field filled with pickups trucks. Each time you overtake a truck, you get points. Successive overtakes result in score multipliers, which begin to countdown and disappear if you don’t link overtakes quick enough. Any collisions or going off track resets the multiplier.
 

 
Perhaps the single event that has garnered the most press is LiveRoutes, a system where the track will change routes on the fly. I’m not sure how I feel about LiveRoutes; on the one hand, it’s nice to have a constantly evolving track. It allows for a lot of variety, and while I personally don’t mind racing on the same tracks over and over, I know a lot of people who hate that, and LiveRoutes could bring about some much needed change. However, to quote a famous robot show/movie franchise, there’s “more than meets the eye.” As a concept, LiveRoutes is brilliant, creating images of tracks that will never be the same each time you race. However, there are only a few different variations of a certain circuit, so once you’ve LiveRouted a track a few times, chances are you’ve seen all the variations it has to offer. After a little while, it starts to feel like racing on the same track again, with minor variations. Also take into account that the track changes already exist in the form of all the individual track variations that you’re free to choose from.
 
The AI this time around is…interesting. I don’t want to say it’s either “good” or “bad,” but considering GRID has some of the best AI I’ve faced in a racing game, GRID 2 ended up disappointing me on some levels. On certain tracks its AI is how you might remember from the first game, aggressive yet smart enough to react much like a driver would in real life. This means they don’t blindly follow a predetermined path, nor do they bumper car their way around the circuit. However, in certain tracks and with certain cars, all hell breaks loose and you will be witness to some of the gnarliest pile ups before the race has even technically left its first ten seconds. It almost seems like each virtual racer has a predetermined level of aggression, and that predetermined level of aggression doesn’t really work too well in a Koenigsegg Agera R.
 
A small thing that’s different between GRID and GRID 2 is the rewind mechanic. In GRID (and most all other Codemasters racing games), you were given 5 Rewinds. Whenever you chose to use one, you would hit the Rewind button, then scroll along a timeline until you reached the point where you wanted to restart. Then you hit the Rewind button again, and continue racing. In GRID 2 as soon as you hit the Rewind button, the game automatically starts rewinding for you. Find a spot that you like, then hit the button again, and you’re off. There is no longer and manual control over the Rewind function; it now acts more or less like rewinding in Forza 4, except you’re restricted to 5 Rewinds.
 
I’m a car guy and there were very few things in life that made as happy as hoarding the 1,000+ cars in Gran Turismo 5, but I understand not all racing games are about the cars themselves. As it stands, the vehicle selection in GRID 2 tops out around 70 cars, with some notable absences like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, F1, and LMP cars. You’re not allowed to “buy” cars per se, but rather win them via special events. You are also given cars at the beginning of each season and certain events. Oh well, at least my Challenger SRT8 is in there. Along with the cars comes 14 tracks, each with a variety of different variations giving players around 123 different, unique configurations. Not too shabby at all.
 
Graphically, this is one of the most beautiful games I have played all year, especially on the PC version I’m reviewing with all the settings pumped to the max. Forza 4 impressed me with their image based lighting system when the game first launched, and I dare say that GRID 2’s visuals are just as good. While the vehicle models may not be as detailed as Gran Turismo 5 or the aforementioned Forza 4, they still blew me away, and this game has a much more dramatic sense of speed, complete with camera shakes and motion blur so in the end, vehicle details just aren’t going to be as noticeable. Add to that the fact that GRID 2 is about the race, not the cars, and that there is no “showroom mode” where you can get up close and personal with the cars, so really, there’s no need to to take the vehicle models to a GT5 level.
 
On of the things I always liked best about the GRID games is their audio experience, and with GRID 2, things are as intense as ever. The engine sounds are loud and violent, and listening to a big hungry V8 growling in your speakers is enough to put goosebumps on any gearhead. Your manager is constantly squawking instructions in your ear, and in addition to warning you about track conditions, this time around he will also alert you to the kind of reputation you’re developing among your peers. Evidently I had a tendency to start races with a lot of aggression, and that’s made some of the other drivers a bit disgruntled.
 
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I also noticed some quirks from DiRT 3 that were brought over. When you crashed in DiRT 3, the screen did this faux “tv static/distortion” thing that made the impact seem a lot more serious than it usually was. This is brought over to GRID 2, as is the ability to zoom in and out of the loading screens. Nothing huge, but nice to see some sore of consistency between Codemasters games.
 
GRID 2 is a fantastic sequel to one of my favorite racing games, even if under the nice, shiny new surface, it’s really more of the same game. This isn’t a bad thing, as GRID was a very well made game. At least Codemasters made the effort to wrap the entire package up into a new, TV/social network heavy story mode. With multiplayer tossed in as well (not too much to say there; mostly you’re typical racing game online modes), GRID 2 has quite a bit of re-playability. RaceNet Rivals is probably the only aspect of multiplier I will consistently play, as it will always match you up with a rival at all times.
 
I’m a sim racing guy myself, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy a racing game where reality takes a backseat to the racing experience itself. Sometimes, putting the drama and intensity and fear of the race in the forefront can make for a brilliant experience, and the GRID series has done that with flying colors. With the racing game drought of 2013 (so far), it doesn’t get much better than GRID 2.