Review – GRID 2

Grid 2 • 360/PC (version tested)/PS3 • Available now

It’s been five years since Codemasters provided us with GRID, an almost-racing sim that had a respectable focus on fun and introduced the now staple rewind system in racing games. Between then and now, however, Codies have diverged their strategies to  focus on simulation through the F1 license and to a more arcadey audience through their DIRT series. Now it’s finally GRID’s turn to get some time in the limelight with a sequel that fans have been clamouring for since the online servers for the original were shut down for PC and PS3 two years ago. The simul-arcadatron is back, but is it a podium finisher?

Let’s start with the aesthetic changes and a simple statement – GRID 2 looks fantastic. The graphics are a huge step up from their last EGO engine game (F1 2012), the difference between the two most easily compared through their one common track, the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, but it’s evident through just playing that a lot of work has gone into it. The cities feel lively, the real-world tracks look better than ever before, the mountain routes are close to jaw-dropping, especially those around the Cote D’Azur and even something as simple as the reflections off your car’s bodywork is enough to impress heavily. The other important part of racing games comes via the handling and I’m pleased to say things mainly feel good. There are times when things are a bit too drifty, but when you make an error, it’s usually your fault, not the game’s and that;s good enough for me.
The career mode in racing games is always difficult to get right. GRID 2’s attempt allows Patrick Callahan’s attempts to get his new world racing series (aptly names World Series Racing) off the ground. He’s worked out he needs a superstar driver to promote the series and figures that you are the ticket to the championships future fame and fortune. It’s banal and pointless, but there are nice touches to add to authenticity, like filmed segments of ESPN Sportscenter and various sponsors which are used to good effect if a little sparingly. The career mode sees you going round the different racing clubs of America, Europe and Asia to recruit their top drivers for the WSR by beating them in different events ranging from your standard race and time attack modes all the way to drift challenges, elimination events and one-on-ones. There’s a nice variety of events, although some don’t work so well – elimination races are far too easy and not included in multiplayer at all, for instance.

Career mode is a completely separate entity to the online world of GRID 2. You could if you so desired completely ignore the single player campaign and head straight into the online fracas with your friends or the general public, and it’s definitely better for it. You can choose to race as normal or mix it up with most of the single player modes and as you go you’ll accrue in-game money and you’ll level up. Your cash will be spent on new cars and upgrades, as well as adjusting the paintwork if you wish. There are of course Tiers of cars as well so the game isn’t horribly unfair (racing a Bugatti Veyron against a Golf GT isn’t going to work for the latter), and the cars within are different enough within the close range of specs that it doesn’t feel unbalanced, except when applying upgrades.

There are a few issues I have with the game though. There is, as discussed at the weekend by Mike, a heavy unlock grind in the online. I understand unlocking things by level, but it’s when a whole tier of racing cars is trapped behind a level blockade that takes a long while to get to a high enough level to actually be able to purchase on of these cars. Also the fact that some cosmetic options were locked until an arbitrary level (level 3s, for example, cannot paint something orange. Level 4s can) is very frustrating.

Also, while I’m quite happy with the cars on offer, the track selection left me distinctly non-plussed. The Liveroutes feature only kind of works (it breaks immersion a little when the crowd suddenly appear in an area of the course you were driving through just 15 seconds before), although it is quite fun. The tracks on offer aren’t really very interesting, especially the city tracks, and the game kind of cheats you into thinking it has more tracks by reversing the circuit or by taking a slight detour on the same overall track. While the real-world circuits in the original were expertly picked, GRID 2’s are heavily underwhelming, with only the Red Bull Ring and Brands Hatch being even vaguely interesting.

And then there are the famous Codemasters bugs. Every CM game in the past few years has been riddled with problems on release, as if they don’t actually playtest the game. In GRID 2, the loading screens are a juddery mess which decide on random occasions to just kick you out of the game. Finish a race early in MP and want to watch a friend? It may work, it may decide to boot you out to Steam.

The game is fun, however. It’s not perfect and there could definitely have been more content thrown in but it’s a sound racer. The single player, while decent, is largely forgettable but you’ll get enough from the multiplayer for you to be content with your purchase. Just fix the bugs please, Codies?
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