I was pretty eager to get my hands on the GRID 2 review copy, despite having not been completely convinced by my earlier preview. Now that I have driven over 1,000km in the game - the length of the North Island - I can honestly say that I am seriously impressed. Alright, Codemasters have definitely opted to focus on arcade racing - that is clearly evident - but they’ve also succeeded in creating a racing title which is multi-faceted, full of surprises, and just downright fun to play.
In GRID 2 your goal is to launch the World Series Racing (WSR) league, by competing in various events across the continental US, Europe, and Asia. The events are themed and so are the rides; in the US, expect to be hitting the ground with a bunch of high-powered muscle cars with rather loose rear ends in point to point and racing events. In Europe, sophisticated performance cars such as Audi and BMW hit the tarmac in more traditional racing events, while in Asia you’ll be competing in some challenging drift-based tournaments.
Your goal is to generate hype around the WSR by convincing fans on each continent to follow the new racing series. This eventually leads to ESPN providing full live coverage of your races, in addition to the frantic twittering of your fans of which you are kept abreast. Ultimately, with enough backing, the WSR launches into full swing and the racing becomes harder and faster.
The range of events includes: overtake events, where your aim is to overtake as many slow lumbering trucks as possible without crashing, which increases your score multiplier. Checkpoint events are based on adding time to a countdown where you attempt to get as far along the course as possible. The self-explanatory drift events. ‘Touge’ events which involve trying to get a 5 second buffer between you and your opponent in a one on one race.
Face Off, also a one-on-one event, is truly flawed, in that it involves racing the same track three times in an attempt to beat each opponent, working your way up the elimination ladder. This would no doubt be better with differing tracks, but at the moment it's mind numbingly boring by the third attempt.
The Live Route events are something new, as they pit you against other racers on a dynamically changing race track. This really forces you to keep an eye on the road ahead and also adds pretty much endless variations to the tracks.
Working your way through the single player is fun, well presented, and contains enough events to really keep you busy.
The diverse environments lend the game an impressive "wow" factor. Taking to the streets in some major cities around the world such as Paris, Dubai, Barcelona, and Tokyo (amongst others) has been done before, but never with such gritty realism. The streets are stunning in their detail and depth, with living crowds lining the tracks, shouting and screaming as you roar by (or pile into the tyre barrier, whichever comes first.)
It’s not all city street racing though, with some amazing circuits such as Brands Hatch, which I still fondly remember from Codemasters TOCA 2 (1998), the treacherous cliff tops of the French Riviera, or the Californian coast. If you’re lucky, even the occasional rabbit or fox may cross your path during a night race, darting away from your headlights. It’s these details which make GRID 2’s circuits and events stand-out as being some of the best in the genre.
In GRID 2, you can forget some of the old rules of racing. For example, rather than losing speed by drifting corners, it is actively encouraged and is the key to gaining on your opponents. Fortunately for those who - like me - fear the prospect of drifting in videogames, the handling model makes it a cinch. It’s downright fun and easy to get a drift going and then to hold it almost perfectly through a beautiful sweeping bend.
The damage model is brilliant, with every scrape and bump reflected on your car. The only criticism is that a good knock on one side of the car is visually reflected on the other - while a bit weird, this is a minor complaint. Fortunately, with the Codemasters Flashback option, you can rewind the last critical moments of the race (a limited number of times) and resume from an earlier point to re-attempt a failed corner.
One of the greatest things about the handling model - and the selection of cars on show - is that each of the outstanding sports cars has it’s own unique feel. It’s a pleasure to find one that suits your driving style and a particular event. I found myself often opting for the old school BMW E30 Sport, or the rather lovely but heavy VW Golf R. All the cars are divided into four tiers, in terms of their competitiveness. You work your way toward Tier 4 vehicles which are considerably quicker, and more at risk of plowing into a barrier.
The AI does a solid job of pushing you hard, and also makes its fair share of stuff-ups which, if you are unlucky, can leave your car ruined. It's this kind of dynamic racing that is fun and keeps us coming back for more. The real trick to winning events, as mentioned, is the right combination of car and driving style, and if you can get the combination right you can quickly start dominating.
Unfortunately, because GRID 2 hasn’t yet hit the shelves, we were unable to test most aspects of the multiplayer. With 12 car races and a range of events to choose from, the multiplayer offering is much like that seen in the singleplayer. Additionally, weekly challenges will be posted for you and your friends to compete in, with live leaderboards to compare your results. These live leaderboards run across the singleplayer as well, letting you compare your times to your friends.
GRID 2, representing a real shift towards the arcade racing genre, is a lot of fun. Yes, I lament the loss of an in-car view, as GRID 2 had me racing from a third person perspective for the first time in years. Along with the over-the-top drift handling I was initially on the fence - but damn it if I didn’t have a blast. While a part of me wishes GRID 2 had gone the simulation path, it really seems to deliver in depth of content, driving model, and particularly some spectacular and thrilling environments. Bring on May 30th when GRID 2 launches on Windows, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 and those multiplayer servers start to fill out.