There have been quite a few racers released during the current generation of consoles, and yet none of them really captured the excitement of Codemasters’ GRID. With a challenging single player campaign and some awesome online races it remained the go-to game for speed thrills for quite some time. That was until, for PS3 gamers at least, the deal with Gamespy ran out and the online servers were shut down. Suddenly there was a void that needed filling, one that the likes of Gran Turismo didn’t fill. Despite Codemasters doing a great job with the DIRT series since then, they never quite hit the multiplayer heights that we were used to. But things have changed – GRID2 has arrived, and that gaping fun-shaped hole in the racing genre has finally been filled.
GRID2 carries on the theme of the original GRID title, offering up a long and tricky single player campaign along with a series of multiplayer options to suit most tastes. But this time round there’s a few added extras, with the Racenet system finally stretching its legs and showing just what it’s capable of coupled with an online leveling and cash reward system which (unlike the last game) actually means something.
A brave decision was made when the single player mode was designed. With the first section of races having to be completed in drift cars the emphasis is definitely on spectacular driving, throwing your car sideways round corners and only touching the brake when things get out of hand. It’s a far cry from the touring car races that so many people loved previously, and it’s easy to quickly lose heart when half your time is spent facing the wrong way or embedded in a nearby wall. But persevere and before long everything suddenly clicks; you realise that you don’t have to drift round every corner, you realise that easing off the gas for a fraction of a second is enough to take a corner at the quickest speed and you’ll start to learn how to adjust your accelerating through a corner to avoid the nasty accidents that plagued your early efforts. Racing in drift cars becomes fun, but it doesn’t feel very GRID-like. Luckily, it’s not long before your vehicle collection moves to balanced and grip cars, which is where the racing really begins.
While some may enjoy the slippy slidey drift races, it’s the grip cars where GRID2 really shines. With braking and racing lines suddenly an important consideration, and with no brightly coloured magic lines to tell you where to drive and when to slow down, proper racecraft comes into play. Getting past the aggressive AI drivers often needs patience and carefully considered approaches to corners, and once you’re out in front the others are unlikely to leave you alone – you’ll be defending your position while the rest of them try to muscle their way past you, especially if you tweak the difficulty to match your ability.
These various race styles all work towards World Series Racing, the new way for Codemasters to give the campaign a sense of a story. After impressing the creator of WSR you take part in events to get others interested in the tour, winning fans along the way. It’s done in a really nice way, with fans posting things about you on YouTube and web forums as you progress through the ranks. There are sponsor events to take part in, vehicle challenges which award you with a nice shiny new car if you win, and a range of race series linked to the various racing teams in the game. The types of events on offer is nice and varied too – standard races are joined by checkpoint races, drift challenges and the often-frustrating overtake events. It’s nice to have so many different events (and emphasises the Jack-of-all-trades nature of the WSR) but the overtake events where you need to overtake loads of pickup trucks without colliding with them or going off-track annoyed me quite a bit. In theory they’re a great idea, with combos building up as you quickly overtake strings of trucks, but with some very narrow roads to navigate and your combo breaking if you touch one of the other vehicles it’s hugely frustrating when one suddenly cuts in front of you giving you nowhere to go except into the back of them.
Luckily, the Flashback system makes a welcome reappearance, giving you a limited number of chances to rewind time a little and rethink what went wrong. I found myself mostly using this in the overtake events, taking alternative lines around the trucks in order to maintain my higher scoring combos, but it’s available in every event you take. It seems like cheating, but when you misjudge the final corner of the final lap and plummet from 1st to 10th, it’s nice to be able to redo the final five seconds in order to save the previous few minutes.
By the time you’re done with the main campaign you’ll have raced in a lot of different cars on a fair few different tracks. Maybe not as many tracks as we’d have liked, but the already-announced DLC model should sort that out over time. It seems cheeky that we’ll need to pay more for a higher track count, but that does seem to be the way nowadays. That said, the locations look incredible, and combined with the detailed car models the overall presentation of GRID2 is fantastic. Racing your beautifully personalised car round the Yas Marina circuit is a joy to behold, and worth watching a replay just to see the lights bouncing off your shiny bodywork. That is, obviously, until you misjudge an overtaking move and end up reshaping your bodywork considerably, something which GRID does in typical Codemasters style. Doors fly open (and off), bodywork crumbles and in the most extreme cases you might lose a wheel or two. It’ll take a fairly hefty impact, but once that happens it’s race over unless you have a Flashback available.
The sheer number of events on offer mean you’ll be plugging away at the single player races for quite some time, and with every event uploading your time or score to an online friends-based leaderboard it becomes even more addictive. It’s one thing to win a race, but to find out you won it half a second slower than one of your friends gives you a desperate urge to race again and take each corner that little bit quicker. It gives you a taste of competing against your friends, something which GRID2 is remarkably good at when you switch over to the online modes.