Coming off the semi-embarrassment of Dirt: Showdown, GRID 2 had a lot to try and live up to. As the sequel to 2008’s GRID, you somewhat get the feeling that Codemasters had a plan to alternate between game series, but Dirt 2’s popularity and review scores threw a monkey wrench into that idea. So they made Dirt 3 (a decent enough game), and Showdown (an abysmal failure), and finally dusted off the GRID franchise to make another one. Frankly, it’s a good call. If they had just made Dirt 4 on the current systems, it probably would’ve been fine, but showing its own age a bit. Having a five year break between GRID games lets them try a few things, some of which works, some of which doesn’t, and one thing that breaks the game entirely. It is a good racing game, but a few legacy-type issues hinder it a bit.
GRID 2 is a hybrid arcade/simulation racer that is largely set on tracks that are on asphalt and pavement. It’s not an off-roading racer in the slightest, except if you take a turn the wrong way, you will end up in some grass or a sand trap. I say it’s a hybrid game because GRID 2 really doesn’t know what it’s going for. It’s simulation in that you have real world cars, a functional (and fun) damage modeling system, and you never get too crazy with racing. But you never do anything with the cars, there’s no upgrading them, or even basic tuning/modification functions that even Dirt had. On the arcade front, the game plays it fast and loose with some of the AI behavior, some of the events are pretty goofy, and there isn’t any real motivation to keep you moving forward in the campaign. But it’s nothing like a Ridge Racer game with completely exaggerated behavior. For the most part, GRID 2 keeps it grounded enough in reality.
GRID 2’s campaign is structured into five different seasons of the “WSR” (World Series Racing) league, where you go through a series of different races and events, in order to build up your fan-base and the WSR popularity. The first season is about American cars, second is European, and third is Japanese, with the fourth and fifth seasons based on higher performance cars in general. Each season (save for 4th and 5th) introduce new race types which help differentiate them from each other.
The first season (American) introduces the basic “race” group, but also “Face-off”, “Overtake” and “Endurance” events. Race is the most basic event and is self-explanatory that involves either 8 or 12 racers. Face-Off involves a three tiered system where you’re places in a tournament bracket system with 7 other drivers. You race three times, moving up the bracket, going from the qualifying race, to the semi-final, to the final race. This is a one on one racing event, so only two cars are on the track. Overtake is a pretty neat event where you and another racer need to pass (Overtake) slow moving trucks that are on the track. When you pass one, you get 100 points and a timer starts counting down. If you pass another while the timer is active, you get 200 and the timer starts up gain. This goes all the way up to 1,000 points per pass, if you can combo you’re passing correctly. However, if you hit another car, piece of environment, the combo meter gets reset. If the combo meter runs out of time, it merely gets bumped to a lower level, but you still can combo off of it. The goal here is to get more points than the other driver. Endurance races are about trying to get as far as possible (in terms of feet) ahead of other racers, in a given time. The basic idea is “Get to 1st and stay there until the clock runs out.” This event isn’t as involved as some of the others.
The second season (European) has two new events to undertake, “Time-Attack” and “Eliminator”. Time-Attack has you doing a track with two or three laps and trying to set the best time. Other racers are on the track so you have to watch out for them. This race always starts off in a Rolling Start (think Daytona USA), where you’re already up to speed when the race starts. Overtake starts the same way. Eliminator is a well-known/used race type in Codemasters games. It involves 8 other racers, where you’re given a short time to get ahead in the pack. Then a 30 second timer starts counting down with the last place racer being eliminated when the time is up. Then the timer is reset, and the next last place racer is eliminated. The winner is the person who gets eliminated last. This race type has been in almost every Codemasters racing game and is a staple of their work.
The third season (Japan) involves “Togue”, “Checkpoint” and “Drift” event types. Togue is an interesting event, you and another drive race on a track together. You can win either by crossing the finish line or else getting five seconds ahead (or them ahead of you) the other driver. There’s a meter on screen that displays the give and pull, with regards to time. This is a best out of 3 event. You just can’t hit the other car at all, otherwise you are disqualified from the race. Checkpoint races involve you crossing checkpoints littered on the track. There is a timer that is constantly counting down which has more time added to it when you cross a checkpoint. Like with Endurance racing, the goal here is to make it the farthest you can, with the metric of distance being used to measure how well you did. Also, like Endurance, it’s not the most well-thought out event type. Finally, the Drift race type is pretty much what you’d expect. You’re given a section of track and you need to drift around the corners, getting scored on how long the drift was, and how good it looked. There are little red posts on the track and if you drift close to them, your drift score is multiplied. You lose your score if you hit an object, or if you spin the car out.
There is one last event type (introduced in the first season) that deserves a special mention. It’s called “Live Routes” and is poorly executed. The idea here is the track layout is “randomized”, creating a unique track layout for every time you race. What it means in practice, is that they disable the mini-map and re-use the same pieces of a track over and over, especially certain turns and straightaways. These tracks are fairly long (longer than a traditional track) and removing the mini-map isn’t fun. It would’ve been great if either you could see the track actually changing in real-time, or if new sections of the track dropped out of the sky. As it stands, the basic functionality of this event is just a bit monotonous.
Repetition is a weird feeling that prevails through-out this game, both in terms of events and how the schedule is laid out. Once you’re introduced to an event type, it enters into a sub-menu of that challenge. This means you’re likely to do three races of that event type, and one event that are different. There isn’t a huge amount of tracks in this game, so doing this makes it a bit of a slog, if you want to get the most fans in a season, which, save for one achievement, is pretty pointless.
As you race, you’re told to get sponsors for your car. Basically, you pick from a selection of different mission objectives from a pool, and try to complete them during the season. These range from coming ahead of specific drivers, winning specific events, completing a lap of a course under a certain time, keeping a speed for a certain amount of time, and so on. Most of these are pretty easy to accomplish during the normal playing, although a few are harder than they sound initially.
There are two issues in the game which drag it down a little, and one that drags it down in a depressing way. The two minor(ish) issues is that the AI is unbalanced and there is some weird legacy UI prolems in the game.
The AI for most of the racers feels fine, except for the “One to Watch” which drives around like like he has a Gameshark strapped to his back. These guys aren’t completely broken, but they feel like they have perfect AI, so they never make a mistake or get in a crash, and it requires you to always be on your toes. This is compounded by you (the player) almost always starting in second to last place when a race starts, for no good reason. It’s believable in the start of the game, when no one knows you, but by the 4th season, why am I starting 11th place in a race of 12 drivers? After I won that race, the voice on the radio said “Good job, that’ll put you in a nice spot for the next race in the tournament!”, where I was promptly starting in 11th place again. I can understand some degree of wanting to provide actual racing, but after a 40 race winning streak, the game should cut you a break somewhere. These issues pale in comparison to the first GRID game though, with the “Ravenwest” racing team, that was beyond broken.
HUD elements and the overall UI in the game feel and look old, despite appearing to be stylish which makes part of the game look awkward. This is actually a problem in the game when you’re trying to do specific events, or if you crash. If you’re in certain events, Drift, Overtake, and a few others, the game should give you a rough idea of what your points total should be. Maybe not say, “You need to score 134,000 points in this Drift event for a 1st place”, but some type of general idea might be nice. To get this type of info, you have to play the event, see how the other racers did, and then if you didn’t get 1st or 2nd, restart the event and aim for those point totals. Even these totals sometimes fluctuate between races which makes the AI seem a little screwy.
Damage is another issue for the HUD in the game. Don’t get me wrong, the game has a killer damage model, cars can get wrecked in this game, doors open, body work breaks away beautifully, sparky fly constantly and so on. But the game doesn’t tell you anything about how damaged your car is, save for a voice telling you some basic (and often times wrong) info, and a little exclamation point appearing in your speedometer that is orange. I don’t need a full-on damage UI like the Forza series, but something is better than nothing. Even if there was just a pictorial of your car showing the damaged parts (and how bad it is), that would be enough. I lost a wheel in a race (the tire burst) and nothing was mentioned at all about it.
GRID 2 RUINS the Flashback system that Codemasters has created. It’s a bit of a shame too, since it was an excellent system. In prior games, when you made a mistake, you could press the button and the game would pause, bringing up playback controls (forward/rewind) to let you pick where in the timeline you wanted to restart. It worked great, you could freely pick where you wanted to restart and hopefully fix your mistake. In GRID 2 they remove the playback controls entirely. When you hit the Flashback button, it just auto-starts rewinding backward and you have to press the button at the exact time, in order to pick your spot to restart. If you miss it, the Flashback will just rewind fully, and start you back around 10 seconds or so. So, Codemasters ruined a system that had been in at least 4 of their previous games and destroyed the idea of it. Good job, I guess?
The final issue in the game is actually a bit of a philosophical one in nature. The single-player aspect doesn’t really offer any incentive to keep going. You’re told by some disembodied voice to get the WSR popular, that fans are important, and to win races, but none of it matters. Aside from some really goofy ESPN videos when you graduate from season to season, you have no connection to what is actually going on. This is exacerbated by the multiplayer portion of the game which is what the single-player should have been. The idea in the multiplayer is that you gain levels and money, which lets you either upgrade your cars or unlock new ones. This gives you an actual motivation to keep racing, to build up your level and your cash supply. In the normal game, you’re just building up your “Fans” counter which is ultimately meaningless, save for gating you from the championship races until you have a certain number. You get new cars by having someone go, “Here is two cars. Pick the one you want.” Then you unlock the un-picked car in a “Vehicle Challenge” (one lap time trial). There’s no drive (pardon the pun) to motivate you to progress in the story mode. It’s kind of astonishing they put so much work into the multiplayer when the single player is a bit barebones by comparison.
Graphically, the game is frankly stunning on the 360. However, I assume that the PC version might blow this away entirely. The cars look fantastic, the tracks are mostly varied in their design, and it keeps a solid frame rate (most of the time). The highlight though is the damage modeling, as stated above. No other game, with real cars, comes close to how utterly destroyed they can get. It is all utterly gorgeous, with the only sticking point being some Flashback wonkiness and how crashes work. Sometimes the frame-rate stutters when you have a truly epic crash, or if you rewind the game for too long. This is a very minor point though.
Sound is a bit of a mixed bag. The car engines vary from sounding meaty and full, to high-pitched and whiny (depending on the car). They sound realistic though, with the engine noise taking up most of the sound design. There is some voice work in the game but only by one person. It’s fine, but nothing outstanding by any means. The music is the sore point of this game. The only time you ever hear music is during the last lap of a race, some blend of orchestral and electronic (I think). This feels kind of like a cop out to me. Dirt 2 had one of the best racing game soundtracks ever, second only to Burnout 3. Even Dirt 3 had a fairly good soundtrack to it. For this game to not have any music, when you’re racing, or even during the menus, gives it a lonely impression.
The replayable factor in this game boils directly down to the multiplayer mode. As stated above, it’s more fleshed out than the single player by far, so you can drop dozens of hours into it, if you want. You can do any type of race from the single player, or do “Global Challenges” (challenges from Codemasters) The online is functional and has room for up to 12 people. Honestly, the online mode in this game is great, and might be worth the price of admission alone, if you’re a big online racer fan. You can also customize your car’s paint scheme (not to a Forza level, but still robust enough), and develop rivals as you race. The only slightly weird aspect is the game is problematic when dealing with collisions. There is an option to turn them on or off, but it seems weird with collisions on. People in online racers are almost always idiots and routinely try and crash into other cars for fun. Even with them on, you can still pass into some cars, but the game is unclear about what governs this.
The racing has a good balance of simulation and arcade feel
Multiplayer is fully-featured and has some good options for upgrading
The game is beautiful to behold, especially when you crash
Single player is a shallow experience with little motivating you
There’s no music during the game
The ESPN partnership is fairly goofy
As a singular racing experience, GRID 2 offers action that is a lot of fun to enjoy. It has a robust online mode and the driving engine itself remains as rock solid as ever. A few instances of the HUD being old, or the story being goofy aren’t enough to break the game. The Flashback issue is highly annoying, however, and should be addressed. Still, the game is worth a look, especially if you like any of Codemasters other games.
Stability Issue: I did run into one extremely odd bug during my playing the game. It was during an Eliminator event, and I used a Flashback, rewinding it to the start of the Flashback. The entire game world dropped out, except for the HUD elements. It was just a black screen. The game was still running, but at about a 90% speed decrease. I couldn’t move, or race, but the timer was still counting down. I waited about 15 minutes and eventually won the race. It’s not the biggest game crash in the world but it is one I definitely noticed.
Except for very occasional frame-rate hitches, the game looks phenomenal. Cars are detailed, the world is varied, and sparks fly all the time.
The difficulty curve get some getting used to, and spikes on occasion. The racing is solid, but they ruined Flashbacks in this game.
Engine noise is beefy but that’s usually the only audio there is in a race. Voice acting is decent, but there’s not a lot of music in the game.
The game can keep you busy for a while, either with the single player mode, or the multiplayer mode. Multiplayer is a deeply rich affair with levels, rivals, challenges, and actual car upgrades for you to unlock.
Despite some rough edges, the game is still pure Codemasters racing goodness. It’s a focused game, but it largely hits on the goals it sets out to do, and is better than the first one. Still not as good as Dirt 2 though.