It’s been a long time since the original GRID hit home consoles way back in 2008. At the time, the original GRID was revolutionary – it was the first racer to really combine the look and handling of a sim with the customization and track style of an arcade racer. Its pioneering introduction of the ‘flashback’ rewind feature has now become a staple of racing games like Forza, and in a world where racing games were dominated by the polar opposites of Project Gotham and Gran Turismo, it really was a breath of fresh air to play a racer that found such a good middle ground between the two.
Five years on from GRID’s release and the racing genre has changed considerably. With many modern racers choosing to adopt an open world approach to the genre in games like Burnout, and more recently Need For Speed: Most Wanted, the traditional sim/arcade hybrid genre seems to be solely occupied by Forza – especially with its most arcadey iteration yet in last year’s Forza: Horizon.
This month Codemasters are setting out to change that with Grid’s long awaited sequel, but will it be enough to compete with such well established franchises and tip the scales in Grid’s favour?
Codemasters have obviously been paying attention to recent racing games, as upon booting up the preview build I immediately found myself behind the wheel – good to see that the current trend of bypassing the menus and dropping you right into the game is still alive and strong here. After struggling with the handling of my muscle car and limping across the finish line in 8th place, I was ironically praised for my ‘skills’ by an announcer, and was then informed that my performance had caught the eye of a (clearly undiscerning) investor. This triggers the start of career mode, and after choosing a difficulty, I was then surprisingly greeted by a fleshed out cutscene which led to the most story than I’ve seen in a racer in recent memory.
You are introduced to the story through some footage of ‘you’performing some gritty CG street racing, as you play the part of a young hotshot driver who has been picked by an eccentric investor to launch his new underground racing sport ( think Need for Speed Underground meets The Apprentice) your goal is to race your way to the top of the street racing circuit and kick start this cutting edge multi-million dollar sport.
As you complete each race, you are greeted by Youtube style videos of your performance which see you rapidly gain popularity. Each performance generates more of a buzz around your ‘mad skillz ‘ and of course the new sport you are representing, giving you the chance to win fans. You can track the total of them at your garage between races.
The higher stakes races net you increasingly better parts and bigger sponsors. Having only played a few races, I obviously didn’t get to see a huge chunk of the game’s overall career mode progression, but the simplistic narrative combined with gaining sponsorships, the opportunity to win fans, and a plethora of upgrades is definitely a nice touch. If paced, it could well be a compelling enough package to keep the player motivated for the long haul.
Between events you get the chance to do test runs on proper race tracks – not just the ragtag streets and forests you normally find yourself in , which is a good way to hone your skills between the official events as well as a nice opportunity to test out your shiny new parts. Naturally I decided to use this time wisely, and did my best to master the ancient art of the doughnut.
Sadly it’s not all good news. There were some issues that cropped up in my time with the game, mainly some pop-in and other typical preview build problems that should be fixed by the time that the game is shipped. These are pretty minor issues and even if they are not all fully polished, none of them would be particularly game breaking. As any gamer knows, the most important part of every racing game is always the handling – and sadly , based on my time with it so far – that is where GRID 2 seems to stumble. After my initial embarrassing performance, I decided to change the difficulty and try out different cars, but no matter what car I tried and even on the easiest setting, I still didn’t quite feel that the handling was right. The difficulty setting mainly seemed to affect the AI actions of the other cars and failed to add any kind of assist mode or improvement to the handling, leaving the car often behaving erratically and seeming over sensitive. Each corner would become a frustrating experience, with it often feeling like pot luck as to whether each maneuver would perform the way I would like it to.
Luckily the ‘flashback’ mechanic from the original game has returned in full force, which seems to be pretty vital for getting out of tough spots given the games tricky to perform drifts and somewhat patchy handling. In the current build the crashes also seemed to be incredibly over exaggerated, often I’d slightly nudge a car and it would result in a spectacularly disproportionate onscreen crash.
Visually GRID 2 is pretty impressive, sporting some nice lens flare and some intricate details on each map. During a playthrough of a foresty track for example, squirrels would occasionally dart across the track and the sun would get lost between the trees. This kind of attention to detail is definitely a cool little addition, and made the tracks feel less static and more interesting than they otherwise could have been.
Overall I enjoyed my time with GRID – even though it often felt like a frustrating experience. Codemaster’s approach to the career mode felt genuinely fresh and interesting, and the visuals and selection of cars were pretty good. Hopefully the extra time before release will give the developers the opportunity to tighten up the handling and fix some of the game’s more minor issues, and if the handling and crash mechanics are fine tuned there is definitely a great racer to be found under GRID 2’s hood.