|Developer: Codemasters Racing Studio
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-2, 2-12 online multiplayer.
It’s been 5 years since the last in the line of TOCA Touring Car games, Race Driver: Grid (known as simply as Grid in North America), was released. After a mixed reception to a truly Marmite game which ended up with quite a sizable fan base, subsequently Codemasters have since obtained the F1 licence and produced 3 F1 games and 3 DiRT games without, for some reason, revisiting Grid.
Once you’ve completed 3 seasons of club races and made your name Grid 2 is centred around a newly-formed organisation, the WSR (World Series Racing), that encompasses several different disciplines of road racing and organizes events all over the world (it’s a bit like the FIA only without all the corruption, favouritism and backstabbing.) The brainchild of a billionaire named Patrick Callahan, the WSR is taking the popularity of motorsport to new levels, and it’s your job to take it by storm and earn millions of fans along the way.
Grid 2’s handling falls into that category of ‘arcade-realistic’ and so it feels good and responsive and the brakes work about as well as they realistically could without straying into arcade territory. There’s no braking indicator line on track or optional ABS or traction control, but it’s impossible to lock the brakes so ABS must be on as standard-even on cars that certainly haven’t really got it fitted. The handling is so instinctive that powersliding is—if not the fastest way round a corner then certainly— the most fun way and traction control would obviously ruin this. Having said that, and coming from a racer who’s completely ambivalent to drift racing, the game doesn’t really feel like it’s set up for the regularly-spaced drifting events either, the cars have too much grip even at their base level and the gear ratios are wrong as they’re set perfectly for racing and long straights. The handling isn’t as “realistic” as Forza’s or GT’s with the assists turned off, but Grid 2’s vehicles have a believable feeling of weight, and front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and 4WD cars all feel sufficiently different. Perhaps surprisingly, the handing also exhibits realistic traits like bump and compression oversteer, and power understeer that will quickly snap to oversteer, meaning that you often feel like the vehicle is right on the limit—which is always a pleasant sensation as long as you retain control. However, once you’ve taken a few bends where the car goes light and you spin, careening into the barriers or trees with no chance of recovery, you might feel differently. As well as a few familiar real life circuits you’ll have to learn the limits of a lot of new corners, so thank goodness for the 5 Flashbacks you get in every race. Most pleasingly during career progression there isn’t an ocean of family hatchbacks to wade through, and the few that are in the game are the sporty versions and feel fast and responsive, so there’s no painful grind through masses of crappy shopping cars before you get to the good stuff as in so many racing games...
As with DiRT Showdown there’s no tuning, no gear ratios, suspension tweaking, tyre upgrading, aero fiddling and no pit stops. The cars are divided into 4 tiers, and these tiers consist of classes designated so; Classic Muscle, Hot Hatch, Sports Coupé, Euro Classic, JDM Classic, Modern Muscle, Touring, Roadster, Modern Euro, GT, Lightweight, Super Touring, GT3 and Supercar.
One of the first things I should mention, as I think it’s going to be more of an issue than Codemasters think, is that there’s no in-car cockpit view, which according to Codemasters’ research may not bother the unwashed masses of the gaming community but will indubitably put a lot of sim racing fans and TOCA and Race Driver veterans, Colin McRae Rally, DiRT, F1, Gran Turismo and Forza aficionados’ noses out of joint-me included. To add to the understandable feeling of unease as I hurtle around seemingly strapped to the bonnet of my car there is a also a bizarre optical problem when using the bonnet (or for our American readers, “hood”) cam on many cars with contoured bonnets, and this is that the reflections give a really weird effect when turning, as they are correctly reflecting the scenery rotating gently the opposite way to which you’re turning! This doesn’t just look odd it’s slightly unnerving and even distracting. This of course won’t be an issue if you’re one of the big jessies who uses close or distant third-person chase cam, or the weirdoes who like to play like they’re playing Gran Turismos 1- 4 and are hanging from the front bumper like a hit and run victim, and it of course wouldn’t have been a problem for me if they’d supplied a cockpit view with the steering wheel and the driver’s hands in view like EVERY DARNED RACING/DRIVING GAME MADE FROM THIS DAY ON SHOULD HAVE. Fortunately it seems to be less of a distraction when you smother your car in racing stripes and sponsorship stickers.
Ah yes the sponsors’ stickers... You can customise your car’s look with what is without doubt the most comprehensive paint editor Codies have ever put in a game. It’s still limited to preset patterns and designs and you can’t make your own logos and designs ala Forza but the colour combinations are almost infinite and with a large selection of wheel rims it’s possible to make some stunning (or hideous) looking racing cars. An interesting idea is included whereby you get all your cars painted as they arrive, in a paintjob of your choosing. The only problem is I don’t know how to turn this feature off so all my new cars now arrive looking like a corporate fleet.
Codemasters’ Flashback rewind facility is present and extremely correct, and has been allocated more memory than before, so you can rewind time a full 15 seconds. This works in an incredibly smooth fashion, but those used to the rather limited, mechanical feeling rewind system (press the rewind button, realise that you can’t rewind far enough, press to stop, press to restart) from the F1s, DiRTs and the original GRID need to be ready as the action resumes as soon as the rewind memory is used up or you press ‘B’ to end it, with the action swinging back to forward motion smoothly and plunging you back into the action in an extremely slick and stylish manner. It’s an ageing game mechanic polished to perfection, especially when you realise that some racing game developers can’t get their game engine running this smoothly forwards, let alone both ways. As well as undoing horrendous crashes a Flashback can also of course be used to shave some time off a lap or stage time by retaking a badly driven corner better.
Whilst Grid 2 was never going to challenge the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo in the sheer quantity of cars on the roster, there are some real classics and more than a few real crackers to drive in the game. These are unlocked just for reaching a new level or later in ‘vehicle challenges’ which are simple solo ‘beat a set time from A to B’ races against the clock.
Alfa Romeo 4C
Ariel Atom 3
Aston Martin One-77
Audi TT RS Roadster
BMW 1M coupe
Bugatti Veyron Super Sport
Caterham Lola SP300R
Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Dodge Challenger (2011)
Dalara DW12 Indycar (IndyCar DLC Pack)
Ford Focus ST (2013)
Gomez Competition GC10.1
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
KTM X-Bow R
Koenigsegg Agera R
Mazda RX-7 Type RZ
McLaren F1 GT
Mercedes 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II
Nissan Fairlady Z 300ZX
Volkswagen Golf R (2012)
As you can see it’s an interesting and varied line up with more than a few cars unique to Grid 2, but contains no Ferraris, Porsches or Lamborghinis, and those expecting a natural progression through GT3, GT2 to GT1 cars will be disappointed too, which I found surprising given the proliferation of those classes right now worldwide.
As you can see below the racing is staged on a mixture of real racing circuits, road stages on, if not real then, realistically modelled highways and city-based circuits.
Tenshi Way, Okutama [Day & Night]
A new idea that adds some variety to the city-based circuits is ‘LiveRoutes,’ This basically means that the routes within the huge areas of the cities that Codies have modelled can be altered on the fly, mid race so no two laps of a race are the same. This might not be particularly realistic but it does keep you on your toes and lets us see the impressive cityscapes in their entirety.
The game either has aggressive AI-or brainlessly realistic- it’s definitely one or the other. After playing the game for a week or more I still wasn’t sure. The opposition certainly weave, take different lines (and even different routes where lanes split in the city tracks) and pass each other, and you’ll frequently see another car spin, but if you get nudged you’ll usually end up facing the wrong way or crashed in a smoking wreck as they disappear into the distance, and I’m sure I’ve heard them cackle with a ’mwuhahahaha’ laugh as they go (but this could just be my manic paranoia).
The drift events have the stupidest and most annoying AI of all, with competitors simply racing through the course, sometimes not even drifting on hairpin bends, and travelling so fast that they catch you up, bump into you and generally get in the way, whilst making you feel like you’re in the way. The Touge events (versus a single opponent on an A to B road route) can be frustrating as they don’t allow for more than slightest contact, any sort of significant ‘bump’ will result in your immediate disqualification, regardless of whose fault the collision actually was. After the landslide of complaints about the way collisions are fussily and incorrectly ruled in F1 I’d have hoped Codemasters would have sorted this out, but take the inside racing line on a corner, hold it smoothly and get nudged by an AI opponent from the outside and you get disqualified every darned time- I’ve even been rammed viciously from behind and disqualified! In normal racing the car to car collision physics don’t help either; other than when they collide with each other the opponent cars seem virtually glued to the track, and so spinning them out (and keeping going) is not an option. This is surprising after the delightfully nerf-able handling and physics in Codies’ previous racing game, DiRT Showdown. Some of these issues can be side-stepped by lowering the difficulty and turning damage to ‘cosmetic’ but personally I’d rather be able to race side-by-side and give as good as I get. I understand that Codemasters want to make their games challenging and last a while but honestly, this sort of treatment when playing a game on ‘Average’ will result in one thing, a game traded quickly by average gamers and only played by hardcore fanatics who only buy one game a year. I’ve played just about every racing game of note that there’s been since the days of the Commodore 64, and take it from me, Grid 2’s difficulty is, for want of a better term, up and down like a whore’s drawers on a forklift, and whoever’s responsible needs a good punch right in his/their gob(s). Fortunately you can change the difficulty during a championship series, so you should be able to tweak the game to a level that gives you competition and fun without chair arm-punching or cat-kicking frustration-but should you have to?
One thing that seems to have PO’d a lot of gamers is that you don’t use your hard-earned career cars online, it’s completely separate and you have earn online-specific cars by levelling up and upgrade them with winnings earned online-even the paint jobs and sponsors are separate from the career mode and you even have to unlock and pay for paint! To add insult to injury you even have to pay a rental fee (50% of your winnings!) for using cars that are required for tiers that you don’t own one in yet, but this certainly does encourage you to keep racing and win more cash and unlock more cars. One thing that becomes very apparent is that the collisions are just as penal online (even more so in fact, as you have no Flashbacks to rewind time with), and most contact results in one or both cars spinning. This is really annoying in Touge events as the penalty for causing a collision doesn’t seem to work or has been removed so rubbish or sneaky drivers can prosper, and this is particularly galling if you’re paired with some leadfoot who’s done nothing but play online and upgrade his weapon of death... In a moment of clarity someone included an option so you can choose from the playlist (all types of event) or pick “just racing” if you’re not into the other disciplines.
The replay mode doesn’t have a single realistic TV-style camera, and I thought I’d hate it, but the cameras switch around through such a dynamic collection of movie-like views (think Ronin, The Fast & The Furious or Bullet) with some cool racing music, that I still found myself watching quite a few replays. These can be uploaded to YouTube if you have an account and have it linked to Racenet, although there seem to be a lot of identical barrel rolls up there already so I’d make sure your clip is actually worth uploading.
Although Grid 2 goes some way to filling the huge sucking, aching hole left by the much-loved and sorely missed PGR series’ city-based tracks, it’s never better than when you’re driving a Touring, Super Touring or GT3 car on a GP circuit against 11 other similar cars-FACT. The feeling of pushing a car to its very limits of performance and adhesion come across really well. But is Grid 2, rather like EA’s disastrous-selling Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed trying to please too many of the racing game demographic, falling in a strange place between arcade racer (with its built-in ABS and lack of in-car view) and sim (with its tough AI opponents, difficulty setting and punishing collision/crash physics) and betraying its roots? Well yes to be honest, but a Developer/Publisher needs to sell games worldwide now, and the bottom line is that Grid 2 is an exciting- thrilling even-good looking addition to the racing games genre and should acquire a wide appeal and user base-in theory at least, as long as the violent crashes don’t drive people away.
- Looks great.
- Friendly handling.
- Good mixture of race types.
- Thank gawd for the Flashbacks.
- Where’s my bloody cockpit view?
- Unforgiving physics and un-nerfable AI.
- Doesn’t allow for close racing.
- Idiotic, clueless online racers.
- Too much drifting.