It’s becoming increasingly difficult to establish a new racing game franchise; with gamers’ tastes already being catered to by big name franchises such as Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo and EA’s Need for Speed. The Grid series of games may seem new to gamers, but it actually is has a rich history of excellent racing titles since 1997. Beginning as TOCA Touring Car Championship on the PlayStation 1, the series has evolved through the years to include not just touring cars, but a variety of motorsport.
The original Race Driver: Grid (or in the US, Grid) was met with praise from both gamers and critics alike for it’s realism and variety of content. Grid 2 released earlier this week, and I’m happy to say that it is just as polished and as enjoyable as the first game, whilst expanding into new territory such as Drift Racing.
Immediately noticeable about Grid 2, is how stunning the game’s visuals are. Every single conceivable detail about motorsport is reflected realistically, from the worn asphalt of the drift tracks, to the engine bays of the cars themselves. The tracks are gorgeous, and not just the roads themselves. The roads, tunnels and even the trees are some of the most realistic I’ve seen in a racing game. It’s not just the way the tracks look either, it’s the little things, such as the way the light bounces off a car’s paintwork, or the way the light seems to flare up when exiting a tunnel at high speed. It’s not just Grid 2’s graphics, but also its presentation that adds to the game experience. The events in the game’s career mode are presented very cinematically, with epically-scored music, and panning shots of the cities, etc.
The same amount of attention can be seen (or rather, heard) in the game’s sound design. The lengths that Pete Ward (Grid 2’s Principal Audio Designer) and the sound team at Codemasters have gone to is staggering compared to other racing games. Ward even recorded cars with carbon fiber bonnets crashing, just to ensure that the same cars in-game sounded exactly the same. He scraped, dented, crashed and wrecked a variety of cars, and recorded the cars running in various states of damage so that when you are driving a car in Grid 2, the smaller details that are often overlooked are reflected realistically. If you have a pristine car, the engine should run and sound fine. If the car has taken a beating, engine backfires and pops are more likely. The music in Grid 2 is also pretty top-notch, and is much more than background noise or filler. A dramatic mix of electronic music met with movie-style orchestra tracks, it helps elevate the tension and drama of some of the more important races.
Gameplay-wise, Grid 2 offers a ton of content that will entice car-nuts and general gamers alike. It should be mentioned however, that this is not a racing simulator, and despite an excellent amount of realism in some areas, the goal of Codemasters was to find a sweet spot between realism and accessibility. This does mean that some cars do not handle realistically, such as cars with Rack-and-Pinion steering. While other people are bound to love the game (and for the record, I do), I can’t shake the feeling that the game’s story is a lot of fluff, and that the aforementioned mix of accessibility and realism tends to clash at times. You can no longer access the inside-car view, as Codemasters removed it from Grid because only 5% of Grid gamers used it. From what I can see on the internet, the supposed 5% are pretty annoyed at that. Also strange is the omission of tuning your car to maximise its performance. Considering career mode is about the ultimate driving championship, it seems only logical that you would want to have the option to tune your car, and to have an inside-car view.
The career mode’s story is about gaining fans for your racing team, but instead of showing how you infiltrate the world of racing, you act as some sort of freelance racer-for-hire for the beginning of the game. The very first race in the game is set just before you begin your journey into racing superstardom. There are numerous references to things such as camera phones and social media that whilst feeling accurate, feel extremely goofy. When you finish your first race, your teammate/partner tells you “That was amazing! The buzz here is incredible, man! I couldn’t keep track of the amount of camera phones focused on you! That performance is going to get us noticed, just you wait and see!”
Almost immediately after completing that race, you are contacted by Patrick Callaghan, who has “been searching for a driver on the rise” to take a plan of his to the next level. He wants to create the ultimate comprehensive driving series and he wants your help. It kind of seems far-fetched that he would pick a fledgling racer to help launch his new world championship driving series but that’s probably me just nit-picking.
For all the goofiness of the career mode’s story, the gameplay and events themselves truly deliver. Every car handles differently, and despite racing a lot of the same tracks numerous times in career mode, they prove difficult to master. Fans of Grid 1’s Flashback Rewind button will appreciate its return. Flashback Rewind allows players to reverse time, and stop at a point where they can correct a mistake or crash, allowing them to alter the outcome of the race without restarting it.
As one would expect of a modern racer, there is also multiplayer, though it is completely separate from the main career mode, so unlocked cars will not transfer over. This is both good and bad, though there are a few online features that make up for this. Your behaviour is tracked by RaceNet, which will then attempt to match you up with similar players online. This ensures that good, well behaved drivers will predominantly race with other clean racers and that dirty cheats will race other dirty cheats (in theory).
- Excellent visual design
- Accessible to almost anyone
- Peerless sound design
- Tons of content
- Annoying, nagging coach repeating advice during races
- No inside-car view
With the next-generation of video game consoles just around the corner, I’m sure there is a ton of driving fans out there thinking there is nothing left to play until the next consoles release. If you are a driving fan, do yourself a favour and check out Grid 2. It’s fun, it’s a challenge, and I’m certain you could play it until the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release dates and beyond.