It has been five years since GRiD: Race Driver was first released to the masses, quietly ushering in a new era of racing games. Before GRiD, racing games were getting more and more complicated, trying to be all things to all people. GRiD was a title that focused on the joy of driving first and foremost, and was the start of the Codemasters Racing renaissance. But five years is a long time in gaming; in five years, the competition has caught up. Need for Speed and Forza both have titles under the hood that play GRiD’s arcade racer card extremely well indeed. It’s about time GRiD reclaimed its crown.
No racing game would be worth its salt these days without a story to back it up. Gone, it seems, are the days of licence toil and repeated race entries for the reward of a few in-game credits. GRID 2 starts with a CG sequence over-dubbed by a chap named Patrick Callahan, who states that he is on a mission to find the world’s greatest racing car driver. To do this, he wants to set up his own racing franchise, called “World Series Racing”. You are then thrust behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang, barrelling around the streets of Chicago before Callahan signs you up as the first member of the fledgling WSR. It is your job to get the WSR brand into the collective consciousness of the world’s motorsport fans, and to do this you will need to compete in as many events as possible.
A racing game lives and dies on how its cars handle; get it right and people will rack up the laps with a smile on their face, get it wrong and the game becomes pointless. GRID 2 will have you racking up the laps in abundance while your face aches through too much smiling. OK, I might be pushing it a bit, but the driving experience on offer here is absolutely brilliant. Striking a balance between hard-edged simulation and 90’s arcade whimsy, Codemasters have nailed it once again. There is sheer joy to be found on every one of the Parisian corners from the seat of your modern-day muscle car, and the adrenaline will be pumping when you attack the final hair pin at Brands-Hatch behind the wheel of a nineties supercar icon.
The career mode starts off with only a handful of events before the founding of the WSR proper, with your choice of cars at this point being severely limited. This is true for much of the first few hours of the game, with a few American muscle cars being the only vehicles on offer for quite some time. They serve their purpose however, giving you a good grounding in how the game handles. To become great at street racing in GRID 2, you need to become great at drifting. Races are limited to street circuits for a while, so it is a skill that you will want to acquire quite quickly. Fortunately, Codemasters have made it easy to pick up, although mastering it will take some time.
Power into the corner, lift off of the gas, tap the brake and plant the accelerator. Kiss the apex. Take the lead. What could be better? The contrast between street racing and track racing is remarkable. Each of the two racing disciplines feels completely different from the other, while at the same time excelling at replicating the thrills and spills they both offer. Track racing asks you to be a focused, dutiful driver, while the street circuits encourage you to trade paint and make reckless moves. There are nine game modes in total, with traditional Race variants joined by events such as Eliminator, in which drivers are removed every 15 seconds until there is only one remaining, with the aim being to not be at the back of the pack when the timer reaches zero.
Upon completion of any of the game’s events, depending on where in the race you finished, you will be rewarded with new “fans” of the WSR. No money, no credits, just fans. Everyone likes to feel popular, right? Well GRID 2 will leave you feeling very popular indeed after just a couple of race seasons. You can’t use your fan power for anything, though; it’s just a way of showing game progress, and more fan power means access to more of the game’s events.
While on the surface the career mode appears to be deeper than that of its predecessor, underneath all the WSR branding and chit chat, it really isn’t. You still only enter the events you feel like doing, there are still rival teams to beat, and the game still operates on a seasonal basis, with targets set for each new season. It’s simple: winning is key, and you can have as many pops at winning as you like. Those of you have that have played similar racers may think that GRID 2’s career mode lacks depth and, in truth, I would agree with you.
Multiplayer is handled by Racenet, Codemasters Racing’s online accompaniment to its latest releases. The multiplayer portion of the game is accessed via the start screen, so to get to it from the career mode you have to exit back to the menu. It’s a bit clunky, but when you get there, there are a variety of options to keep you entertained. You can take part in any of the game modes on offer in the single player, as well as getting involved in the all new Rivals mode, a matchmaking service that makes sure players always have someone to compete with online. The Rivals system adds a layer of competitiveness that spans all of the multiplayer’s game modes, and is a welcome addition.
All of Codemasters’ racing titles since the original GRiD have been pretty to look at, so you won’t be surprised to learn the same can be said of GRID 2. The engine does a better job with lighting than F1 2012 (a title that looked decidedly dated in that department, so kudos has to go to the tech team), and sunsets and street-lights add a layer of gloss and shine that is most welcome. The cars themselves are modelled as well as can be expected, although as with F1 2012, these games will really benefit from the boost in horsepower the next generation of hardware will bring. The visuals are backed up by a range of revving engine notes, bashes and smashes that would be at home in a Hollywood blockbuster. I haven’t even mentioned the return of the gimmicky voice over that cuts in every now and then (this time the voice of the aforementioned Patrick Callahan). Yeah, the game knows your name again, just like in the original.
VERDICT: GRID 2 brings the series up to date, adding a number of game modes while polishing up an already fantastic driving experience. It’s a driving masterclass, and while it may lack the depth of Forza Horizon or Need for Speed: Most Wanted, its take on the art of motorsport is unsurpassed. Fans of high-octane motor-racing take note: GRID 2 is utterly unmissable.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.