Review: GRiD 2
Here's a strange and slightly depressing story. When the original Race Driver: GRiD released in 2008, it was around the time that my PC started to give me issues that went on for months after I had acquired the game. When those issues were eventually fixed, boy was I glad to have finally had a chance to play the excellent offering from Codemasters. Now, coincidentally during another stage in my life when I am experiencing insurmountable PC issues, GRiD 2 has released to the world (thankfully, I now I have an Xbox 360), and it is attempting to be every bit as excellent an offering as the first game. But is it? You're going to have to read on and find out.
- Worth The Time?Definitely, regardless of your racing preference.
- Things LovedThe gorgeous visuals with excellently rendered tracks and cars; the unique and interesting game modes; the perfect physics and handling of the vehicles you get to race; the familiar GRiD feel of the original game; the way the music kicks into gear (heh) as your race reaches its end; seriously, drifting around corners is the most fun I've had with my clothes on.
- Things HatedNo cockpit view, for those who fancy it; the inclusion of a VIP pass is kinda dick, given the recent abolishment of online passes by certain other publishers; some rare slowdown caused by too much happening on the screen at once.
- RecommendationWhether you prefer exciting arcade or serious simulation, GRiD 2 is here to cater to you, favouring the former but also allowing for enough of the latter to appease all crowds. If you enjoy racing titles, you should already own this. If you're anyone else, it's still worth a try.
- Name: GRiD 2
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online competitive
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Codemasters Racing
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Price: R 515
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
The first GRiD title, prefixed Race Driver, released in a time when racing titles were getting somewhat saturated but also a little boring. The world had already experienced the thrills of Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and as a result, everything else seemed dull by comparison. You know, for a while I actually thought that Need For Speed: Pro Street was a decent title, owing to the lack of really exciting racing games available at the time. And then Codemasters released Race Driver: GRiD. It didn’t seem like much on the outside, until you did a little research and discovered that it was the Toca Race Driver game of old, rebranded for a slightly different crowd, redesigned for a slightly different feel, and released for a slightly awesome experience. Truth be told, I still hold GRiD up as possibly the best pure racing game that I have ever played, and I’ve played a hell of a lot of them.
Likewise, GRiD 2 has found itself in the similar situation of releasing among a slew of racing titles the likes of Forza Horizon, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, as well as Need For Speed: Rivals and Forza 5, both still on their way, amongst other such racing games. And yet even with that crowd, without much really left in the way of differentiation, it still manages to come out feeling unique, enough so that it warrants a solid recommendation from myself whether you like racing games or not. It’s not even that it’s that good but rather, that it is that easy to get into and enjoy, while just being so damn fun.
Just how does Codemasters Racing actually do it? Let’s try and figure it out in this review. After all, that’s why we’re here, right?
GRiD 2 is built using an upgraded version of the Codemasters staple EGO Engine, now in its third iteration, and the result is a truly beautiful game with absolutely gorgeous tracks and vehicles. Seriously, the visuals in this game are something to behold. I remember playing Need For Speed: Most Wanted a few months ago and remarking that for a Frostbite 2 game, it wasn’t anything to really write home about. Nor indeed was Forza Horizon which, although extremely pretty to look at, both in terms of the open world and the cars on offer, felt a little flat in places. GRiD 2 quite simply nails it. It’s not too intricate, to the point that the tracks start to detract from the experience, nor is it too simplistic such that the world feels bland and uninspired. It does help that a lot of the tracks on offer are either fictional recreations or actual versions of real-life locations the likes of California, Paris, Tokyo and so much more.
There are street tracks as well as actual race tracks available for players to race through, using one of a large and varied selection of vehicles including the game’s staple Nissan Silvia. Each car looks as good as the real-life version, sounds as good as the real-life version, feels as good as the real-life version to drive (I can only imagine) and quite importantly, handles as you would expect the real-life version to handle. The result of this is that whether you are on a tight, intricate street track in Italy or a large, open race track in Indianapolis, all vehicles handle as you would expect them to. There’s no silly suspension of disbelief associated with drift-type cars handling like normal cars in normal races and then handling as if their limited slip differentials were mutilated and oil was poured onto the track, in drift races.
If you want to use a drift-type car in a normal race, you are more than welcome to, but prepare to slide that back-end around every corner in the race. That sounded entirely different in my head…
The great chunk of your time spent playing GRiD 2 will be with the World Series Racing, which forms what you might call the career mode of the game, certainly the singleplayer portion. GRiD 2 doesn’t really faff around with too much of a story — since it’s mostly about the racing — but what it does, it does well, and that’s draw focus to you the player, as the star of the show. As part of the singleplayer portion, fictional billionaire Patrick Callahan starts up the WSR in an attempt to bring together some of the greatest racers in the world, from various racing disciplines. He does this by employing star racers to take part in these events, in order to gain fans and increase the popularity of the WSR.
The singleplayer component of the game works along a timeline beginning with your recruitment into the WSR, and then moving on like so: You enter a certain region, compete in races indigenous to that region until you earn enough fans to unlock and compete in the WSR event for that region. Completion of this then advances you to the next region. You don’t have to complete all races within each region to advance, although it’s obviously encouraged since you gain more fans and popularity that way. Should you miss an event, there is a timeline option which allows you to go back and play it, or re-play it, for whatever reason. Most likely achievements. Along the course of the WSR, you may pick sponsors which present you with challenges that upon completing, grant you more fans and popularity. Further, every now and again cutscenes will play out showing your rise in popularity as a racer as well as commentary on your performances on various social networks. These don’t really do much apart from making you feel important since, this being GRiD, you get to name your racer after yourself, as well as assign a cool custom moniker for the game to refer to you as. Mine is obviously King (it was Ghost in the first game, as I recall) because I reign supreme.
You can tell that Codemasters Racing really put their heads together when it came to creating some unquestionably unique and interesting racing modes, a lot of which do exist in real life, true enough, but a few that don’t and yet, are just plain awesome. There’s the usual story of circuit, sprint, and time attack racing, but then there’s other cool modes, most notably the LiveRoutes mode, which dynamically alters the track as you race. Obviously not possible in real life, this mode really brings corner-racing to life, forcing constant vigilance (as a certain Harry Potter character would say), and keeping you on your toes. There are also some other fun modes including overtaking SUVs for points, without touching them, along tracks. In all, it makes for a solid and engaging singleplayer mode that never bores you, and never gets tiring. Even during those long-ass endurance races. Very much like the first GRiD, then.
Should you tire (no pun intended) of playing against AI racers — who mind you are quite challenging at times, but more on that in a bit — then you’re free to take the racing online, forming the second half of GRiD’s component, and featuring all of the various race modes available to players throughout the career mode. What is a little annoying, however, is that the game does require a VIP Pass, meaning if you bought this game second-hand, then you’re going to have to fork out before it becomes available to you. Still, I wager you could spend a hundred hours racing in this game and never, ever want to touch the online component. Not that it’s bad; it’s actually quite entertaining. But the career mode is just that damn good.
Part of the reason for that is that GRiD 2 strikes an almost perfect balance between simulation and arcade. It offers five difficulty levels, going from very easy to very hard, each with its own level of simulation, and should you opt for one of the higher difficulty levels or the game’s default medium setting, then you get none of those silly racing lines or assists to drag you down. I fucking hate racing lines… *cough* It’s simply no-frills, no-fusses racing. Added to this feel is the very simplified HUD which seems quite ergonomic, blending into the screen in a very unobtrusive way, allowing for maximum visuals while still being relevant. I simply adore the way the HUD is presented, in this game.
Apart from that, the rest is your typical GRiD fare, with the game’s soundtrack and menus presented in very much the same way as the first game. They are simplistic, featuring little bits of piano intertwined with all sorts of other musical instruments to create something the artsy types might call post-modern, but I’ll just say feels unique and refreshing. It just works together to feel so, clean… that’s probably the best way I can describe it. Think Mass Effect’s sound effects, with Gears of War’s menu music. Or Mirror’s Edge. Further, also a feature of the game is the very GRiD-like way that races start off with a distinct absence of music, but for the revving engines, but as the race nears conclusion, suddenly music starts to play. In that way, the soundtrack sort of revs up towards the climax of the race, and the result is just something that feels like fun and epic.
There aren’t many racing games in the world where it doesn’t matter what you’re racing or where, but that you actually are racing. I remember playing Gran Turismo 2 and Need For Speed: Porsche 2000 and experiencing this level of bliss on a track, where it was just me and, well, my controller, but the immersion levels meant that it didn’t matter. GRiD 2, much like its predecessor, is one of those games. I went into it honestly looking for ways in which I could be disappointed. My very first race, I remarked that I was practically being thrown in, with cries of convoluted storytelling and an unfair difficulty curve. But then I kept racing and realised no, that wasn’t the case at all. The first race was meant to be overwhelming because by extension, your situation was overwhelming. You, some nobody in the racing world, hand-picked by an altruistic billionaire who just wants to watch the world burn rubber, after winning a race or two. Of course it was bloody overwhelming.
Then I looked at the tracks, driving around Indianapolis and thinking it was a little bland. That was until I realised where in the world I was currently racing, and when I veered off a little and ended up in grass, I was then wowed by how good the grass looked, how well it reacted to my car disturbing its peaceful day, how badly my car handled in this deep grass, and finally, how much I adored the Flashback feature this game offers (rewinding your progress in a race, with varying numbers of use per difficulty) which I believe was first offered in the racing genre with the original GRiD, although I stand corrected on this. Truth is, I couldn’t really find a flaw here because after racing through the rolling California hills, or the absolutely breathtaking French countryside, there was no way I was getting away with calling Indianapolis, an inherently bland track by creation, a decent representation of the game as a whole.
And you know what? I didn’t care, because I was too busy having so much of damn fun. I have done a lot of things with my hands. A lot. Seriously, you just don’t know how steeped these hands are, in history, but never have I been as pleased with my dexterity, and the ability to do things with my hands, as when I was drifting around corners in races, in this game. I’m not even kidding, I felt like a racing god, the way I was throwing my cars around tracks in this game’s races. And that’s purely down to how accurately and well the cars in this game handle. You know when the front end or back end of a car is taking control of its direction. You feel every inch of understeer or oversteer. It is rare for a game to be this perfect in terms of vehicle physics, that you can actually control the vehicle almost as an art form.
If you pegged me down, held a knife to my face and forced me to come up with some criticisms of GRiD 2, I’d get really nitpicky and state the lack of a cockpit view. Personally, I have never used the cockpit view as anything more than a novelty, and even when I made a concerted effort to try out that mode in Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed, I found that I was absolutely useless if not using the regular Chase Cam. But if the lack of a cockpit view is something that kills it for you, then yeah, none to be found here. Although you totally get bumper and bonnet view, so I don’t kno why you’re complaining.
The other issue I could probably speak of relates more to the ageing console cycle, and the pure pixel pushing power of the game engine. Sometimes when the action is frantic, the racing is frenetic, and the particle effects are going crazy, there is noticeable slowdown. This being one of those games that feels smoother, the better the framerate, it could quite possibly affect your enjoyment, but it never really becomes an issue owing to its infrequent occurrence levels.
One last minor gripe would be the game’s in-menu garage which performs the double function of being the singleplayer mode’s interface as well as the career mode’s reflection of your progress, where early on it’s a hole-in-the-wall piece of shit but later on it’s a venerable showroom. Some people don’t like this because they prefer open world experiences, but I say they’ve been a little too spoiled with those of late, and I prefer my racing on a track. Besides, having a garage dedicated to your large collection of cars is kind of every petrol-head’s dream, isn’t it?
That’s really all I can say to detract from this game. The thing is, I struggle to think of a single person, racing fan or otherwise, who would dislike this game if they bought it. And that’s saying something of a genre that’s usually quite hit or miss. Having recently played Forza 4, Forza Horizon, Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed, Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Need For Speed: The Run, I honestly thought I was a little burnt out on racers. Not so. GRiD 2 has proven far more enjoyable than any of those preceding titles, and that’s saying something given how absolutely over racing games I thought I was.