It has been five years since the release of the original Race Driver: GRID, but the long awaited sequel to one of the biggest racing games of this generation is finally here. GRID 2 is the latest title from the Codemasters Racing studio and, like much of the company’s back catalogue, it neatly straddles a line between simulation and arcade racing.
Like the original GRID, this sequel leans more towards arcade thrills and fast powerslides. If you were expecting slightly more realistic handling akin to DiRT 2 and 3 you may come away disappointed. The handling model heavily favours drivers who throw the car into every corner and use that momentum to slide through the turn.
Codemasters is calling this new handling model, “TrueFeel.” It’s designed to help you to anticipate the car’s behaviour and stop you from relying on driving assists. To this end, the only assist available in the game is automatic transmission. This can make it tough for newcomers to adapt to the game, but after a few races the TrueFeel tech does its job and it becomes easy to settle into a driving rhythm.
More experienced racers will have a great time too because it’s incredibly satisfying to nail the perfect slide. Codies has even improved the original GRID’s woeful steering wheel controls by including some fantastic force feedback that really makes you work hard to push the car.
Most of your driving will happen in GRID 2’s massive career mode. Like the much loved PS2 Race Driver series, there is a trademark Codemasters racing narrative driving you up the motorsport career ladder. Entrepreneur, Patrick Callahan, is starting a new race series, World Series Racing (WSR), designed to mix driving disciplines across different events to find the world’s best all-round racing driver. Along the way, you will gain fans rather than money, unlocking cars and events as you and WSR become more popular around the world.
Events vary from standard races to a variety of returning game modes from the first GRID, including drifting and one-on-one touge races on treacherous mountain roads. There are a couple of new race types too, though most racing fans will recognise them from other titles, especially Forza Motorsport 4. These usually appear as one-off “Promo Events” in Career mode, such as overtaking as many slow trucks as possible without making contact, or events where the driver who travels the furthest distance in a set amount of time is the winner.
The most interesting and most original new race type is “Live Routes.” These take the game’s city circuits and turn them into unpredictable mazes where you have no idea which direction the next turn will take. There is no map on the HUD and the game randomly sends the track in different directions at each junction. It adds a very different style of challenge to traditional racing which mixes up the variety in career mode, despite going against the expected motorsports model of learning each circuit and pushing the boundaries to the limit.
Throughout Career mode the AI cars are very competitive, even on the standard medium difficulty level. The are generally pretty quick, especially during the end of season WSR tournaments where they always seem faster than they are during the standard “Club” events. However, later in the Career the difficulty changes and becomes all about staying out of the way of the other drivers. Suddenly they become obsessed with running you off the road, turning into you when you attempt to overtake, or swiping at the rear of your car to spin you around. This feels really unnecessary and only adds to the challenge in a very arbitrary way. That said, learning to stay out of the way of aggressive drivers might help to prepare you for playing GRID 2 online.
The online racing uses the same race types as the career and can be played by jumping into a quick race in the playlist of your choice, searching for a custom match, or playing a private match with some friends. In the public lobbies there simply isn’t enough punishment for drivers that repeatedly and deliberately cause collisions. On average, I was taken out at the first corner in four out of every five races I entered. With damage turned on, this becomes a nightmare as you face an entire race battling against broken steering or other problems. These are issues which no one in the console racing genre has been able to solve, but they continue to frustrate here.
Bizarrely, GRID 2’s multiplayer mode uses a completely separate progression system to the career. You can’t use any of the cars unlocked in single player. Instead, you start with one vehicle and unlock more by earning XP from online events. To add to the confusion, cars can be upgraded with new parts in the multiplayer mode, but you can’t do this in single player. It’s a weird design decision to program a system for upgraded cars and then not include it in the Career.
In both the multiplayer and offline modes you can customise your paint and wheels using a simple, but very enjoyable system of livery templates. You choose your preferred design layout, each of which is separated into three layers, and then personalise it by choosing colours and sponsor stickers. The paint selection offers huge variation thanks to customisable colours and different paint types from metallic and gloss to pearlescent. There is nothing here that comes close to the endless possibilities of the Forza series’ painting system, but it’s still great to fun to mess around with GRID 2’s livery editor and you can easily get lost in it for hours.
There are plenty of cars to paint too. GRID 2 features around 70 vehicles from a wide variety of styles. There are Japanese drift cars, American muscle cars and European GT3 racing cars. It might not be a list on the scale of Gran Turismo or Forza but it has clearly been carefully curated to provide enough variety throughout the career mode. However, the racing is easily at its most enjoyable here during the Touring Car events, a discipline that Codies mastered with the Race Driver series. It’s a big shame that there isn’t more of this in the game.
The same can be said for the variety of circuits on offer. There is too much emphasis on urban environments and simply not enough real world circuits. The likes of the Brands Hatch, Indianapolis and the Red Bull Ring are the most impressive graphical feats in the game and it would have been great to see more circuits like these, especially from Europe which has been under-represented in Forza and GT.
A bigger problem with the game’s content at launch is the confusing assortment of pre-order DLC. There are so many different packs that regardless of where you pre-ordered from, you’re bound to end up missing something that you would have liked. Cars like the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 and circuits like the iconic GP Circuit at Brands Hatch should have been in the game in the first place. If you didn’t pre-order, you can download all of this content regardless, but it will cost you about £20 to do so.
Despite some problems with GRID 2’s multiplayer and its car and track content, this is one of the most entertaining racing games released for the current consoles. It clearly pushes the Xbox 360 to the limit with some of the most astonishing particle effects, lighting and reflections that have ever been created on this system. GRID 2 offers a style of racing which, while not as realistic and some may have hoped, is truly exhilarating and makes Forza and GT feel tame by comparison. If you have fond memories of the original game, GRID 2 will more than satisfy that nostalgia.