Race Driver Grid set the benchmark for a simcade racer, targeting accessibility whilst providing significant challenges for the more accomplished player. It featured a capacious career mode spanned across various locations and vehicle disciplines. With retrospect, it’s difficult to comprehend that GRID is 5 years old given the modern feel throughout. Codemasters’ sequel has a considerable amount to fulfill in terms of recreating the allure of its predecessor. Can Codemasters once again create a balance between playability and difficulty without ostracizing part of the player base?
Unlike the majority of racing titles, GRID 2 is based upon a fictional story which evolves as you compete in numerous events. The player acts as a spokesperson for the World Series Racing league masterminded by Patrick Callaghan. Your aim is to raise the exposure of the WSR and accumulate fans with series wins. The plot is plausible if a little one dimensional and tries to give you some attachment to the cause. There is some variety in the form of Race, Checkpoint, Time Trial and Overtake modes. In addition, promo events such as Endurance Live Routes are a catalyst to increased popularity. These are conducted on a substantial amount of courses located throughout America, Europe and Asia. A large portion of these are based on street circuits and tend to appear very similar. I would have liked to see more iconic racing circuits such as the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone. However, it is fantastic to see the Red Bull Racing Ring included which has been omitted from most mainstream racing games.
The single player aspect is extremely directed and stylised, but at the same time, even more restricting. Vehicles can only be obtained at set moments after completing events and are non-upgradable. You can also no longer employ and dismiss teammates, eliminating the freedom to select their driving style. This is in stark contrast to the previous title which granted you the opportunity to select drivers based on their expertise of certain event types. Thankfully, you can customize vehicles, albeit in a small way in the form of custom wheel rims, colour mixes, and various designs. The system is intuitive and not overly complicated. One pleasing feature is the ability to apply each custom configuration to all vehicles or just certain ones. Sponsors also return in GRID 2 with objectives to attain even more fans. This could be labelled more explicitly because it’s often confusing what the sponsor’s role is on your team. The formula in the later seasons follows a similar path to those in Year 1 and by that time feels tired and mundane. Unfortunately, the entire career is hollow and repetitive with few redeeming features.
In contrast to the solo mode, GRID 2’s multiplayer component is highly proficient and contains a wealth of thoughtful features. Powered by RaceNet, every contest you engage in is attributed to your account and adds experience. As you complete events, a monetary reward will be given based on your performance. These credits can be used to buy liveries, cars and even upgrade your existing vehicle. I find it utterly perplexing that this is limited to the Multiplayer considering GRID 1’s reliance on purchasing and upgrading motors. Vehicles are divided into 4 tiers, which acts a balancing mechanism to ensure there is no disparity in the performance each player has. There is a substantial progression system with the most desirable cars requiring experience up to Level 28.
This adds a lot of replayability to the Multiplayer, but could frustrate those looking for an instant thrill using the most powerful motors on offer. You can compete in various events ranging from races to checkpoints which allows access to the mode best suited to yourself. Online playlists are available which caters towards a certain demographic looking for a pure racing experience or a mixture of all disciplines. This is a well designed mechanic which attempts to match users with similar interests.
The greatest problem that plagues most racing games is the community itself, and players who tend to crash into any opposition instead of tackling corners. In the default settings, collisions are enabled and so are flashbacks. The end is result is chaotic with cars tripping over each other and often the best tactic is to stay well clear of everyone else. During my first race, I noticed the majority of cars were squabbling on the straights and swiping into each other. A large proportion of drivers failed to brake in time, and pushed me into the wall. It’s often the case that the player in front becomes uneasy of leading the pack worrying about the possible actions of those behind. Unfortunately, any sort of race on the standard settings without incident is rare. Flashbacks tend to allow reckless driving to go unpunished, and with the press of a button, instantaneously puts the vehicle onto the perfect racing line. It is possible to create custom events which can disable any sort of contact in a similar vein to the Trackmania series. The amount of flashbacks can be reduced and entirely switched off if you prefer. Even though the opportunity to implement this isn’t entirely clear, Codemasters should be commended for catering to those looking for a traditional racing experience.
Another laudable feature which should come as default in most titles, is the ability to mute all mics and enjoy each race without the need to listen to childish comments. On one occasion before a particular race, some individual kept yawning and humming before I selected the disable audio option. The only reservation to this feature is you must disable the voices each time when entering a new party. If you become tired of the traditional game modes, there is also the opportunity to compete in Global Challenges which are updated weekly. Here you can test your skills against the Bronze, Silver and Gold targets and determine where you rank on the community leaderboard. During the time of review, Codemasters released a piece of DLC entitled “Car Unlock Pack” which through payment (£4.99/$6.99) allows instant access to all unlockable vehicles without the need to gain experience through competent play. Frankly, this is a diabolical decision which completely breaks the balance of online contests.
Perhaps Grid 2’s newest feature is the Live Routes system. Instead of learning a track layout through repeat gameplay, the course constantly evolves and cornering becomes more reliant on reaction times. While this is a novel idea, it comes across as a gimmick and does little to add to the gameplay. This may have been an attempt to allow those who aren’t as skilled to have a better chance against expert drivers. Grid 2 marks a shift in the series’ physics adopting a fully arcade approach. Drifting and powersliding is key as you pursue each bend throwing the car into every corner. The optimum strategy is to ease off the accelerator as late as humanly possibly and aggressively turn in. This can seem a little odd at first, as it takes some time to realize where the breaking point is located. Under heavy deceleration, the handling model is unpredictable and very often catches you out. For instance, some aspects of the track you would expect to break fairly early for tight bends but this results in almost stopping way before the corner.
On other occasions, similar twisty sections require excessive braking far in advance. This lack of consistency ensures you have to learn the limits of cornering speed within the game and not under common sense. Codemasters’ new 1000HZ engine no longer features any assists and sets a level playing field for all. Coupled with the accessible physics, I think this is a positive move as it is fairly difficult to spin out with an excessive use of throttle. However, the major flaw which cannot be emphasised enough is the lack of a dynamic racing line. Even the most skilled players unfamiliar with forest routes and new circuits, need a means in which to learn the tracks. For the more casual player, this barrier to entry is unnecessarily high and not in tune with the arcade feel. The previous game featured a blinking yellow dot in the HUD which gave some insight that a reduction in speed was necessary. Like the flashback system, users have become accustomed to racing lines which makes this exclusion even more painful.
Codemasters’ EGO engine is possibly one of the most impressive out there providing stunning visuals without taxing lower end machines too much. Grid 2 is a beautiful game featuring ultra realistic sun glares and high quality textures. There are numerous examples of some superlative attention to detail, including camera flashes from the crowd during night races. The effect of hundreds of photographs being taken at once as you drive past is mind blowing. Initially, I was surprised to see some stuttering and frame hitching. This is caused by the flashback system on Solid State Drives, even if the game is installed onto a secondary HDD. The boot drive contains a temporary 2GB replay file which is constantly rewritten and results in severe frame rate issues. After I applied this fix on high graphic settings, the FPS remained around the 80 mark. You can find a detailed solution here.
The opponent AI in GRID 2 is fairly inconsistent and at times quite erratic. It’s difficult to predict the position of the vehicles ahead and their unusual breaking patterns. On some corners, the AI will suddenly slow right down allowing them to be easily passed. This is offset by other sections where opponents reach unattainable cornering speeds which are impossible to match. It also seems that the player is substantially slower on straights, whilst faster on mid-speed corners. Another bizarre aspect is the lack of slipstream when closely following cars ahead.
Coupled with the faster AI straight line speed on circuits such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the amount of time lost is staggering. When playing on the Hard or Very Hard difficulty settings, you need to get within 2-3 seconds of 1st place after Lap 1. The leading racer usually is miles ahead of the other opponents and presents an almost unassailable challenge. Races are on the short side of things often totalling around 3 laps. This means there isn’t enough track time to chase down 1st position. I can categorically confirm that there is no rubber banding at any stage during Grid 2’s career. There are a number of difficulty spikes depending on the type of events you choose. Drift challenges are notably difficult and punish those who are proficient at typical races. This resulted in me lowering the difficulty from Very Hard to Medium.
Codemasters in recent years have been inclined to include announcers who comment on your progress and give encouragement during the gameplay. Grid 2 is no different and features a condescending commentator who makes inaccurate remarks which are infuriating. The original title implemented observations in a more subtle and infrequent way. There was hardly any repetition or insistence to play specific moments in the career. During a one on one Touge Race I was told, “You need to finish in the Top 3”. There is a ridiculous amount of repetition in regards to statements after race victories. On no less than 5 instances in a row, I presented with “You just beat the pacers at their own game on your first try. Not many can say that”. Inane remarks are also made including “First place you can’t get any better than that” Even when browsing the menus after completing a previous event, you are told by the announcer which event should be selected next. This doesn’t take long to reduce the enjoyment factor of the single player experience.
The decision to exclude a cockpit view has received a more than hostile reception and is shrouded in controversy. Codemasters proclaimed that only 5% of users played the original game using this viewpoint. However, I do feel they majorly underestimated how vocal that 5% would become.. From a financial point of view, modelling a fully detailed in car perspective is expensive. With their focus on a more arcade like title, this choice is in tune with the style of game on offer. You would assume given this negative publicity that the other camera angles would be carefully done. However this is not the case. The bumper view is too low and the bonnet cam is too high. Using these camera angles result in an obscured field of view when attempting to overtake cars ahead. Replays are plagued by similar issues, with a large proportion of close-cam shots. Frequent angle changes and sharp cutaways mean it’s difficult to capture those magic moments during a race. One redeeming feature is the ability to upload footage direct to YouTube which aims to extend the social approach.
GRID 2’s largest shortcoming is of its own making. The game is littered anti-consumer policies including four Day 1 DLC packs. To purchase this “additional content” alone at the time of review would cost £21.95 ($33.87) on top of the original price. It could be argued that this is acceptable because these became pre-order bonuses. However, key components which were included in the original game such as the open wheeled vehicles are now premium additions. This does little to entice potential customers to purchase the game. The other problem is a lack of depth illustrated by some glaring omissions. Where are the Destruction Derby events? At times GRID 2 is best described as a watered down version of the original with less freedom.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
GRID 2 is not necessarily a poor game, but just another racer. Unlike its predecessor, it fails to excel in any department and features a mundane single player career which becomes a chore to complete. The multiplayer is highly impressive creating a smooth and enjoyable experience. However, questionable business practices inhibit the balance of the online play and restrict the solo modes variety. At this current time I wouldn’t recommend purchasing due to major DLC concerns. Once a complete pack is released, it may be worth taking another look.