I need to make an admission right now – I don’t play racing games. The last racing game I played was Mario Kart 64. I find them generally uninteresting. Which is why, originally, Nick was supposed to be reviewing Codemasters’ Grid 2 on PC. Bizarrely, the game wasn’t playable on his very good PC. There were severe stuttering and frame rate issues for no apparent reason, with no fix. For Nick, the game was broken. So the review fell to me. I haven’t had any technical issues with it, but the fact remains that on at least one system (and reportedly a bunch of others) Grid 2 is unplayable. Bear that in mind, PC players.
Grid 2 is a game about cars, and driving. It is a racing game. There are cars. They go fast. The aim is to go faster than all the other cars and win the game. Alright, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
You’re thrown into the world of car racing as a person who is already good behind the wheel. You’ve won a few street races. But all of a sudden, some big name driver man sees your driving and thinks you have the talent to be the best driver in the world. So he picks you up and makes you do a lot more races. Simple idea. The main motivation for racing is not the expected filthy lucre – rather, you are chasing fans. Drive well and the number of adoring digi-numbers increases, enabling you to qualify for more divisions and race types. You’ll see your name mentioned all over Twitter and YouTube (in the game), and be told that lots of people you’ve never met love you because you can drive a car fast. The social media premise is trite – coming off a little too deliberately hip and zeitgeisty – but it frames the game well enough, and I suppose most people don’t play racing games for the soul-wrenching story.
No, most people play racers for the racing. And Grid 2 definitely has racing.
Getting behind the virtual wheel of Grid 2’s high-powered vehicles feels, quite frankly, great. Cars have a delightful weight to them, making acceleration feel meaty and solid. Controls are tight, if slightly unforgiving to newcomers. But the game lives by its corners. Drifting around corners, once you get the hang of it, is very pleasurable. The slip and grip of elegantly sliding the back out then accelerating into control feels wonderful. The difference between vehicles – and is more dramatic than the microscopic changes in stats would belie. There is a basic split between heavy muscle cars and light drifters. Heavy cars have more speed and excel on straights, while lighter cars are much better drifters. Front wheel drive vehicles handle differently to rear wheel drives, but neither is inherently better or worse. It means that the cars are very balanced, while still feeling dramatically different. You’ll often find a car that you like and stick to it, as it best reflects your individual gameplay style and preferences.
A great many race types and tracks will see you having to tweak your play style to keep up. City areas have plenty of 90 degree turns, while mountain roads have unpredictable corners and perilous drop-offs. Race types include your standard beat-all-the-cars races, to one-on-one face-off elimination races, timed checkpoint races, races where you get points for drifting, and a strange event where you have to quickly overtake other cars while avoiding contact to multiply points. Occasionally, you’ll be offered time trial races, where you must use a specific new car to beat a predefined time. In exchange for winning the event, you’ll get to keep the car to use in regular story events.
Grid 2 does a lot to cut out the unnecessary faffing around of racing games. The best of these features is the rewind ability. If you make a mistake during a race, you can hit the rewind button, spooling time generously backwards until you decide you’re safe to reattempt whatever it was you were doing before coming to grief. Rewinding is a limited ability, meaning it never becomes a crutch, and encourages you to improve your skills rather than rewind. You can still go into the pause menu and reset your car if you run out of rewinds, meaning you’re never stuck in a tricky place. The game will also automatically reset you if, say, you launch yourself off a steep Californian cliff due to driver incompetence.
Vehicle management is streamlined, too. There is no repairing cars between races, which means you can get to the next race quickly. Upgrading cars with parts is absent, though, so don’t expect in-depth racing simming here. Gone also is cockpit view, which may disappoint some fans.
The rest of the customisation options are extensive, however, and let you play the game in almost any way you want. Your first few options upon starting a profile allow you to choose your difficulty, add your full name, and choose a nickname. The nicknames are the voiced names the voice actors will refer to you by throughout the game. Naturally, I went with “chief”. You can also choose whether damage will affect the way your car drives, or if it will be purely cosmetic. Manual and auto transmission is a something to be decided upon. After winning a few races, the ability to customise the appearance of your vehicles becomes available. And this is a good thing for those who like pretty shiny things.
It’s simple – take a car, and then make it look nice. You can choose a pattern, a paint job, your wheels, and your sponsors. The paint job is the most significant change you can inflict on your machines, with pearlescent, metallic, gloss, matte, flip finishes available. You can choose between preset colours, or select a specific shade using the colour sliders. Some paints allow you to choose a second colour or tint, such as the flip paint that shimmers between two colours. The patterns you can choose from are varied, from basic racing stripes to hex-camo, and you can customise the colour scheme and finish of the patterns. There are plenty of rims to choose from, too, and they are also colour customisable. You can emblazon your vehicle with sponsors’ stickers, too, and these unlock additional challenges to complete during races that will net you extra fans. My only complaint is that you cannot freely look around your vehicle during customisation – instead, the camera will pan around in a fixed pattern.
Grid 2’s multiplayer comes in two flavours – online and offline. As in, offline split screen. On PC! Split screen! Two players, racing against each other, on the same machine, on the same screen, on PC. There were one or two rather significant framerate dips in split screen, especially when both cars are doing burnouts and the smoke is flying, but just tune back the graphics a bit and it’s all good. Online is a bit of a mixed bag, teetering between satisfaction and occasional frustration. The menu and lobby system isn’t particularly intuitive to navigate, and none of it is explained well. I found games relatively scarce and hard to find on PC. But the racing itself is as solid as the single player. It offers the full variety of game modes and weight classes, with new cars and vehicle part upgrades unlocked using experience points gained in races. A neat feature is the identification icons attached to players’ name cards, which describes their favoured driving style at a glance. Again, though, this feature is not explained at all.
One beginner-friendly feature Grid 2 noticeably lacks is a comprehensive basic tutorial. The “tutorial” stage is the second one you play, and it isn’t very helpful. It attempts to teach you how to do more complicated things like drifting, however it doesn’t explain exactly how to do it, other than to tap the brakes as you go into the turn. It also doesn’t explain the differences between front and rear wheel drive cars’ handling, or handbrake turns compared to feathering the regular brakes into a drift. As a novice racer, a little more detail would have been appreciated.
More useful, though, is the dynamic tracking of your driving style that leads to adaptive feedback. Basically, the game remembers how you drive in particular sections of a track and then gives you advice on how to handle it, through your radio operator. If, for example, you’re a little rough off the start line and lose a few seconds with a bit of start line argy bargy, you’ll be told that avoiding the other cars may possibly perhaps improve your time. If you consistently overshoot a corner, the game will tell you to take it a bit wider and slow down. It’s a great little feature, and the way that it’s delivered through actual voice-acted communication shows the polish Codemasters have put into Grid 2.
And the polish extends to the appearance of the game. Grid 2 is quite gorgeous where it counts. The cars and roads are delightfully rendered, with lights playing on the paintwork and shining on the tarmac. Copious bloom and lens flare add a cinematic feel to the races, emphasising Grid 2’s social media/fan chasing premise. Tyre smoke fills up the screen and gives you direct visual feedback when you lose a little too much control and need to correct. The relatively low-quality background set pieces and repetitive crowd-members are unnoticeable at high speed, and do not detract from the overall slick lines and shiny surfaces of the speed machines.
And do they ever sound nice. The roar of a muscle car’s fiery heart is chilling and exhilarating, while a lighter car’s high-pitched whine tumbles down the ear canals. Tyres cry out in agony as you flay them on black bitumen. And smashes are crunchy, if a little hollow. The voice acting is also surprisingly solid and authoritative, with your in-ear helper enthusiastically helping you through the tough bits and encouraging you to do better when you finish races.
There are one or two small annoyances in the PC version, on top of the massive game-breaking issue detailed at the start, of course. Alt+tab isn’t great, with the game reverting to windowed mode when re-selected. Keyboard controls aren’t the best either, since keys lack the pressure sensitivity that a controller is capable of. Plug in a 360 controller and you’re all good, though. Another small annoyance is that input cues will automatically default to pad icons with a pad plugged in, even if you use keys. You also cannot customise your keyboard with the pad plugged in. Voice chat online is a mess, too. You cannot mute your own microphone in game, and there is no push to chat for the PC – instead, it seems to broadcast your mic when it detects a loud enough sound. None of these are deal-breakers by any means, but inconvenient nonetheless.
Grid 2 is a game about cars, and driving. Actually, it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Actually, it’s very good. Grid 2 is a tight, polished game that offers a strong core racing experience, as well as a number of entertaining slight variations on the theme to keep the gameplay fresh. It’s relatively easy to get into the satisfying meat of the game for beginners, while still requiring time and dedication to attain mastery, ensuring that Grid 2 is a great game for fans of racers and dabblers in the genre alike.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied on behalf of Codemasters. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 5
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 9/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 8.5/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer: Codemasters Southam
Ratings: E (ESRB), 3+ (PEGI)