Developer: Codemasters Southam / Publisher: Codemasters / Played on: Xbox 360 (Also available on PC, PS3) / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone
I have fond memories of the original GRID, but the announcement of a sequel surprised me. Some of the original game’s ideas worked well enough – the idea of building a racing team was novel and it was one of the first racing games that didn’t mandate first place finishes in every event. Still… what would a GRID 2 even be about? What can it offer that the fine spread of available racers don’t?
After playing it for several hours, I still don’t have an answer to those questions.
The game is thematically faithful to the original GRID, for what it’s worth. Rather than head a team, you’re now building out a new racing league called the World Series of Racing (WSR) – and Codemasters has refinished the league-building process with a millennial sheen. Rather than accrue money through event wins, you gain (apparently more valuable) social media fans. Cutscenes show your league making the rounds on familiar-looking social websites and participating on fictional SportsCenter segments. The old cynic in me chuckles when 20,000 YouTube fans somehow cause a Dodge Charger to materialize in my digital suburban garage, but at least the tone is consistent.
That’s where GRID 2’s consistency ends, though. In ways large and small, GRID 2 sends mixed messages about what game it is and how it intends for you to enjoy it. This issue is felt most in the driving physics. GRID 2 is not an arcade racer but it’s also not a sim; it mixes the two aspects in confusing ways.
When drifting or sliding, cars bleed speed rapidly, which is an understandable side effect of making a car move in a direction other than forward. However, GRID 2 tosses out that little Newtonian inconvenience – you lose almost no speed drifting, making it more ideal to drift than gripping through corners in almost every situation. That in itself isn’t bad – games like Burnout and recent Need for Speed games fudge the rules to make racing more fun and approachable.
Here’s the problem: despite crafting drifting to be the go-to solution with cornering (regardless of the type of car, mind), drifting in GRID 2 is almost as hard to control as a full sim. If you counter-steer at the wrong time, give it too much gas, too little gas, if your angle of approach is a little off, if another car is in your way (more on that later)… you’ll end up buried in the wall of the track.
At this point it might sound like GRID 2 is just meant to be a challenging, drift-focused racer. That works to a degree… nailing the perfect drift does feel great. However, almost all of the game’s modes work against that premise. The basic race – the mode you’ll spend the most time in – is the worst offender. AI racers clog up the only viable racing lines with expert precision, shutting down any chance of quickly drifting through a corner. To make matters worse, collision physics are stacked against you in a big way. Tapping AI cars or walls causes you to spin out dramatically or at least drop a ton of speed. As a result, GRID 2’s races are sloppy and frustrating. I never felt like I was racing well, even when I got several first place finishes in a row. If I’m to enjoy the game’s precise drifting, why do they stick a bunch of aggressive, annoying AI drivers in my way?
Of course, there are other modes that fit GRID 2’s feel more snugly. As you’d expect, the Drift competitions are great, functioning identically to Drift modes in just about every other racer. Overtake events are loads of fun as well: you build up a chain by passing slower-moving cars, breaking your score buildup if you collide with anything or spend too much time between overtakes.
Personally, I found that Togue events stole the show. These are one-on-one races that result in an instant win if either racer gets five seconds ahead of the other. It creates a great sense of tension and excitement as you see your lead meter creep closer and closer to the +5 mark, encouraging you to aggressively take the next corner to top it out. I haven’t seen this in a racing game since Genki’s Kaido Battle (Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift) on the PS2, so props to Codemasters for dusting it off.
In fact, I have almost nothing negative to say about the breadth and depth of content GRID 2 offers. Every street-racing mainstay is well represented, from the long, sweeping bends of the Pacific coast’s highways to tight, manic European cobblestone streets and serpentine Japanese mountain paths. It really is the kitchen sink of racers, which ends up mirroring GRID 2’s lack of focus and vision. I appreciate the scope of GRID 2’s content, but it feels strange to flit from car to car and location to location because your fan ticker arbitrarily rolled to a bigger number.
Similar progression mechanics are bolted in GRID 2’s online mode, but just as before end up conflicting with the experience. As you race, you accrue cash to buy cars and levels that unlock the cars to be purchased. You can probably already see the problem – if you come in at level one, all your opponents will have cars that are certifiably better to a magnitude that trumps any amount of racing skill. Add in the typical multiplayer mosh pit that occurs at every tight corner because nobody bothers to brake online and you’ll have a hard time convincing yourself to stick around for another race.
The greatest carrot in that regard is GRID 2’s presentation; both visuals and sound are top-notch. Codemasters lives up to its name – the tracks look gorgeous, which is doubly impressive given the variety of locations. Frame rates are solid as well, even when kicking up gobs of fantastic-looking smoke with furious drifts. The glowing shift indicator is brilliant; when your engine hits the redline, the ring around your current gear will light up to catch your peripheral vision. It’s a great and subtle way to see shift timing without taking your eyes off the road.
The sound is stylistically apropos as well. GRID 2’s engines are growly and aggressive, which is poetic given how much paint you unintentionally swap with your fellow racers. I also enjoy the occasional shouts and complements you can overhear from the audience (“Awesome drift!”), which is fitting considering the WSR apparently exists on the back of Facebook likes and YouTube comments. I’m not so fond of the co-driver style chatter supplied by the WSR’s cofounder over the in-game radio. His pseudo-advice isn’t helpful and a handful of hours put his lines into repetitious territory. Additionally, the lack of a full soundtrack disappointed me. After fantastic music from the Forza and DiRT series I’d come to expect great scores from racers, but GRID 2 is quiet except for some interstitials in loading screens and an occasional last-lap dramatic beat.
There’s no denying GRID 2 is a well-made game, but that’s not always enough. GRID 2 feels like a superbly crafted chair that’s just uncomfortable to sit in. You want to like it, but after an hour your butt hurts and you move back to the beanbag. If GRID 2 could completely embrace its arcade or sim influences, or better yet find a more elegant way to wed the two, it could be one of racing’s great series. Instead it’s Split/Second without the explosions or Blur without weapons. Racing die-hards may find GRID 2’s schizophrenic approach to driving physics an interesting curiosity, but you can find any angle of GRID 2’s experience executed more successfully in other games.
- Confusing driving physics
+ Fantastic presentation
+ Great quality, quantity of content
7 / 10