GRID 2 Hands-On Preview – Back in the Driver's Seat
Written Thursday, February 14, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Televised motorsport can sometimes be a bit boring. When cars aren't spinning off the track, barrel-rolling into a wall or exploding into a ball of flames, it can all seem a little bit pedestrian. We're not broadly stating that all motorsport is like this (that'd be stupid and ignorant), but we've sat and watched a few races that have lasted for hours without much incident or overtaking.
In GRID 2, you're a future driving star, plucked from obscurity by the visionary entrepreneur, Patrick Callahan, who wants to bring racing to the global masses, and he wants to make it with events that have the right amount of razzle dazzle to attract a broad audience. Callahan also wants to settle the debate over who the ultimate racing star of all time is, and he aims to do this by forming the WSR, the World Series of Racing.
Before I get into the meat of this preview, I should also state that I have absolutely bugger all to do with GRID 2's achievement list. I've been left out in the cold as the neutral third party, whose opinion won't be tainted by essentially being involved with the game. And they didn't like any of my ideas anyway. Sods. Thus it fell to me to go hands-on and preview GRID 2, sampling three tracks, with three different cars, across three modes covering three disparate racing disciplines.
We'll get into the actual racing bit in a moment, but for now, we need to talk about GRID 2's newly-unveiled narrative. Like Race Driver: GRID before it, the journey you'll take as a burgeoning racing star is the core of the career experience, taking you from humble beginnings in a scabby, run down old garage to a more pristine, cutting edge facility that probably has its own wind tunnels or something. Charting your rise from racing nobody to globally recognised driving megastar is full ESPN integration throughout, with SportsCenter broadcasts giving you an impression of the impact you're having on the sport and Callahan's WSR.
The idea is to make the whole thing feel believable with this real-world context, while providing a clear goal to shoot for. Callahan has picked you to become the ultimate racing star, and come hell or high water that's what you'll ultimately become. If you're a good enough driver that is. And with the WSR encapsulating a range of racing disciplines, from Japanese drift races to street racing, more traditional track-based fare and beyond, you'll need to be able to adapt to whatever GRID 2 throws at you. Regional driving clubs are brought together, and you'll have to compete against racing's raw, up and coming talent to rise to the top.
Competing from season to season, you'll watch the WSR grow from an exclusively US venture to a more global affair, spreading across Europe and Asia to become a popular, all-conquering super sport. Your fanbase will flourish as your reputation grows, and you'll access more events, attract more sponsors, unlock more clubs and gain access to even more cars. “Be first, be fast, be famous” is GRID 2's mantra, and it pretty much encompasses everything that the game's single-player narrative is all about.
Our first hands-on session of the day takes us to a tight street circuit in Barcelona, set during the early days of the WSR. It's a non-publicised event with only a few fans and stragglers on the sidelines, but the racing itself is still pretty intense. Behind the wheel of a slightly skittish BMW E30 M3, this nighttime race is an Elimination event, with whoever's lagging behind at the back of the pack when the timer elapses eliminated from the race. It's a familiar race type, but on the narrow corners and curves, the BMW's handling makes it a constant struggle to stay on track, lest we spin off and create a pile-up. In this current build, there are no flashbacks either, so one slip-up and it's over. There will be flashbacks in the finished game though, we're assured.
A second place is all we can scrape out after multiple tries, despite striving to match the aggressive ramming and paint-trading of our AI rivals. Overtaking is no easy feat in GRID 2, with your opponents battling to keep their place at any cost. Forget being politely let through for an overtake. GRID 2's racers will aggressively block and jostle for position, making for a stiff challenge. The game's TrueFeel handling is no gimmick either (although it does sound a bit like one), striking a happy medium between the all-out racing simulation and arcade racer. It feels remarkably weighty and gratifying, building upon the first GRID's innate playability.
Jumping into Codemaster's expensive and high-tech D-Box rig with its steering wheel and full force feedback, we're thrown around the Red Bull Ring in Austria, taking part in a slightly more conventional track event in a BAC Mono race car, competing against similar rides like the Ariel Atom 3 and KTM X-Bow R. It's another hard-fought race, but one that showcases a different facet of the game's AI. These drivers are prone to mistakes, spinning off at difficult corners or falling victim to the gravel pits at the track's edge. It's refreshing to see that you can force rivals into errors, rather than racing against infallible robot drivers.
Again, it's an intense race, much like our next event, which takes us to another twilight race this time on the Chicago street circuit. Here, judiciously dabbing the brake enables us to throw our Chevrolet Camaro SS into a controlled powerslide, recalling the thrills of Ridge Racer, as you tear around the tyre walls, hugging the corners to shave milliseconds off your times. This is a different beast however, presenting us with a checkpoint race in which you have to record the greatest distance possible within the allotted time limit. Each checkpoint you hit extends the time, making it a relentless race against the ticking clock. This is our favourite of the events thus far, and the most exciting with fireworks and grandstands packed full of cheering race fans. This part is nearing the height of the WSR's popularity.
GRID 2 is aiming to be a more accessible racer and the sequel that the first GRID deserves, but the handling is more exacting, the AI rivals are more aggressive and the narrative promises to be more involving and all-encompassing. As ever, Codies' EGO engine ensures that GRID 2 looks the part and with a new lighting model, a fantastic damage system and the TrueFeel handling in place, it's shaping up nicely ahead of its May launch. We'd like to play GRID 2 with the flashbacks back in place, as it's frustrating to be winning a race only to lose it on the last leg, and the difficulty level seems a tad uneven at present.
There's still a bit of work to be done on GRID 2, that much is clear, but Codemasters has always made great racing games, and that doesn't look set to change with GRID's follow-up. We've heard that the achievement list might be pretty good too...
GRID 2 is out on May 28th in North America and May 31st in Europe.