GRiD 2 Review
Ever seen one of those graphs shaped like a plus? The ones companies use to visualise where their product sits in the market? In the racing genre those lines are easy to plot. Arcade and simulation along one axis, fun and challenge along the other. At least, it should be easy: There’s Forza Motorsport, right there, most of the way up towards simulation and halfway along to challenging. There’s PGR right in the middle of everything, and Burnout down in the opposite corner. Everyone knows their place.
GRID 2 has a number of issues, some so minor we’re prepared to admit we’re nitpicking, a few of such occasional severity to have us bark primal anger at our screens. What these problems have in common, though, the fundament that underpins them all, is that GRID 2 wants to occupy not one, but multiple points on this graph.
This is evident very early on. The first season of your career contains just about every type of racing imaginable from standard track racing to drift events, outrun-style checkpoint events, elimination events, events where you overtake as many oversized 4×4 trucks as possible, small-scale championships, heavy cars, light cars, drifty cars, grippy cars. There are city tracks, race tracks, mountain tracks. From the off, GRID 2 says: I am all things to all men.
The career mode is split into several seasons, subdivided into club events (and later league events), each of which comprise several individual races, which can be a mixture of those available. The background here is that you’re the new kid on the scene and, beginning with a self-renovated American muscle car and operating out of your home garage, you’re tasked with making a splash, first on the amateur, and later on the professional racing scenes.
Codemasters Racing, rather than restrict its creativity under licence of an established real-world racing organisation, has invented its own: the WSR (World Series Racing). With that comes inter-seasonal video shorts featuring one very convincing American ESPN sports anchor interviewing one trying-too-hard Brit who’s perhaps a little bit too excited about it all. We can’t honestly say that these skits add anything, but they do succeed in giving your hands (and feet if you’re using a wheel) a wee rest which, considering the sheer automotive violence of many of the races, is more than welcome.
Therein lies one of our most significant criticisms of GRID 2. Your bog-standard pack race – complete X amount of laps from the back of the grid and come in first – sounds easy. Simple. Straightforward. It’s not. Because GRID 2 point-blank refuses to allow you the necessary amount of laps to race properly. You know how to race properly, right? You avoid contact, tailgate the guy in front awaiting your perfect moment like a cat in a bush, then either out-brake him at the next turn or corner faster and draft in behind him on the straight. You can’t do that to twelve cars in either two or three laps of around a minute thirty.
In fact, the only way to win many of these particular races is never to lift your foot from the floor and literally smash your way through the pack, hoping to emerge on top from each successive pile-up. We hoped that this two-to-three lap race distance would become a thing of the past beyond the first few races, but no. Codemasters Racing posits that we all have ADD. The last endurance race we drove lasted all of six minutes which, if we were a mayfly, would fit the description. But we’re not.
Thankfully, circuit racing is not all that’s on offer, and in other modes this short race/aggressive AI approach works well. In Eliminators, for example. The guy in last place is knocked out every 20 seconds, making all that frantic kerfuffling and aggressive corner-charging seem entirely appropriate.
The new Liveroutes mode, in which the layout of the track changes each lap, is an interesting proposition on paper, Codemasters also taking away your mini-map which, in theory, removes track knowledge from the equation and forces you to rely on instinct. But there’s a paradox.
With no mini-map and no means to tell how acute each corner is (and therefore what speed you should approach it) there’s a tendency to approach each corner in a slow, non-committal fashion. Which is boring. And eventually, of course, you’ll have learned every corner by sight no matter what order they arrive in, allowing you to fly through each at the fastest possible angle and speed. The upshot is that track knowledge is still the defining factor, it’s just that it takes that much longer to learn and is no fun at all while you’re doing it. A-star for effort then, but a D for thinking things through.
Other, more arcade-focused modes fare a little better. Both the OutRun-style checkpoint races – adding seconds for each one passed, success measured by the total number of feet travelled by the time the clock hits zero – and point to point one-on-one chases are an inarguable success.
Yet we still have niggles concerning the handling of the cars. Some may like things easy, but for our tastes most of the cars are too forgiving of mistakes. Corners entered with too much stink often result not in a crumpled wreck, but with the back end slid lovingly out to maintain a perfectly angled and not-at-all-earned drift.
Typically, early cars are of the fun-but-rather-slow variety, the races are short and it never quite (though it comes so close) manages to overawe you with its multitude of modes. It wins instant points for its decal and livery system which, while considerably more simplistic than Forza Motorsport’s painting system, plays to its own strengths, allowing us to enpinkenate (paint a bright, obnoxious pink) every car in our garage at the touch of a button, a process that would take a week in Forza.
The message here, though, is not realism, it’s variety – and it’s a message we felt loud and clear. But doing everything often does GRID 2 no favours. Its failure to specialise has led it to apply a lot of similar AI and rules of handling to modes in which they don’t sit well. Let’s put this another way.
We love beef, hate sprouts and are indifferent to mushrooms. So if someone offers us a steak cooked just the way you like it, we couldn’t be happier. But what if, in order to eat it, we have to eat all the sprouts and mushrooms too? We like steak. Steak is good. But no matter how good it is it doesn’t make the sprouts any less detestable or the mushrooms any less boring. Can you see where we’re going with this?
Each and every one of you is going to like and loathe different things. For us, we couldn’t be more ecstatic about (some of) the real track racing, about the Eliminator events, checkpoint dashes and others. They suit GRID 2’s arcade feel. They’re our steak. The overtake and one-on-one dashes are our mushrooms, and Liveroutes, along with anything that involves drifting, are our sprouts. It’s subjective. Some of you probably love driving sideways. You’re mad, but we’re not going to blame you.
So while we can’t predict which race types you’ll love and which you’ll loathe, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that your feelings towards the whole will likely be mixed. When it’s fun, GRID 2 is really fun. And really, really pretty. But it just can’t seem to decide what it wants to be.
Its lack of an option to mark a racing line on the track can and should be seen as a hats-off to the hardcore racer, as is the ability to tweak just about every minor aspect of the game’s handling on a wheel. But at the same time, its short races, ultra-forgiving handling and lack of in-car camera views pulls it the other way as does the fact that in our extensive testing on a high-end wheel, no matter how many times or to what extent we tweaked its settings, the cars never felt ‘right’.