Some technical issues plague a solid, but otherwise not very innovative racer.
By Alex Walker on May 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm
In almost every way imaginable, GRID 2 is exactly what I wanted, and what I expected. You could draw comparisons with Call of Duty; the cars, the tracks, that sense of speed is all here almost five years to the day GRID was released.
GRID, mind you, has never been all things to all men, but rather the “serious” racer novices could enjoy. The physics erred on the side of accessibility, rather than reality, and so it remains with the sequel. Unlike sims such as iRacing, you can quite happily survive the consequences of, say, sideswiping a driver into the wall at Indianapolis, or being sandwiched between two hot hatchbacks.
It’s a little unfair because Codies have never advertised GRID as the ultimate in racing physics: it’s just a mark of how popular the series is that fans want a few changes of their choosing. But provided the blurred line between being able to finish with a dodgy wheel axle and half a door doesn’t grind your gears, then the long-awaited continuation of the Race Driver series (even though the title has since been retired) is a worthy successor.
GRID 2’s campaign mode has some resemblances with the original. Europe, Japan and the Americas are initially separated until the launch of World Series Racing, a global challenge combining various forms of racing that include the typical elimination, time trial, drifts, touge, endurance and standard races.
Among this mix is the new LiveRoutes system, a mode that drops players on a track that changes from lap to lap. Since part of the challenge is identifying the racing line as it evolves, you’re not given a minimap, but left to figure it out on your own. The cities you race in are used throughout the game, so the course won’t be entirely unfamiliar from lap to lap, but it’s just enough of a twist to keep things fresh.
Codies have tried to liven up the single-player a little as well with the introduction of Patrick Callahan, the fictitious brainchild behind WSR. You don’t really have any interaction with Callahan, but the growth and development of WSR plays out from season to season in largely irrelevant cut-scenes.
Most of the interesting content unlocks after the third season, which I only unlocked just at the time of writing (more on that later). Everything preceding that, including the various promo and vehicle challenges, is pretty much what fans of the original will expect.
It’s almost offensive when you put it like that, almost as if Codies haven’t tried hard enough or haven’t changed the formula enough. But it’s a sign of just how well Codies have nailed that sense of speed, that line between being able to enjoy circuit races or drift challenges while straddling ever so gently into real-world physics and handling.
This is why sim racers will be completely disconsolate with GRID 2, because from their perspective, it’s basically GRID 1. And in that narrow, isolated world, it’s true. The fundamental GRID experience hasn’t changed, although there are plenty of new bells and whistles that gamers from all walks of life would enjoy.
For a start, every track is more alive. The updated engine can render over 30,000 fans in the crowd without skipping a beat, and the clever use of blurring, lighting and the various other improvements are quite impressive. The more rural tracks make up for the lack of spectators with scenery, although I found tracks like Paris, which combine the tightness of an inner-city circuit with views of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, the most appealing.
The cars themselves are equally well-rendered, although the damage model leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not a sim racer, and have never made any claims to be, but even as a casual fan of GRID, the cars take far too much of a beating even on the highest damage levels. Occasionally, the side of my car would slam into the wall, damaging one of my tires and pulling my steering ever so slightly to one side. It barely affected my performance, and the AI was too inept or usually not sharp enough to take advantage.
Had it not been for severe technical issues, I would have played the entire game on the hardest difficulty. Anything less and the AI is woefully inept — with leads of five, ten or more seconds easily attainable.
Even though the technical problems that plagued me during my review were probably the absolute worst case scenario, I would be remiss not to address them here. Until literally just a few hours ago, GRID 2 refused to remain open for longer than three to five minutes at a time. It wasn’t until I started playing in windowed mode that the sessions gracefully extended to a whopping ten minutes, which was enough to guarantee that I could complete at least one race at a time.
The most frustrating part was that GRID 2 would not reopen unless I restarted my PC, and while that process is substantially reduced thanks to solid-state drives, it’s still a painful, joyless experience. I submitted a DXDIAG log to Codies through their local PR rep for support but received no reply, and it wasn’t until a ~160mb patch downloaded this very evening of the 28th that the game approached what I would consider a playable state.
These catastrophic graphics driver issues sabotaged any chance I had of enjoying online multiplayer lobbies, although the revamped Racenet now features asynchronous online challenges. They’re similar in principle to EA’s Autolog, although it’s not integrated into the campaign proper.
Players initially have access five different tracks and modes, and you earn XP and in-game currency depending on your performance. Your times and scores are ranked against your friends, and more races are unlocked as you progress.
There’s even a cute Racenet Rivals mode where the game allocates you six rivals to race against: one close to your projected skill level, four “social” drivers of your choosing and one other, who can be selected automatically or chosen through a series of filters.
Like the DiRT series before, players can upload their highlights directly to YouTube. Dedicated YouTube streamers, however, won’t abandon their love of Premiere Pro and Sony Vegas for cutting and exporting — and it’s a service most gamers will ignore. Some might appreciate the ease of use factor, though, although the actual video quality is unknown at this stage: the feature wasn’t available in the review code.
But the YouTube functionality, Liveroutes, Racenet and all the other features really boil down to one thing: more GRID. If you played GRID, loved GRID and have waited five years for more GRID, then its sequel is everything you ever wanted and more. If GRID wasn’t realistic enough, was too forgiving and too simplified: this isn’t the game for you.
And that’s perhaps the best parallel one can draw between this racing franchise and the world’s most popular first-person shooter. Both know exactly what their fans want, targeting them, and them alone. But unlike the behemoth that has become Activision’s main baby, the formula of GRID 2 is something that even non-racing fans will be able to enjoy for years to come.
- An enjoyable balance between arcade racing and reality
- Looks stunning without dropping a single frame
- LiveRoutes is a fun new twist on the standard racing formats
- Online challenges can be a good alternative to finding a game through lobbies
- The World Series Racing plot is more interesting than GRID’s non-plot
- Not one for the sim-racer
- Cars take too much of a beating
- Pointless cut-scenes
- The review code crashed so much I cried
The review copy was provided by the publisher.