The original Race Driver: GRID didn’t exactly set the industry alight upon it’s initial launch back in 2008, but it has since built a string following thanks to be a highly quality production that offers unique racing thrills. From it’s figure-8 tracks to it’s explosive barrels, Race Driver: GRID presented an experience that would remain entirely it’s own until last year’s DiRT Showdown, which comes from the same stable. The hope is that Codemasters will replicate this formula and build on the success of Race Driver: GRID in the forthcoming sequel, but a lot has happened to the racing genre in the last five years.
Taking its cues from Forza Horizon, GRID 2 eschews the traditional league or championship format in favour of a story-led series of challenges. Patrick Callahan wants to create a mixed racing club, and is looking for a figurehead: that’s you. This new global championship is known as the World Series Racing (WCR) and as you progress through GRID 2 not only will your own notoriety increase but so will that of the sport. Starting on humble tracks against standard vehicles with no-name drivers, the WSR will quickly grow into something a little special as it secures a few fans and then eventually become an international sensation with television coverage and explosive challenges played out before adoring crowds.
Sticking with that opening for a moment however, GRID 2 again seems to have learnt a few lessons from Forza’s off beat outing as it launches straight into a race. No vehicle selection, no menus, no credits. It’s just you, four wheels, the tarmac and a whole heap of trouble. This strikingly direct approach is replicated throughout the videogame – or at least the preview build Electronic Theatre experienced – with no assists offered and the bow traditional flashbacks limited by difficulty setting. The handling takes some getting used to, especially given that the opening vehicles are considerably different to those which other Codemasters racing titles have offered to newcomers, but as would be expected it’s only a matter of getting a handful of races under your belt before you’re hand-breaking those corners with ease.
GRID 2 features a great deal of different event types, including street racing, track racing, drift events, overtake, elimination, the recently revealed live routes and checkpoint racing, but the more fantastical events from the original Race Driver: GRID are noticeable by their absence. It’s almost as if Codemasters intend for GRID to become their more ‘realistic’ street racer (though it remains far from the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport) while the Formula One licence sticks to the high end and DiRT offers their rally and eccentric automobile events. Sadly, that’s not really what we paid the franchise entry fee for with Race Driver: GRID, but hopefully GRID 2 will prove worth the new ticket price.
The final build of GRID 2 will see single-player and multiplayer presented as entirely separate experiences, with the multiplayer gameplay making use of Codemasters’ popular Racenet service. The videogame will assign a stranger rival in addition to your friend rival and set challenges for you to compete against one another which can then be tracked through browser on PC and mobile.. It’s an interesting addition to the basic formula, and one which will no doubt divide the audience like marmite.
The icing on the adrenaline pumping cake is never less than top class, with some fantastic lighting and smoke effects to compliment the on-track action. Many of the crashes you will experience look particularly brutal, with shards of glass and fibreglass littering the tracks alongside whatever parts of your vehicle have been left behind. The damage has an effect on your vehicle too, with crabbing and hindered acceleration all too frequently highlighting Electronic Theatre’s lack of experience and virtual lead foot.
Visually striking and mechanically brilliant, but skirting closer and closer to realistic racing than Race Driver: GRID ever dared, GRID 2 may be a different racing experience to that which fans of the original are expecting. Just like DiRT 3, GRID 2 has lost some of the unique spirit that made Codemasters racing videogames special this generation and replaced it with technical flair. The hope remains that in the final release the mechanical virtuosity of the videogame is enough to make up for the lack of soul.