Codemasters know where their strengths lie, and they are keen to capitalise on this. Having disregarded all other genres after the poor performance of the often misunderstood Bodycount, Codemasters publicly announced their commitment to racing videogames. Their first release following this change of tactic, DiRT Showdown garnered much praise for this approach despite the misgivings of many early on in its development, and the announcement that GRID was returning could only be said to have been met with an emphatic response.
Times have changed since Race Driver: GRID launched back in 2007 however, and it appears Codemasters are aware of that. Aside from its visual design, GRID 2 bears very little resemblance to its predecessor. It’s aware of the simplistic nature of the original title’s immersion and GRID 2 has capitalised on this by removing any artificial assists and unnecessary tuning: each car is its own and handles very differently, but they handle exactly the same for anyone who plays.
This is felt right at the very start of the videogame when GRID 2 makes the awkward decision to throw you into one of the worst vehicles in the videogame. It’s a choice that many titles make but isn’t necessarily the best option for videogames which are trying to sell themselves as a one-size-fits-all product. Even if they took it away from us, offering the excuse that we needed to be seen working our way up from the bottom, GRID 2would’ve been wise to give us a fun car to start with. After all, first impressions count for a hell of a lot.
That catch would have been easy to establish as GRID 2’s core gameplay mode is a story led experience. The player is chosen by one Patrick Callahan to be the frontman for a new championship: the mixed discipline World Series Racing. A championship which lowers the barriers of car type and power limits, and sees players from all over the world competing on everything from makeshift tracks and real world stadiums. The range of events is impressive, with standard races joined by point-to-point, elimination, overtake challenges and the new live routes events.
The live route events see the player confronted with one of many possible variations. This adds a new element to the experience for players who have grasped the handling well, giving them a new challenge by forcing them to change their practised driving line at a moments notice. GRID 2 dies include the familiar flashback system, but as the handling is far more stubborn than the DiRT titled it’s likely that you’ll need them at the start.
GRID 2 has a familiar pacing to it’s unlock system in terms of tracks, though new cars do appear to drip into your garage much slower than they used to. Where GRID 2 sets itself apart from the pack is in the window dressing. This external demand placed upon the player to succeed does push you further along, adding to the compulsion to see what comes next. GRID 2’s campaign isn’t simply measured by some checkboxes and an arbitrary number – though those exist too – it’s determined by the size of your audience, fans in the stands and the attention you bring to this new racing championship.
In its multiplayer gameplay modes GRID 2 is a fairly different beast. Both online and local split-screen are supported, with the latter arguably presenting GRID 2 at its very best despite the drastic drop in visual quality and framerate. The variety of race types, tracks, vehicles and customisation options is simply wonderful, and the amount of intense competition that can be had between two similarly skilled players is simply fantastic. Online GRID 2 also performs well, with minimal technical issues and a welcome level system that is far more detailed than anything Codemasters have previously offered. However the decision to have opponents appear as just ghost vehicles didn’t sit well with the Electronic Theatre team, lessening the excitement of a win and the fear of failure.
The visual quality is far and above that of anything the developer has presented before, with some fantastic vistas presented at the roadside and some excruciating impacts when metal meets concrete. The replay upon using a flashback are presented in an odd fashion, removing any speed or position control and thus simply acting as a gameplay mechanic as opposed to offering the option to review previous skilful manoeuvres or failures. The lack of a soundtrack mid-race is an odd decision, but one which does help to wedge a gap between GRID 2 and Codemasters’ other racing franchises, which after all this, is undoubtedly the intention.
GRID 2 stands apart from Codemasters’ modern library by being less arcade influenced that DiRT and yet nowhere near the complex simulation of the Formula One titles. This is also a videogame which, oddly, has very little in common with its predecessor, which is a significant disappointment: GRID 2 is an enjoyable experience but it’s undoubtedly missing the character that made the original Race Driver: GRID unique. GRID 2 deserves to do well as it is a technical wonder in many respects, but whether it can please as wide an audience as Codemasters hope remains to be seen.