May 28, 2013
Born from the ashes of Codemasters' old TOCA Race Driver series, the first GRID was a continuation of the story-driven racer in which you play the central role of a burgeoning raw driving talent, wheel-spinning your way from one event to the next. There was something inherently rough and ready about GRID, with its deliberately grimy style and its straightforward, no-nonsense approach to racing.
Codemasters has become a developer increasingly renowned for its racing games over the years, with Codemasters Racing formed to focus purely on the genre. Its latest effort is GRID 2, and it's a little different to its predecessor. In places it's been pulled back, while in others it's been expanded considerably, while from a presentation perspective, it's much cleaner than its forebear.
As you might already know, GRID 2 is all about your ascent through the World Series of Racing, from a lowly YouTube sensation to world conquering poster boy for wealthy tycoon Patrick Callahan's pet project. As a believable story, GRID 2's WSR device is a little bit of a stretch, but at least it's something that's more immersive and fleshed out than GRID's skeletal narrative.
Where GRID had you plodding through a series of races as the seasons rolled by, GRID 2 is a far more structured affair that's all the better for it. The first season deals with your rise from internet obscurity to racing upstart, as the WSR grows around you, attracting racing talent from North America.
As you enter season two, you'll be along for the ride as the WSR continues to sprawl into Europe before heading into Asia for season three, gaining television coverage on ESPN Sports Center, as crowds at the trackside start to make their presence felt around the globe. It's something that feels far more involving than GRID's story, where your only motivation was to keep entering races to boost your rep around the world. It was a little fuzzy to say the least, but accumulating fans in GRID 2 is a clear and simple device for progression.
After each successful race, you'll see your fan numbers climb, and before you can take on the final championship to close out the season, you'll need to have amassed enough fans to progress. In some cases this means you'll have to get podium finishes in most – if not all – races, but when the racing is as enjoyable as it is in GRID 2, this never poses much of a problem.
GRID 2's handling model feels tighter and slightly more accessible than in the first GRID, and while the rival AI seems a little more forgiving, it's still incredibly aggressive, especially in the later seasons. This can be particularly frustrating when you forge a rivalry with a fellow WSR racer (damn you, Harrison Carter!), only to see them start at the front of the race grid, while you're relegated to the back of the pack, despite being Callahan's golden boy. Surely if you're consistently winning races, you should be starting in pole position too?
A lot of GRID 2's street circuits are incredibly tight and narrow too, which coupled with the aggressive AI, makes the need to battle from 12th place to the front a seemingly impossible and sometimes infuriating task. Thankfully, the so-called 'TrueFeel' handling strikes the perfect balance between realism and accessibility, meaning that even when you're struggling, you're still having a good time with GRID 2. Nonetheless, you'll no doubt give the superb damage model a good workout, effecting both the cosmetics and performance of your car.
When you do inevitably crash, you can use a Flashback, which makes a welcome comeback for GRID 2, in a far more streamlined guise, refined and assigned to a single face button. Made a mistake? Hit Y to rewind in real time, then hit it again to resume. It couldn't be any simpler. Difficulty once again dictates how many Flashbacks you have at your disposal, with normal giving you a generous five. We still managed to regularly use these all up though.
Not only has Flashback been refined, but the entire game has been stripped down to brass tacks. Sadly that means you're no longer free to surf eBay for bargain cars, and in fact shopping for rides has been dispensed with entirely. Now you're simply granted cars for completing races, presented with a choice of two very similar models from different manufacturers at certain junctures. You can then win the second car through completing a vehicle challenge in which you have to beat the target time in a hot lap.
You'll have a bulging garage filled with desirable metal in no time, and you'll have paid for none of it. Not with in-game currency anyway, because there is none in the career mode. That's restricted to the online portion of the game, which is completely separate to the World Series of Racing career bits.
Online you'll accrue cash for completing races or Global Challenges against other GRID 2 players on the leaderboards. This latter aspect is not unlike Need for Speed's Autolog, in which you can compete against friends and other online rivals for the best times and scores. There are medals to be won too, and every one you gain counts towards an overall running score on the leaderboard.
Multiplayer features all of the various racing modes from career, including Checkpoint, Touge, Drift, Elimination, Race, Overtake and so on, and spreads them across the single-player online Global Challenges - that can be completed at your leisure each week - and the more traditional competitive multiplayer aspect. This all has a persistent levelling system, with levelling up granting access to newer and better cars, while any cash you gain can be used to purchase upgrades for your rides.
Racing online is good fun, and you can see which players are the most aggressive or prone to ramming you off track with the impact rating that's been assigned to each player. It's a neat touch that ensures you can play with similar players if you want, and the array of modes, upgrades, liveries and cars available to purchase as you level up will keep you playing multiplayer for countless hours, especially if you want to bag all of the achievements.
On that front, well you know the score. We can't really say anything here, can we? Here's the basics: there's some progression-based achievements and various tasks to complete to scoop the rest. You're presented with a whole selection assigned to the career, and yes, there's a selection devoted to the online multiplayer part of GRID 2. There's achievements. Let's leave it at that.
GRID 2 is a more than worthy follow-up to its 2008 predecessor that delivers an exciting and visceral racing experience. Yes, the lack of a cockpit view is somewhat disappointing, but when the handling and controls are so tight and enjoyable, it's hard to complain. Add to that some blistering visuals with truly stunning lighting, and you have one of this current generation's finest racing titles. Not just that, but GRID 2 might just be the last truly great racing game of this generation.
When the music kicks in, it's a bit generic and forgettable. Engine sounds are the usual kind of thing you'd expect from a racing game, while the chatter from your radio man who offers advice during races, can become something of an irritant. Take for example the numerous times he told me a crash had happened on track, the second after I'd ploughed straight into it. Thanks.
A remarkably pretty racing title, Codies' has nailed GRID 2's car models and its glamorous, exotic global locales. Immersive and beautiful to behold, this is the EGO Engine at its very best.
GRID 2's handling model is pitched right in the dead centre between intuitive arcade-style pick-up-and-play and racing sim. It's simple to play, challenging to master, and should appeal to a broad audience of racing nuts. This is a good thing.
Five long and varied seasons of racing throughout the WSR from its infancy to global domination is the core of the single-player experience. Add to this custom events, split-screen and a comprehensive multiplayer mode, and GRID 2 really is a complete racing package.
Yet another superlative racer to add to Codemasters' ever-expanding racing hall of fame, GRID 2 is an incredibly strong sequel. It may lack the initial 'wow factor' of the first game, but the handling is right on the money, the visuals are gorgeous and the hook provided by the story's WSR MacGuffin draws you right into the thick of the action, making for a more gratifying overall experience. GRID 2 steps on the gas from the get-go and doesn't let up.
Disclaimer: Xbox360Achievements was consulted to create the achievement list due to our expertise. We in no way influenced the game's development or were involved in any of GRID 2's development processes. Furthermore Richard Walker (the reviewer) had no involvement in the creation of the achievement list. Due to X360A's involvement in the creation of the achievement list, we believe it would be inappropriate to score the achievements. In addition, achievement scores have never had any bearing on the overall score we award a game anyway.