When I heard that Codemasters was finally going to give Grid a proper sequel, I was pretty excited. After all, the original Grid was one of my favorite racers from this console generations early years. A title that maintained a sound balance between the open accessibility of an arcade racer and with the physics and damage model comparable to a simulator. Packed in with a fantastically open career mode that allowed you to select regions to race in with events catered to that region’s racing style, and Grid had a little something for every racing fan.
Grid 2 maintains much of what made the original title unique; a light story featuring an up-and-coming driver, a multitude of global race styles with plenty of race specific vehicles to select from. You assume the role as a faceless driver, much like how you did in the original Grid. But instead of starting your own racing team, you are the catalyst for a billionaire’s dream of creating his own racing league, the World Racing League. Your goal is to travel the globe, challenging the best racing teams at their own styles of racing, to get them to compete in this fledgling league. The more you compete and win, the more fans you and the league will garner unlocking new races, promotional challenges and netting you new opportunities to increase your stable of cars. Although the concept of fans being the closest thing to currency in Grid 2 is a stretch, providing the groundswell for the World Racing League is a nice veil to drape over what is essentially a linear career mode.
All the classic racing styles have returned with Grid 2 featuring a heavy dosage of circuit, hot lap, eliminator and drift. Touge is one of my favorite returning disciplines with one on one racing where you either cross the finish line first, or build up a five second lead. It might be the little +/- bar in the middle of the screen but I couldn’t help falling into the tension of touge. Grid 2 has also added checkpoint races where you race a clock to drive through as many checkpoints as possible. Each checkpoint crossed adds a little extra time and in an added twist, knocked out vehicles remain on the track as giant obstacles to dodge. Also new is an overtake challenge where you attempt to build up points by passing pickup trucks. Your point multiplier will gradually go up (until it maxes out at 1000) and colliding with a wall or another vehicle resets the point counter.
The biggest feature Grid 2 added was their Liveroutes courses. Rather than racing on a track’s individual layout, Liveroutes mixes up the formula by randomizing the turns on the tracks. With no finish line and no clue which variation the Liveroute will take you, drivers need to quickly memorize landmarks and turn grades to successfully outlast their opponents. Because the course is randomized, the minimap is also disabled, forcing you to depend on your visual clues. Liveroutes isn’t without its quirks however, I once found myself racing around the same block about four times in a row before it selected an alternative course. First this was awfully repetitive, seeing the same four 90 degree right turns over and over, but at no point did I ever run into the cars that should have been behind me (and thus stuck on that single block I was circling around).
But as much as the World Racing League feels like a thoughtfully presented career mode, I found myself desperately searching for some of the things that made Grid’s career so fulfilling. Gone are racing teammates, gone are obscure racing events disciplines, gone is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Every little extra thing that Grid did to elevate itself, Grid 2 had undone. I found myself missing the radio chatter from my teammate, knowing that he would be right behind me blocking for me if I recruited the correct driver. I missed the incredible precision of driving an open wheeled racer or the skill of pure driving with everybody in the same touring car. But most of all, I missed tackling Le Mans. The adjustable day/night cycle, multiple classes racing simultaneously, that incredible straightaway. Le Mans was one of the gems of Grid and it was nowhere to be found in Grid 2.
Much like the bold attempt to try something different with the World Racing League, driving in Grid 2 is both exhilarating and frustrating. There is a definite sense of speed and chaos that is hard to find in many racers. In the original Grid, much of the focus was on how each car stuck to the track. There was always a threat to understeer or to spinout during a race, but not nearly to the extent that Grid 2 takes it. Cars will bounce about the tarmac and each little subtle elevation change makes a difference in how the tires react to the track. For the most part, this is a good thing because it keeps you on your toes, reacting to the subtle changes that Grid 2’s plethora of courses offer.
The problem is that every car wants to slide. Doesn’t matter what the drivetrain is nor does it matter if they are classified as balanced, grip or drift. All the cars in Grid 2 perform best when allowed to get loose. When racing in a traditional manner, drivers need to focus on entry speed and the apex of each corner. This adage holds true for Grid 2, except that while drifting, the speed loss is very minimal. What this translates to is that you can enter a corner at a much higher entry speed, and a well timed slide will allow you to hit the perfect speed for the corner to accelerate out. Even during drifts, I found myself gaining on cars ahead of me and it ultimately became my go-to tactic.
But in order to counter this aggressive driving style, Grid 2 has some incredibly aggressive opponents. Computer controlled opponents are not afraid of contact and will bump you for position off the starting grid, get into your back corner to prevent you from turning and take some of the most physics defying, aggressive lines in corners that constantly cut off any traditional attempt to pass. I’ve been put into the wall several times by the stubborn AI and it never gets weirder seeing the computer move from the outside of a turn, yank the wheel and sharply turn into the apex.
Technically, I find myself constantly impressed by what Grid 2 has done. There are subtle details in tracks like helicopters and passenger jets flying overhead, a low setting sun as you carve up a mountain pass. Even the sounds of the tires on the track are noticeably different when taking turns at different speeds. At a decent speed they will squeal as you slide around a corner, at a much faster speed they will skitter across the tarmac with each little skip producing an individual squeak. These little textural notes in sound also translate to the force feedback, which is one of the better uses I’ve seen in a game
Ultimately, I don’t dislike Grid 2, it is a blast to play with challenging computer opponents, a nice premise and is technologically stellar. I just hate that they changed so much from Grid to get here. I realize that it has been six years, but Grid 2 feels more like a spin-off than a successor.
A fun racer that is easy to play, a challenge to compete in and has a variety of styles to compete in. As much as I enjoy it, questionable physics and omitting all the things that made the original special really hold Grid 2 back from being a true success.