GRID 2 presents itself in a massive way. The grunt and snort of the American V8 engine assaults your senses and you know you’re in for something intense. Tyres lose traction as the engine pushes out the torque into the rear wheels. The city is alive with spectators and competitors alike. As the car launches off, the screen stains itself grey from opponent tyres spitting out rubber as they shred against tarmac. Corners come and go and the rear-end of the vehicle snakes left and right while the accelerator stays firmly planted in the straight line chases. You reach the end of the race and breathe in, realising just how much fun you had spinning out, smashing into barriers and mostly just making an ass of yourself.
That should tell you just how much fun this game can be.
Visuals are stunning. Leaves fly up as cars drive over them through scenic mountainside roads. Rubber flies off tires as it gets torn off tarmac. Lights are vivid and colourful, not just from the cars but from the courses themselves. The cities themselves are filled with little details like fireworks, leaves fluttering and towering buildings with windows reflect sunlight off them. Cars fall apart and scrape against barriers and mountain rock. Lighting is extremely accurate with headlights hazing along in front of every car and sunlight glaring into the camera as your vehicle twists around race courses. Every texture is highly detailed and unique to every track. Everything from the fauna in Serpentine Japan’s drift-friendly courses, to Paris’ glowing night life and Chicago’s grey and brown industry are represented in such a completely lifelike fashion that almost makes these locations real.
I don't think I've seen cars tear themselves apart anywhere else quite like they do in this game.
Sound design is equally brilliant. Engines are loud and proud, with turbos hissing and sucking in air while revolutions rise and fall within the gears. Metals scrape high-pitched against barriers and opponents, while the sounds of lumbering metal chassis’ explode out of speakers upon hard impact. You can even hear where your opponents are as they trail behind you or zoom past you after a miss-brake.
Presentation is what really makes this game exceptional
The handling physics lie somewhere between full simulation and arcade. I’d say that things lie more to the arcade side. Rear-wheel drives have a tendency of fish tailing at every opportunity, front-wheel drive cars understeer when going too hard into a bend and all-wheel drives have massive amount of grip. That said, all the vehicles are rear-heavy and have a tendency to drift above all else. Each vehicle has a different has a different style ranging from balanced, drift and grip. Grip cars typically have higher amounts of grip and tend to keep stability while cornering. Drift cars tend to have rear ends that drift out more than not. Balanced cars can manage drifting and grip more or less equally.
This is more of an arcade racer than simulation game and things will be a little exaggerated. It shows in two ways: Most cars will drift quite easily, and each car is capable of speeds that are not possible with their real-life counterparts.
Plenty challenge for everyone
GRID 2 has sufficient challenge to keep even the most experienced racers satisfied. As you progress further into the game things get more difficult. It begins with faster, more temperamental vehicles and follows through with tougher enemy AI. Naturally, the further you go into the game the harder things get. Each of the courses have more or less the same in terms of difficulty, and for the most part requires repetition and keen observation to master.
Variety of race formats
The multidisciplinary nature of the game is unfortunately a double-edged sword. It’s GRID 2’s strength and weakness. Circuit and street racing are staples with different styles such as drift, tourge, elimination, hot lap, overtake as well as face off featuring. Elimination is as the name states, don’t be last or you’re eliminated. Hot Lap’s a great race type that pitches you on a circuit with even spacing between you and the next competitor. As a racer, you’re required to get the fastest lap in the race in order to win first place. Overtake is a single car race where pick-up trucks are littered all over the track for over taking. The more overtakes that are pulled off within the lap limit, the higher the score per overtake. If there is a collision with one of the trucks or on the track then your score bonus is reset. The goal is to achieve a minimum score. Tourge mode is the same mode from the original GRID game where you and your opponent are to keep up with each other without any collision.
Another great feature is Live Routes. Live routes, for me is the highlight of this game. The course map is disabled, leaving you on your own to tackle an ever-changing race course. This is by far the most exciting race format of the game. This is mainly due to the unpredictable nature of the courses. Keen observation and a good eye for corners and braking distances are needed in order to win one of these races. Turn 10, EA and Polyphony Digital should take a hint or three from this.
Multiple car selection
Car selection is also a strong point in GRID 2. With many reputable marques like Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolet, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Volkswagen, Dodge, Ford and Nissan featuring players will be spoiled for choice once the vehicles are unlocked. Vehicles are ranked on a tier system ranging from level one to four. Tier one are typically race-prepared road cars, while Tier two are sportier vehicles designed with performance in mind. Tier three vehicles are purely performance vehicles while Tier four vehicles are the fastest and most aggressive cars in the game.
Better on than off
Online play deserves special mention here. Codemasters decided to separate the single and multi-player games. With online racing, a Codemasters Racenet account is required and Xbox Live Gold required play on the Xbox Live lobbies. The major difference, and in my opinion the advantage, is that cars can be bought and upgraded with earnings in online play. Combine this with online leaderboard functionality on different locations such the Red Bull Ring and Chicago there is much room for player growth. As players level up, more cars become unlocked and can be purchased. Upgrades can be purchased for increased performance as well. There is a Rivals mode where players are matched according to opponents aligned to their play style.
There were things that made online play so damn good in comparison to the single player game that I wondered why bother with single player to start off with. One of the reasons perhaps is that it was simpler from an administrative perspective to watch for glitches and irregularities when the online system was separated from single player. This is one of the major challenges facing the administrators of Forza Motorsport 4.
Too much compromise perhaps?
GRID 2 isn't without flaws, however.
As stated earlier linearity is a major issue in Grid 2. This was a problem mainly because there is only so much of a particular type of vehicle a person can take before feeling unnecessarily forced into a fixed path. Flow in the beginning of the single player campaign is a problem, and I felt like I had too little choice of what to do and what cars to choose from. This should’ve been considered before releasing the game.
GRID 2 seems to be confused about what it is from a driving point of view. The problem with compromising in physics too much is that a racing game can lose its identity. Either it feels like a simulator or it feels completely arcade. At one point, taking a Dodge Charger Tier 1 vehicle I lost control in a bend in what was a case of ham-fisted gearing and throttle control. After some doses of counter-steering and left-foot braking the car responded with more grip than any other American muscle car I’ve driven in any other game. At another point, with the same vehicle I was averaging around 170kph around a series of sweeping bends. Add the fact that there are no customisable driving assists and tuning, GRID 2 felt more and more frustrating as the cars given to me were becoming more difficult with time.
Perhaps the biggest annoyance I’ve had is this: the storyline in single player. As with any popular racer released in the last couple of years GRID 2 suffers from a popularity complex. As a player you compete in WSR (World Series Racing) and are sponsored by a billionaire businessman looking for a poster boy. Your achievements are measured in terms of the amount of fans you garner through wins, sponsorship incentives and overall showmanship. It all felt very unnecessary and actually disconnected me from the overall racing experience.
The last and potentially biggest annoyances were the views. GRID 2 relies on racing, and as such, the racing experience needed to be the most competent part of things. Before you ask, I don't missing the cockpit view. I do however miss the ability to have a bigger field of vision. Most cars in the game are massive and take up three-quarters of most street circuits. This is especially the case with the muscle cars. As great fun as they were it was nigh-impossible to judge where the side of your car was in relation to the track and other vehicles. In some Overtake challenges I either missed the pickup trucks by an inch or I had collisions every time an apex was clipped. The lack of customisation in the game options didn’t help here and hampered the experience on the whole.
Good, not great
In conclusion, GRID 2 offers a vast array of extremely exciting racing combined with liberal and fun physics along with some tough challenges. Where it excels it succeeds and surpasses anything before it, where it fails it does frustratingly. I’d recommend this game for anyone not looking for a serious racing experience. The challenges and sense of accomplishment of getting first place in a tough race are worth it in the end. Flaws aside, GRID 2 is a good game. It’s not a great game nor is it an excellent game and if you’re willing to work through the crap there is plenty of fun to be had. Oh, and if you’re tempted to drive your car in real life as you would in GRID 2, don’t even think about it.
GRID 2 is now available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are priced at R529.95, while the PC version is priced at R349.95 from Kalahari.net
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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd