Racing superstars Codemasters return with the follow-up to their 2008 driving smash-hit with Grid 2. Can lightening strike twice? Adam Findley finds out…
Let me paint you a picture with my imagination brush…
Last month, the first Iron Man film hit the cinemas. Bland TV channel, 5 Life changed its name to the pretentiously matey, Fiver and Freesat launched. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson was voted London Mascot. Less than a week ago, Russia won Eurovision with ‘I Believe’. Two days ago, Mass Effect was released, fast becoming one of the most popular sci-fi RPG’s of all time. Today is the 30th and if you’re a racing fan, history was about to be made with Racedriver: Grid.
Racedriver: Grid wasn’t just another racing simulator; it didn’t care about extensive customisation, fine-tuning or flimsy narratives; it’s just you, your vehicle and the track. Chief among those tracks being the controller-smashingly, frustrating 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 12 minute long endurance complete with dynamically changing day-to-night cycle had plenty of suicidal bends. Not helped by 19 other AI’s, just as hungry for first place, racing alongside you. Every car handled differently and each one had to be learnt in order to keep the wheels sliding in the right direction. Failure to do so, resulted in some, at times (aka when you’re not in them), blisteringly beautiful crashes and vehicular defamation. But perhaps the most important feature of Racedriver: Grid that firmly cements it as a milestone in the racing genre was the simple, yet so obvious introduction of ‘Flashbacks’. Flashbacks enabled a driver to instantly salvage their kamikazied vehicle, rewind the action up to 10 seconds before the incident and take the corner again. Penalty free. Pass GO and collect £200. The popularity of Flashbacks set a standard for other racing games to follow.
Five years after it’s big brother shone a light in the racing genre, car game gods, Codemasters are back with Grid 2. Driving on behalf of the not-so-generically-named-but-still-not-unique-enough-to-be-considered original, World Series Racing owner, Patrick Callahan, the premise of the game is to attract a large enough fanbase in order to warrant that season’s WSR championship to proceed. In conjunction, in order to attract the world’s top drivers (*cough* AI’s) to WSR, they must be beaten in their own street racing clubs and factions. Gain a podium finish here and receive a nice increase to the fanbase. Conquer WSR and as well as an increase in fame, progression to the next racing hub and set of club races will be unlocked.
The opening street race, set in Chicago, a short, compact affair with plenty of 90° turns and sweeping bends, proves to be a balanced track; not too n00b-crushingly difficult but not dick-holdingly easy either. It is here that Grid 2 showcases its vastly improved drifting mechanics, that makes powersliding round corners a kin to being in a Fast & Furious film and not the wonky shopping trolleys from R:G1’s gruelling Japan levels. Players will start off in the 1970’s Ford Mustang Mach 1, a pleasant mix of great speed, average drifting and almost stop-on-a-penny braking. The environments have also had a touch up from the previously dull, muted attempts, favouring vibrant city landscapes and serene countryside idylls.
Call Me Moose
Some returning features from R:G1 include the personalised handles, race officials will call you by, both sensible and ridiculous, (anyone want to be called Fats, Goat or Milk?). You can even, say if you were filthy, deserting, Australian, borderline-unstable and hanger around in dark passageways, call yourself Hitman, for example. Vehicular distress is still as graceful and as chaotic as before, if a little too rare in this reviewer’s playthrough, with AI’s favouring the standard seemingly on-rails route through locales. Unless ‘gently persuaded’ otherwise, they’ll stubbornly stay pointed in the right direction. Back also, are the pursuit of sponsors and sponsor challenges. This time though, instead of objectives focused solely on podium positions and clean racing, sponsors will challenge you to finish a set number of seconds before another driver, achieve/maintain a certain speed/drift for a set amount of time or beat track record lap times. But don’t be fooled, managing to get a full house is persistently fiendishly difficult. The livery creation has received a small improvement, now allowing the player to craft multiple designs for different cars.
In addition to the returning roster of Races, Time Trials and Drift Tournaments, Grid 2 is joined by six new disciplines, Faceoffs, Vehicle Challenges, Checkpoint Races, Promotional and Elimination Events and Liveroutes. Faceoffs will be familiar to anyone who played the Touge levels in the original game, although this time bends are considerably tamer and stretch across much more horizontal landscapes. Vehicle Challenges are all too easy Time Trials with the end result culminating in the reward of the assigned car. Promotional Events are isolated events that task the driver with completing a particular objective against another opponent, (Overtake Challenges and Sponsorship Races). Elimination events are pretty self-explanatory; anyone who has played the likes of Burnout Revenge or Split:Second Velocity won’t find much evolution here. Liveroutes are Grid 2’s much boasted about new ‘game-changing’ feature. These are endurance races with a twist, after each lap the track will seamlessly alter its route, ensuring that no two laps of the race are the same. It’s the racers skill at taking corners and knowledge of the arena that’ll often win out here.
It’s time to address the elephant in the room…
Liveroutes are NOT new to the racing genre. Anyone who recently played the last vehicular offering by Black Rock Studios will be disappointed to learn that Liveroutes play like lower key version of the route-changing Power Plays from Split:Second Velocity. It’s an annoying truth which sours an otherwise okay racing discipline and it’s made all the more demoralizing once you realise the order in which routes change STAY THE SAME during subsequent playthroughs. This devolves every succeeding event into a memory exercise, remember the corner change(s) upon restart and it will faithfully adapt in exactly the same way as before.
The first sign of Grid 2’s catalogue of errors starts with the inclusion of a rather unnecessary tutorial level. Upon achieving Callahan’s respect in Chicago you are forced to take part in a test drive on the Indianapolis racing circuit. Meant as a way to ease new gamers into the game’s handling mechanics, the inability to skip it will annoy and patronise the experienced. Why it is the SECOND event instead of the first is a further proof of its pointlessness.
Don’t get too used to it though as Grid 2 has a dearth of licensed tracks, favouring instead, fictional street based and unfamiliar countryside locales. Of the licensed courses, many are suffering from an inert identity crisis. Speeding round the Algarve and Indianapolis circuits handles differently but aesthetically they’re almost identical stages of white, grey blue and green.
The hyped AI’s consistently run on flats, they’re too careful, too manipulative and too few. Club races will commonly pit the player against a pithy 7 AI’s and even when reaching the harder WSR stages, AI’s don’t rise much higher than 11. To compensate for (or to hide) this, tracks are much more compact than R:G 1 resulting in shorter laps ‘full’ of mindless, forgettable competition.
Remember the point made about R:G not needing to rely on flimsy narratives? Well, it seems that little proviso was ignored for the sequel. The whole storyline of Patrick Callahan and the WSR is weak and redundant and constantly played down through irrelevant textual reminders and boring live action cutscenes. The game could have faired equally well without it.
An air bubble in the gas tank of the games modest vehicular offerings are the categorisation of Drift, Balanced and Grip aspirated cars. Far from making racing selections easier, such restrictive measures hamstrings gameplay by standardising the handling models. Drift cars struggle hopelessly on tracks with a lot of short, sharp bends, Grip cars tend to understeer too much and Balanced cars sometimes won’t grip at all. The only variable left to distinguish driving experiences is the sense of speed. Otherwise, the whole system is too confining and suspiciously lazy.
One Careful Owner
Grid 2 is not a terrible game but it’s hard not to catch the faint oily reek of “Accessibility” under the tyres. The move away from real world locations, inclusion of unnecessary narratives and repetitive gameplay structure tarnish extensive damage models, diverse racing disciplines and challenging difficulty levels. Grid 2 at times feels lost, if suffering an identity crisis, is it, like it’s predecessor, a brutal racing simulator or a blandly accessible arcade racer? If Racedriver: Grid has the racing leathers of the motor-racing genre, Grid 2 feels more like a cut-price training shoe.
– Adam Findley.