Codemasters have long been associated with quality racing games, their understanding of the genre often has them vying for position amongst the Gran Turismo, Forsa's and Need for Speeds, each new iteration constantly upping the game to rise to the challenge of the other titles. Grid 2 returns us to the street racing formula, offering thrills and spills of high speed races through city streets against a plethora of hungry racers, all wanting the top position.
The single player experience has this time taken a more story oriented route, adding more details to the actual whys and whens of your lucrative racing career. With the game starting off in a street race, you are jostling for a top spot, hoping that your final position will attract more fans and hopefully more attention from sponsors. Your wait is not long as you soon receive an invite from Patrick Callaghan, a businessman looking to create the ultimate racing championship, World Series Racing. Whilst he has the ideas and the cash, it is down to you to gather all of the different race groups and convince them to join, so your journey begins, starting off with your humble muscle car and gradually spreading your skills across the many different race classes, proving your skills on the road and winning even more fans.
The story will progress with pretty much every race as long as you do well; ranking high will earn more fans which in turn will start to unlock more invites to other race meets and challenges. Aside from the regular races there are also extra challenges thrown in to sweeten the deal, with specific targets like beating a rival driver, face offs and promotional races to show the sponsors just what you have got. The single player career is quite linear in its approach, slowly opening up more tracks and cars for you to race as you build a solid fan base, touring the world and gathering even more racers to your cause.
Online mode is literally another career mode, but this time against real racers and has a very different approach to single player. Starting off with loan cars, you are set at a massive disadvantage, racing unfamiliar cars against up to 11 other racers. You slowly rank up, earning experience points and cash with every race until you can purchase your first car, at which point the game feels a little more balanced, allowing you not only to earn more cash per race but also start to customise your motor with cosmetic changes and also venture under the hood, adding new engines and drive trains. With four tiers of cars to unlock, there is plenty to set your sights on and plenty of different ways to earn that cash. The main draw is via the Xbox Live area, allowing you to create and join races via playlists, offering simple races, alternative challenges or a mixture of both. The races are just that, set laps from tracks all over the world, each position earing you more towards your next purchase. The alternative challenges offer slightly different rules, with drift challenges, face offs and gate races to try and score high and earn even more. If you feel that the races are little too aggressive (there are a lot of dirty drivers out there) then you can try the Global Challenges, weekly set races that you and your friends can fight for the top time in, earning cash for respectable times.
The overall handling is pretty much well spread through the cars, each reacting as you would imagine (though I have never driven anything other than a beat up Austin Metro), with the heavier cars taking a bit more effort to get around corners. Most of the cars seem to have a heavy reliance on drifting, a trick that takes some serious getting used to as the first few races are really scrappy, scraping of paintwork and dropping bumpers and getting radiator leaks become a regular occurrence with real time damage. Given some time behind the wheel you do finally get it together and it is quite satisfying power-sliding through the positions on long corners and not even chipping the paintwork. No matter how good you become, inevitably something will always go horribly wrong, misjudging a corner or a friendly little tap on the bumper from a rival sending you spinning, thankfully the rewind function is here again which allows you to pause and then rewind the previous few seconds of the race with the press of a button, allowing you to then pick up the race from a safe point and try again. Though I do feel like I am cheating when doing this, there are moments where I am glad as otherwise the whole race would have been a total wipe-out.
With the amazing visuals on offer both on the track and the cars themselves there are no faults in the graphical prowess of the game but even so, there are some interesting and at times frustrating design decisions. My main gripe and one that seems to be a reoccurring problem with racers is the camera positions. Pretty much confirming its arcade routes, there is no cockpit view, leaving two "first person views", a bumper view and an over the bonnet view, taking away any real feel of realism ( have you ever tried driving a car from the bonnet or under its wheels?). This leaves the third person views, a couple of varying distance over the car, allowing a decent feel for the drifting but taking away any real feel of speed and second shaving cornering. Though I do favour the first person views in my racing games solely due to the ability to corner easier and offering a real sense of speed, it still does not quite work on Grid 2, with the bumper view being far too low and the bonnet view giving of a nauseating and confusing optical illusion due to the high quality of the reflections on the hood, leaving me to resort to the third person more often than usual, again showing its hand as an arcade racer.
Ultimately, Grid 2 is a very satisfying racer, offering beautiful visuals that never seem to struggle and a decent learning curve on the handling aspect of the game, plus with essentially two career modes, it will keep you busy for a very long time.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: PS3)
+ Great on and offline modes
+ Superb graphics and sound
- No cockpit view
- Initial challenge is quite high