Codemasters who (based out of Birmingham) are the sole remaining truly independent British publisher, and with this comes with a certain expectation from UK gamers. Predominantly we want games that will appeal to us; the local audience. However as DiRT proved and now GRID 2, this is the last thing that Codemasters seem to be keeping fresh in their mind. It’s quite apparent by the lack of UK based career races that this title has been aimed at where the money is…. The United States of America and the Asian markets. If it wasn’t for the fact Codemasters still create enjoyable games you might find us more upset.
As a somewhat spiritual successor to the TOCA Touring Car series, the game finds itself sat in between Gran Turismo and PGR (Project Gotham Racing) in terms of what you can expect. It’s not quite a simulation title, but then it’s definitely not an arcade game either. It’s a 5 year late sequel that blends game mechanics and modes together in way that leaves us feeling a little confused about the intent. Oh… and it includes a ‘story line’. They are trying to fill a very narrow niche market, but Codemasters feel they have cracked it, and I agree.
One of the major new features for GRID 2 is the ‘TrueFeel’ handling. This does exactly what it sounds like by ensuring it looks and feels like you’re driving a real car while simplifying the experience just enough to make sure it’s fun for less experienced players – although removing the driver aids (as seen in previous titles) seems an odd move given that goal. Ensuring that this doesn’t raise the entry barrier too high for newcomers and first time players; GRID 2 has retained the Flashback rewind feature that has now become a standard feature in a good deal of race games, not just from Codemasters. Flashback allows you to remind the action by a few seconds and rectifying those little mistakes made. You can change the amount of Flashbacks available or switch them off entirely.
There are some race types and features missing from GRID 2; team mates and Derby races for example, however GRID 2 still features an eccentrically random collection of different motorsports, race types, and locations – with an equally wide-ranging collection of cars from across the last four decades. Although this feels like a lack of focus on one era, this was a purposeful development decision from Codemasters and does become one of GRID 2’s main appeals. Checkpoint races in ‘70s muscle cars rubbing shoulders with drift challenges, duels, time trials, and circuit races – all taking part in a variety of real-world cities, stadia, and closed-road events combine together to give GRID 2 a great variety of game modes ensuring boredom doesn’t set in too quickly.
So I mentioned earlier on that there is a story line to GRID 2… unfortunately this is something Codemasters are still convinced they need to include; a plot to explain everything happening. But even this doesn’t work the way it should and there are massive gaps in the players learning curve to understanding just what is happening. Whilst there is no ‘team building’ in GRID 2 as the career is structured around competing against different race clubs with the goal of bringing them into the World Series Racing (WSR); the way the player is rewarded is unclear. The main way to unlock new cars and events is by winning fans – a process that the game fails to explain properly in terms of how you’re actually rewarded for a race. And it seems to be at completely random intervals you are told to pick a new car, without the explanation of what club it will be used for etc. Even specific in-game rewards and penalties can be confusing, and whether you get away with cutting corners seems to be largely random. Hitting an opponent never is though: they always get the worst of it whether it seems to be your fault or not.
Whilst the variety of modes available is excellent and storyline aspect annoying, both are overshadowed by just how good the graphics are. Codemasters never seem to get the full acclaim they rightly deserve for their visuals, but both the scenery and the cars themselves are easily within the top-tier of the genre. The landscapes in particular are presented with a good deal more showmanship than either Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. We are at the end of current gen titles with a few more weeks before the Xbox One and PS4 are released, but Codemasters have done a fantastic job with squeezing the last bit of performance out of our current gen consoles.
There is a 1 major graphical/presentation issue however, and oh boy has it been complained about. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and online forums have all been awash with complaints. There is no cockpit view. Apart from the drain on a console’s horsepower there doesn’t seem to be any satisfying explanation for this and the only replacement that comes close to resolving IT is a bonnet view. Not exactly what some of the diehard fans were looking for.
So here we are, we’ve been playing the game for 1 week now and suddenly it’s apparent that once the ‘excitement of the new’ fades away, we aren’t actually left with as much as we initially thought. There is the concept of LiveRoutes, which creates randomised layouts by connecting together separate pieces of a course, but although this ensures even more variety randomisation rarely satisfies in any type of game – and least of all a racer where one of the primary pleasures is getting the top time on a hand-crafted course. LiveRoutes kills off the ability to learn a route inside and out enabling that record breaking time and for a few race simulation gamers I know, this could be a problem… Benjos I am looking at you!
It’s been 5 years since the original GRID, that is 5 years of planning and brain-storming, design concept, creation, beta and bug testing and more. But for a game that’s been five years in the making GRID 2 is frustratingly inconsistent, and lacks the genuine innovation that marked out the original. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable or a well-polished, graphically pleasing title – it just feels lacking in certain areas. So to make sure you get my point… it’s a great all-round racer with modes and features to please and entertain pretty much every kind of petrol head, it just feels there may have been too many sacrifices made in pursuit of the big bucks.