GRID 2 was long-rumored, but fans of the original felt like the series would never get a chance to continue due to DiRT getting Codemasters’ focus for racing action in the succeeding five years. Thankfully, nearly a year ago, a follow-up was announced and the fanbase rejoiced. GRID was an incredible game then and in replaying it now before this game, has held up alarmingly well compared to most games in other genres released at that time. The graphics, sound design, and career mode structure remain impressive which means that GRID 2 has a lot to live up to. It doesn’t have to just manage to be better than a sub-par game, but hold its own against something that remains one of the best games in its genre years after release. Fortunately, GRID 2 largely lives up to such a lofty goal.
The mode structure has been streamlined a bit, with the race day option outside of the GRID World career mode being excised in favor of custom events that work in exactly the same way. The career mode has also been altered from offering up a lot of variety in each tier to offering up fewer race types, but more races per type in each one. The career mode’s structure has been changed as well – so instead of having a really sweet-looking staircase menu system that took you from one tier to the next, you have more traditional menus that look fine but really lack the flair of the slick menus from the first game.
That game’s story mode set you up as the leader of a racing team, which is abandoned early on here in favor of you being a racing wunderkind out to lead World Series Racing to the top of the sports world. Big wins help accomplish this, and like before, you’ve got a narrator helping guide you along, but the mode feels a bit more sterile now since it lacks the team aspect and unique visual presentation that helped the original GRID stand out so much before. The use of ESPN licensing to highlight the growth of the sport feels fairly organic though, as does the use of the Youtube license when telling the tale of the sport going viral early on. Like the first, GRID 2 uses product placement fairly well and it doesn’t detract from the experience at all – at least for now. If I played this in five years, I bet this aspect of things would make it feel like a huge time capsule of its time.
Car unlocks are now tied to winning them in vehicle challenges – one car is comped for you, with others being yours if you achieve a certain time in a loaner. This means that the first game’s purchasing system is gone, which also means there’s no option to choose between buying new or weighing the pros and cons of each used Ebay Motors version of the vehicle. While I enjoy the redone career mode because in the end, it focuses on the racing and that’s what matters most, I think it’s a step back from the original.
I do like the more authentic presentation, but feel it strips away a lot of the original’s personality at the expense of making things a tad bit more accessible. Like the first, it’s a blast to play because you have so many different kinds of racing to participate in. Touge is back, so if you’re a fan of face-offs that are more strategy than pure brute force, it’s the racing type for you. You’ve also got time trials, checkpoint races that thankfully don’t require a quarter to add time, and overtake challenges. New to the franchise are LiveRoute races. They’re long endurance tracks with layouts that evolve as you race. This means that if you rely on using the lower-left map to guide you, you’re out of luck and will instead have to rely on pure racing skill to succeed. This is easily the best addition to the game and keeps every race using the feature fresh and exciting.
Like before, racing in GRID 2 is a lot of fun because the engine manages to strike a fine balance between sim and arcade that can appeal to everyone. Outside of races, there isn’t much tinkering with the cars outside of livery customization. That may disappoint die-hard sim racing fans, but as someone who likes the idea of those options being there more than the actual idea of changing a bunch of stuff around, I don’t really mind it not being here. The core racing action is fast and the more aggressive AI really keeps you on your toes since you’ll rub paint, get slammed into a wall or spun out. Even on a lower difficulty setting, they don’t take it easy on you and I love that. You have to work your way up to dominate the tracks, figure out their tactics, and make use of the rewind function to maintain your grip on the controller (and your sanity) at times.
Online is a bit more robust now than it was before. You’ve still got a lot of racing types to participate in, but can now take part in global challenges to earn XP and gain levels so you can build up your online car collection. I definitely wish that the game’s career mode progress carried over to that so you didn’t feel like a newcomer having so few options to choose from after investing hours of time into things, but I suppose it is a way to add to the replay value – even if it in kind of an artificial way. Online play is largely smooth, but does have some hiccups that are strangely present even in single player races as well. There will be times when you’re racing along and things just freeze in place before resuming a second later. It’s incredibly jarring and makes the game feel less polished than anything else Codemasters has released this generation.
Luckily, it’s also the best-looking one they’ve ever done. The original still looks awesome, but the reflection effects here are even better and there are more lighting effects to dazzle you than before. This is especially true in night races where you’ve sometimes got a gorgeous trackside area like the Yas Marina with its giant alternating-light fish building design, fireworks blasting, lights above you, sparks flying from cars hitting each other or the rails, and flash bulbs in the audience all at once. It may seem like sensory overload in theory, but in execution, it never is. There are more paint and design types than before, so if you want a really sweet-looking vehicle, you’ll at least find one setup you like and can either take it and put it on anything or tailor each paint job to each car.
The on-hood cam really showcases how much better the paintjobs look now than before, while the view in front of the car highlights the environments and the two third-person views showcase everything nicely. Unfortunately, the incredible first-person cockpit cam from the first is gone. While I’ve always been more of a behind-the-car view racer, I know quite a few racing gamers who can’t imagine using anything but a cockpit view because it’s so immersive. When it’s done well, it can really suck you into things and that’s it was before. With it being gone, it is something I miss having the option of using even if I didn’t use it all that much. It’s another aspect of the game that feels like a downgrade from the first and that’s never something you want with a sequel – let alone one five years in the making
On the audio side of things, GRID 2 succeeds in much the same way the first one did by making sound effects the star of the show. During races, you’ll really feel every little rub of paint – and see it too as it chips away. Violent crashes sound like they should shatter your car and will take chunks of it off in glorious detail. Music isn’t featured in races, although if you’d like to hear it, custom soundtracks are always an option. The voice over work for the career mode is quite good and manages to convey information without coming across as forced exposition.
GRID 2 continues many of the things that made the original one of this generation’s finest racing games, but suffers from a more lifeless career mode. Between that and the slick in-car view, some of the things that made the first stand out are now gone and while they don’t seriously harm the game, they do make it a less enjoyable experience than the first. The racing action is still as great as ever though, and since that’s what matters most here, it’s still a very easy game to recommend if you loved the original’s gameplay. If not, check that out first since some of the racing modes won’t be for everyone.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a copy of GRID 2 for the Xbox 360 provided by Codemasters.
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