Published on May 30th, 2013 | by Swaine Dillinger0
Grid 2 – Hands On
In the original GRID, multiplayer racing was a bit of an afterthought. Sure you could race on any track using any car from the campaign, but it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the game’s emulation of worldwide motorsport. That hasn’t stopped GRID still boasting an active online community five years after launch, but for the sequel Codemasters want to inspire a higher level of dedication.
We were fortunate to play this gorgeous racer for two glorious hours and frankly it was a blast. We sampled three out of the six different modes available in GRID 2 – Endurance, Race, and Checkpoint – and we were not only surprised by how different each event felt, but also how much our driving mettle was tested in different ways.
The first event Endurance involved us tackling the Dubai circuit driving the superbly grippy Volkswagen Golf R challenging Subaru SR2s, Audi RS Coupes and other selections from the game’s Tier 1 class. Now Endurance events are time-based races and can last as little as five minutes to 40, and when the optional Liveroutes functionality is switched on, this event type is incredibly tense.
Liveroutes is one of two new big innovations for GRID 2, and it’s an entirely optional mechanic which changes the layout of GRID 2’s fictional tracks on a lap-to-lap basis. While racing on Dubai our straightforward first lap was much trickier second time around, as gradual left corners became sharp right-handers and that long straight midway through the course was no longer followed by an easy kink, but a nasty handbrake-necessary hairpin.
These sorts of on-the-fly changes come along with no warning, as the track silently morphs around the player with spectators, barriers and corner signage changing without any telltale indicators. Racing with Liveroutes switched on proves strange yet exhilarating, as you know you need to keep the pace up to stop others getting past, but at the same time driving recklessly will only lead to your finely tuned racing machine being flung into an assuredly solid metal barrier. At first Liveroutes feels weird as the transformative nature of tracks means it’s really easy to lose your bearings during a lap, but then this unpredictability genuinely creates an ‘edge of your seat’ vibe as you need to keep all your wits about you for changes every corner. Simply put, Liveroutes is stimulating and a genuine innovation in the racing genre.
Next up we tried out a standard race with McLaren MP4 12-Cs, Audi RS3s and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3s on Portugal’s real-life Algarve circuit. These Tier 3 cars were infinitely more powerful than their Tier 1 cousins with the McLaren prone to sudden bouts of snappiness, whereas the Audi stuck to the track like glue, responding to even the most stern demands during corners.
Each car in GRID 2 is given a descriptor to communicate handling – Grip, Balance, and Drift. Their meaning is self-evident and the differences between each of them are felt immediately on-track. GRID 2’s handling model is similar to the original game, with an tendency for all cars to have sudden bouts of oversteer when players tackle corners with too much speed, but it seems easier to man-handle cars now and pull them back moments before they spin out. Seasoned racers will feel when they’re pushing a car too far and at what corners they can extract more – for an arcade racer the depth of this feedback is really impressive. Algarve with its varied gradient and steep curbing also showcased the newly improved physics model, with suspension feeling much freer and liable to flip one side of your car into the air when you feast on too much kerb. The last event involved checkpoint racing around Paris with Tier 1 cars.
Completely absent from the first game, checkpoint mode in GRID 2 involves a rolling staggered start with cars starting with a gap between each other and earning more time as they pass gates. Borrowed wholesale from DiRT this kind of racing means you have to navigate around slower competitors to set a fast time and be weary of any accidents – with the tight roads and sharp corners of Paris this proved particularly difficult.
For a racer that has accessibility at the forefront of its design, it was refreshing to tackle a track which wasn’t short of its fair share of hairpins and tricky chicanes. This track proved to us definitively that to be quick in this racing sequel you need to master drifting around corners to maintain competitive speeds, as when we adopted the traditional brake early and power out approach we got trounced by the opposition.
No doubt GRID 2 is certainly a different beast from its predecessor, with the fictional World Series Racing championship setting resulting in a much more streamlined and dare we say it ‘Americanized’ take on motorsport proceedings, but the on-track action remains just as thrilling. Thankfully the multiplayer side of this sequel focuses on what GRID has always done best – competitive, contact-heavy racing.
Codemasters are also packaging the immensely promising RaceNet framework with GRID 2. This ubiquitous multiplayer portal is a bit like Need for Speed’s Autolog only boasting more options for players to customise their experience, with human rivals both automatically attributed to players to encourage asynchronous competition, via leaderboards, in addition to choosing those you want to compete with directly, be it friends or randoms met online. Every week up to nine new challenges will be added to the game as well, with leaderboards, XP and money bonuses associated with each, allowing every gamer an opportunity to top the charts.
Progression regarding car unlocks and game modes is separate from the single-player campaign, but that’s to ensure that players don’t feel obligated to navigate through the campaign if all they’re interested in is racing against human competition. Unlike the original GRID, there’s also the option to play two-player split-screen mode in this sequel across all formats, with AI players filling out the rest of the grid. Codemasters have pretty much thought of everything.
RaceNet isn’t just a superfluous matchmaking system though, as it’ll also be tied directly into an online portal viewable from PCs, phones and tablets, with users able to view detailed community statistics, keep track of their rival’s progress and find out what new multiplayer events have been added to the game. Whether this functionality will boast enough detail to stay relevant remains to be seen, but Codemasters has also introduced a collision rating system to matchmatching and a speed-stealing anti-corner cutting measure, so they are altering the nuts and bolts of multiplayer as well as the social side, too.
The collision rating could change getting many more hardened racers involve too, as in custom matches players can elect to race with those who have a clean rating – hopefully eliminating those annoying first corner race-ending incidents.
We’re also shown the overhauled car customization system, with players still restricted to pre-determined patterns and an expanded list of sponsors, and there’s also a new car upgrades system as well which enables players to upgrade their favorite cars to fit more competitive tiers, with fatter tyres, meatier spoilers and more aggressive tuning automatically applied to their form.
Across the board GRID 2 seems like a glossier, more accessible take on the pan-world motorsport concept which dominated the first game but when it comes to multiplayer this series has evolved substantially. So much so that it’s almost unrecognizable.