Posted on May 28, 2013 AT 06:00am
If it weren’t for Flashback, the original Grid probably would have came and went with relatively little fanfare. That one ingenious feature—allowing you to instantly rewind time to correct your mistakes with a simple button press—did a lot to make up for the fact that the game didn’t offer quite as much content or depth as its rivals. The trouble with great ideas, though, is that they never stay exclusive for long. In the five years since Grid was released, Flashback has trickled down into Codemasters’ other franchises and been aped by the competition, meaning it’s no longer the selling point it once was.
That’s probably why Grid 2 feels an awful lot like a game in search of a gimmick. It delivers an experience that’s quite similar to its predecessor—full damage modeling, a diverse (if not massive) selection of cars, and, of course, Flashback, complete with the refinements that appeared in Dirt 3—and then stitches on a few other innovations in an effort to set itself apart. There’s a new handling system, TrueFeel, which aims to deliver the authenticity of a true simulation without sacrificing accessibility and largely succeeds. There are new event types, including point-to-point races, Checkpoint and LiveRoutes, which dynamically builds a course by fitting together different sections of a given location’s tracks like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
But if there’s one area where Grid 2 really tries to break new ground, it’s the story. Whereas most racing games simply shove you into a fancy car and tell you to go fast, Grid 2 places an emphasis on why, albeit without doing too much to mix up the standard race-race-race-championship pacing. The basic gist: rich dude Patrick Callahan wants to rope together drivers from different racing disciplines all around the world to create World Series Racing—essentially the UFC of motorsports. He spots a video of one of your races online and taps you to be his poster boy, travelling the globe, taking on local clubs to convince the best drivers to join up, and generally increasing the reputation of the WSR internationally.
It’s a neat concept, but it doesn’t offer much beyond simple window dressing. The only real sense of story comes from Patrick’s disembodied voice, your running tally of fans, and some slick but infrequent cutscenes portraying your meteoric rise by way of social media montages and live-action, custom-made ESPN broadcasts. Going in, I’d really hoped that the AI profiles of individual drivers would actually reflect the discipline where they originated—some guys would drift around corners with reckless abandon, some would hug corners like Formula 1 drivers, some would blend the two approaches. No such luck. Once you loop everyone into WSR, everyone behaves identically, clustering together around the exact same racing line. Grid 2‘s concept offered Codemasters the perfect opportunity to deliver something different—something that actually played like the racing equivalent of MMA, with vastly different styles going head to head—but it’s been sadly missed here.
Beyond that, I’m not sure the story even works within the context of the game. You’re supposedly earning fans for the organization as a whole—something Callahan’s voiceovers make fairly clear—but you’ll win over the most fans, by far, when you finish first in every race. That seems a little counterintuitive to me. Sports leagues are popular when there’s unpredictable, healthy competition, not when there’s a runaway champion five seasons in a row. I suspect the NFL wouldn’t be nearly as popular if it was just the Patriots wailing on a bunch of pee wee teams year after year. Then again, I don’t think a few plot holes in a racing game are going to do all that much to ruin your experience, so maybe I’m just picking nits.
Unfortunately, the same’t can be said of the game’s other major problem: it runs out of new tricks far too early. By the time you finish the third season of WSR, you’ll have already experienced every location and event type a few times—and there are still two more seasons to go. While there are new tracks, they’re extended or modified versions of the same ones you’ve already driven, so the majority of the turns will still be familiar. Rather than gradually teasing out content over its entire running time, Grid 2 forces you to retread the same ground with faster cars. Oh, and this time, it’s at night!
To be fair, it probably wouldn’t be nearly as big of an issue if the second half of the game didn’t simultaneously devolve into a punishing grind. For the first three seasons, I almost always won each race on my first or second try. Once I reached the fourth season, however, I found myself having to restart each event dozens upon dozens of times. Races got longer, my competitors seemed about twice as talented, and my once adequate skills just didn’t cut it anymore. With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, I was eventually able to triumph, but I never lost the sense that I was suddenly and befuddlingly out of my depth.
Now, in Grid 2‘s defense, you don’t need to come in first in every event to continue through the campaign, and, judging by how often I get schooled online, I’m not the most talented when it comes to racing games, either. But in a title that sells itself on accessibility—not hardcore simulation—the default difficulty setting simply shouldn’t mean an abrupt jump from too easy to far too hard in the span of a single race.
Of course, none of these critiques apply to Grid 2‘s 12-person online multiplayer, which is essentially an entirely separate game. While the core gameplay remains intact—complete with all of the same tracks, event types, and vehicles you’ll find in single-player—there’s a wholly distinct progression system online, based on the XP and money you earn for doing well in races. Each car has a minimum required level, and once you reach that threshold, you can shell out cash to add it to your collection. You can also pay to upgrade your vehicles along several different performance categories, even pushing it up into a higher tier. It’s surprisingly robust, to the point that it makes the single-player experience look woefully shallow by comparison.
Beyond the standard races, there’s also a whole new layer of competition thanks to full integration with Codemasters’ RaceNet. Once you sign up or log into your account, the game will automatically pair you up with weekly rivals of a similar skill level. If they’re online, you’ll have the option to join up and race head-to-head. If not, you can compete asynchronously by trying to earn more overall XP before the time limit runs out and you’re given a new rival to compete with. Then there are the Global Challenges, which update every week with a new selection of nine events that allow you to compete solo for a spot on the leaderboard, go for a medal, or simply try to outdo your rivals’ ghosts for and bragging rights. It’s all pretty solidly put together, with enough variety and customization to keep you busy for a long while.
But as a whole, it’s hard to deny that Grid 2 is missing the special spark that elevates a game to greatness. There’s nothing overtly wrong with it—questionable difficulty curve and single-player pacing aside—but none of its minor innovations or attempts at storytelling succeed in making it particularly memorable, either. The Race Driver series, in all its incarnations, has long been the awkward middle child of the Codemasters lineup, stuck between the streamlined precision of F1 and the wild showmanship of Dirt, and that’s never been more apparent than it is here. The racing fundamentals are strong enough to warrant giving it a shot, but in an age where racing games live or die by their extremes—be it compulsive tuning, massive open worlds, raucous destruction, or an obsessive selection of cars—Grid 2‘s middle-of-the-road approach is in need of a tune-up.
|Developer: Codemasters Southam • Publisher: Codemasters • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 05.28.2013|
Grid 2‘s racing once again succeeds at offering a nice balance between true simulation and accessible arcade handling, but the lack of depth offline and a repetitive, punishing second half wind up holding it back.
|The Good||Exciting races, impressive handling, and purdy graphics.|
|The Bad||Not too much depth off the track, and a difficulty curve designed by Satan himself.|
|The Ugly||Slamming into a well seconds before the finish line when you’re fresh out of Flashbacks.|
|Grid 2 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|
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