It’s probably best to start off with a history lesson, or more to the point, tell you where my love of racing games was birthed. Back in 1997 the British Touring Cars series was available free to air in New Zealand. I loved it. The cars could take a bit of knocking and frequently did, causing all manner of on track excitement. Coincidentally, in 1997, before they had garnered a reputation for their racing games, Codemasters released TOCA Touring Car Championship on the Playstation. I was hooked from the first race, and as the series evolved, became a fan of both the series and Codemasters. The TOCA series had a few changes over the years but stayed primarily a circuit based game, although it went from pure sports simulation to a more arcady story driven affair overtime. By the time the first Grid was released, the game was more arcady than ever, and after excitedly downloading the demo, I was unsure weather Codemasters still had their finger on the pulse. But Grid was on the XBox 360, and broadband had come to my house. With online racing I found a new love, and this redeemed any issues I had with the single player game.
And now we have Grid 2, and Codemasters have created a racing game with a story that seems to mirror their strategy with racing games of late, both for Dirt and Grid. The story follows Patrick Callahan’s attempt to have his World Series Racing become the premiere racing sport in the world, and he’s enlisted you to help him achieve it, by beating different racing clubs at their own game. By combining different disciplines together, the theory is that you’ll get more fans, and in Codemaster’s eyes that must equal more profits.
The only problem is that the long standing fans of the series really want the focus to be on track based racing events, and not being forced into all manner of different racing disciplines.
But it’s not all bad news, when Grid 2’s single player mode goes right, it does it in such superb style that it elates your gaming soul to a new level. There’s nothing quite like pulling a last minute victory out of the bag in one of the many beautifully rendered environments. Sadly however, this feeling gets more and more infrequent as you build you fan base and progress into the later stages of the game. The AI now becomes very aggressive, willfully punting you into the wall at every chance they get, and the damage your car can suffer, will moss likely be game ending, from damaged steering, to engine problems to a blown tire. On the flip side, if you decide to teach your opponent a lesson, and punt them into the wall at high speed, they will more often than not only suffer cosmetic damage. And then there are the one on one races where you manage to take out your opponent leaving them fro dust and way off the mini map, thinking you have the race in the bag, only to see them inexplicably catching you up a few corners later.
It just gets so frustrating that, well, for the first time in the series, I’m contemplating just not finishing the single player portion of the game, and focussing on the online play.
It’s online that I’ve found my love for Codemasters rekindled. But it was still somewhat of a learning curve. With Grid 2’s overbearing focus on drift, a lot of the cars are set up for drifting around corners, and if done properly, this helps the car keep it’s speed coming out of the corner. But not all cars are drift cars, and when a drifter meets a non-drifter on the first corner of a racetrack, colourful words will start to fly as the two inevitably collide. And then there’s the corner cutting penalty. This is one of the most annoying aspects of Grid 2’s online play. The rule seems inconsistent until you realise it’s only enacted if the game perceives you benefitted from cutting a corner or going wide. And rather than informing you that you have a two second penalty or some such, it temporarily slows your car down. I’m pretty sure you can imagine how frustrating this is. The funny thing is, and this prooves the folly of having such a feature, the first time I got penalised for cutting a corner and getting in front of a car, the game slowed me down right as I came in front of said car, forcing said car into my back and causing him to spin out and loose even more ground to me.
In the original Grid, race tracks had barriers to stop people from cutting corners and the grass was way to slippery anyway – as it would be with racing tires on – to get any benefit from deliberately going across the grass.
But once you get used to the oddities of Grid 2, the online play is some of the best racing you will find on the current consoles, so long as you’re racing in a room where you know everyone is a clean driver…
So in short, Grid 2 is a mixed bag, but really excels online, and beats any other current racing game hands down in this aspect.