At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PlayStation 3 Codemasters Codemasters Up to 2 (Split-screen), 12 (Online)
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
None. Xbox 360, PC Click here to buy GRID 2.

GRID 2 review

Life begins at 170. So was the tagline associated with Xbox 360 launch title Project Gotham Racing 3, the first racing game in this generation of consoles. As we come to the end of the generation, Codemasters' GRID 2 picks up that motto and runs with it, delivering a fast, furious and compelling racing game.

Like its predecessor, Race Driver: GRID, Codemasters' new game fits into the Project Gotham Racing part of the arcade through to simulation racing game spectrum. Neither a simulation nor completely playful game like Mario Kart, it sticks more closely to the former, but is far more forgiving than even the more mainstream simulations seen in Forza and Gran Turismo. Cars feel satisfyingly real and 'weighty' - you're playing with licenced cars that actually feel different to drive from one another, and in some sense you feel like you're behind the wheel of the real thing. But then you can also tap the brakes and send the car powersliding round a corner, and it's this balance between real and fun that draws in the wider games playing audience.

Prepare to be eliminated.

Prepare to be eliminated.

Codemasters' racing games have been noticeably shooting towards more mainstream attention in recent years, becoming increasingly American, and that's certainly true here. Your voiceover friend carries an accent from The Other Side of the Pond, and the first set of races are all US locations. But the premise of the story behind GRID 2's career mode is that you are establishing a World Series of Racing, so after a few races in the States you jet across to Europe, before ending up in Asia and the Middle East. The air miles involved result in a significantly varied set of backdrops and track types, amongst them are the tourism-ready cityscapes of Paris and Dubai, the Californian countryside, and established tracks like Brands Hatch and the Indianapolis Speedway.

While the original GRID, and the Race Driver series that preceded it, looked to a wide range of four-wheeled motorsports, the vehicles here much more focused - it's about hot hatches, muscle cars and sports cars rather than trucks or buggies, and even open-wheel racers are limited to the official IndyCar Series vehicle, the DW12, available only via paid-for additional content. Despite this narrowing of focus, there's still a bunch of different modes to keep you amused, including endurance races which introduce a curious new feature called Liveroutes, where the path you take through one of the city locations is decided on the fly, resulting in unpredictable turns, requiring quick reflexes from drivers. For endurance, which involves being at the front when a timer of, say, six minutes runs out, it makes a lot of sense as it means you don't find yourself repeating the same lap over and over again until the clock finishes counting, but it can be strange in the more conventional point-to-point races.

Can you guess where this track is located?

Can you guess where this track is located?

Endurance is also kept interesting thanks to the damage modelling in GRID 2, following Codemasters' traditional efforts to tear apart your vehicle when you send it into opponents or walls. On the higher difficulty settings, full damage is enabled by default, and it seems that GRID 2 has been geared towards encouraging fairer and better driving, with significant benefits to avoiding contact in terms of raw speed, and the effects on the handling of the car caused by taking damage. Thankfully flashbacks - a concept introduced in the previous game and since copied in many places, notably by Forza - make a return, with five available to you if you want to undo silly mistakes which might include writing off the car.

While flashbacks remain, all the other assists have gone. All of them. Your options now are a selection of difficulty levels which affect the challenge from the AI and certain objectives, and the settings for damage. Codemasters have instead been reworking the handling model to make it more accessible without dumbing it down; it's easy to pick up, but tricky to master. This does mean newcomers do need to use the brakes, and spend time learning the courses, but it is enjoyable without being daunting. You also have to adjust to game's new dependence on powersliding - while it's certainly not at Ridge Racer levels, you do find yourself taking the car sideways around a corner quite often. Technically there are a couple of assists; firstly you have manual/automatic gearbox options as normal, and secondly the aforementioned flashbacks should help get newcomers out of trouble. At the other end of the scale, those looking for a full simulation were never going to be catered for with GRID 2, but if you're looking to race real cars each with their own feel without the need to understand differentials, then this is the racing game for you.

There are real tracks like Brands Hatch here too

There are real tracks like Brands Hatch here too

While there are some entertaining checkpoint and time attack sections, GRID 2 is at its best during races. The AI is aggressive and enjoyable, always jostling for position not just with you but amongst themselves. They make mistakes that feel like they aren't just there to benefit you, but maybe because they took a corner too fast. If you get the difficulty level right so it matches your ability, then you can get tight races where battling to second place can feel far more rewarding than cruising to victory. If you want to swap the computer-controlled opponents for human ones, then there's a multiplayer mode which is quite separate from the World Series career option. In solo play you go through events to unlock new vehicles, but when you head online there's a ranking system which unlocks new vehicles, upgrades and customisation options. It changes the flow, and gives you something to earn other than victories, as you will always make progress - even if at a slower pace - no matter where you place.

Those looking for a return to the glories of the original GRID might want to be aware of a couple of things. Firstly, there's no teammates option any more, with the metagame of hiring someone to run alongside you in races being consigned to the scrapheap. However, considering the career mode is focused very much on you, as an individual attracting fans, rather than the team focus seen previously, this change makes sense. Secondly, there's no dashboard view in GRID 2. While the original let you get right behind the wheel of all its vehicles, here you will instead need to use either the bonnet or front bumper cameras if you want to drive with a clear view of what's ahead. According to Codemasters' own research, 95% of players never used that view, and it takes quite a lot of resources to produce dashboards, so the decision was made to cut it. Again, this seems logical, but many people enjoy being able to feel like they are actually sitting in their chosen car.

With no in-dash view, you might be using the bonnet cam more

With no in-dash view, you might be using the bonnet cam more

These changes don't detract from a game which is consistently enjoyable, and capable of delivering highly memorable racing experiences. Its progression system may seem a little odd, but you are carried through by the thankfully light story, and will feel compelled to unlock the rewards of making progress in the emerging World Series of Racing.

Ratings

Overall At first it feels like a solid, but routine racing game. However, as you work your way through the campaign and unlock more interesting cars, the racing gets more intense. A different game from the original, but GRID 2 ultimately becomes thoroughly enjoyable. 9/10

Click here to buy GRID 2 from Amazon.co.uk.

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