You know what you’re getting with Codemasters, and if you’ve paid attention to the racing game genre at all this generation then you’ll also know that – alongside fellow UK developers Criterion – Codemasters’ racing games are often the ones that raise the benchmark. It did it with the Dirt series and now it’s trying to do the same with its criminally overlooked Grid franchise. If you can call two games a franchise, that is.
That sense of familiarity seeps in earlier than usual with Grid 2 however, with a menu system reminiscent of Dirt 3, Codemasters F1 games or indeed any game the developer has created over the last couple of years. Not to start off on a negative or anything, but Grid 2 instantly feels as though it’s been built with templates of past success in mind. But then perhaps asking for innovation from a menu screen is like asking for a better way to butter your bread.
What really matters is the racing, of course, and here Codemasters proves it knows what it is doing once more. Drifting is the name of the game here, and where Dirt’s semi-sim, half-arcade mechanics focused on pinpoint cornering, Grid 2 instead relies on powering through and just praying you don’t damage your car too much. There’s more of a jerkiness to the steering that is initially off-putting, but once its underlying rules have been quickly tamed you’ll be racing through the streets of Paris and through 90 degree turns at 100mph without a care in the world.
It’s all part of the bombast that Grid 2 intends to impart but, sadly, fails in the places you’d expect it. Perhaps this is the real flaw of Grid 2′s menu system; it may let you half-navigate increasingly affluent garages, but it lacks any of the punch or atmosphere that came alongside Dirt 2′s festival vibe. The tracks themselves don’t feature much of the spectacle we’ve come to expect from Codemasters’ recent racing output either, though the emphasis here really is on the punchy nature of its driving. In races of up to 12 players you’ll find it impossible not to unfairly bash your way around corners from time to time and the heavy use of Flashbacks that come with it – you’re as likely to get derailed from the racing line as your opponents. This isn’t a racing game for those who care about what tyres their car is wearing, how many cylinders you’re packing or even how expensive your future hunk of bent metal is to repair. Simply jump in and race.
There’s plenty of variety accompanying the game, too. Though your collection of cars increases gradually, there’s enough to at least give you a choice of preference. You don’t buy cars though, instead you pick from one of two, with the remaining vehicle then left to be won at a future race event. It’s pleasing to get the option, naturally, but it all feels a little clinical. In fact, this is a wider problem with the career mode itself. You race to increase the popularity of the World Series Racing in a bid to become the world’s de facto racing event. What that amounts to is an arbitrary number depicting your ‘Fans’, cumulatively improving as each event is ticked off but with no real input from yourself. Sure, placing first scores more fans than second and third, but this is a racing game: why would you ever settle for second or less?
Though you’ll head through different regions of the world through the five seasons on offer, you’re still visually limited to the set of races put in front of you. Invitations come as you reach milestones of fan numbers and you won’t necessarily need to complete all of them to progress further into the career. It’s not much different to any other Codemasters racer in the past few years, truth be told, but the way it’s handled makes it feel like little more than a checklist of race events.
The saving grace comes in the form of Grid 2′s eclectic mix of race types. While you’ll witness the genre staples of Elimination, Time Trials and Duels, there’s also interesting new modes such as Overtake, Endurance or Liveroute. They’re nothing extraordinary and won’t surprise racing game experts, but they add into a mixed bunch that helps wipe away that feeling of repetition. The problem is not the events themselves, then – they’re fun, that’s all you could ask for – but instead the game’s competition. When the likes of Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Forza Horizon prove there can be new ways to present a racing game’s single-player career, it just highlights how, well, traditional Grid 2 feels.
Diehard racing game fans won’t feel too disappointed with what’s on offer here, and nor should anyone really. Grid 2 improves on everything that its predecessor started and in that sense it should be praised. It’s perfect pitch between the necessary precision of Dirt and the arcade nature of the original Grid means it caters for absolutely every grade of gamer, but in some ways it does feel like it’s a game developed on autopilot.
So is it enough for Grid 2 to just be a great racing game? For many of you, yes. But it’d be remiss of us to not to point out that the game doesn’t really push either Codemasters or the racing genre in any particularly new direction, and from such a talented developer that’s a shame. There’s plenty of content to get through and on a mechanical level it is the perfect blend of arcade and simulation, but we need a little more to make it a must-have racer.