Ever since the original Fast & The Furious movie dropped in 2001, street-based racing games have yearned to recreate the same levels of grit, intensity and excitement the movie captured so well. Need For Speed, Burnout, Forza, Project Cars, and more all sought to drag you in to a dynamic and slightly dangerous world that engages you beyond just sitting behind the wheel of a luxury car, but often have fallen into the same pitfalls; flashy graphics but poor racing, or great racing but no sense of speed, or a sense of speed but a shallow universe. Five years after the original Race Driver: Grid hit the shelves, Codemasters second iteration of their street franchise, Grid 2, is here and I’m pleased to say it takes you closer than many of its rivals to that feeling you had in the cinema 19 years ago.
Grid 2 is a great looking racer that balances between sim-style mechanics with a very comfortable pick-up-and-play level of accessibility. From the opening montage where you jump into the three different race scenarios, you can tell a huge amount of time has gone into ensuring stock cars feel as weighty and solid as an open-wheel races feels nimble. Hardcore driving gamers may find it a touch too accessible, with the ‘flashback’ system returning, but the variations in the cars and the way they integrate with their environment will mean it is a challenge for all levels of gamers.
The game centres around a fictional racing league called ‘World Series Racing’ which will be where you navigate from unknown-racer to global superstar with broadcast-style news clips used sporadically to advance the story and explain where you are in your journey. Each sub-category has a progression system from one style of race-car to the next, with upgrades and fresh cars becoming available the more money you make in the league.
Aussie fans will be thrilled to know the Supercars are included again, although only a number of actual liveries have been included in the game; the number of Australian raceways out of the box though is disappointing. Sydney Motorsport Park (SMP) and its 28,000 configurations have been included and beautifully recreated, but Mount Panorama missed the cut out of the box. Though is available in a separate track pack. Roaring around the first high-speed bend at SMP in the new Scott McLaughlin Mustang is a genuine riot and feels as heavy and clumsy to drive as you’d imagine, especially if you ran around in an open wheeler the race before.
The racing league also exposes one of the games weaknesses however, and that is the relatively limited number of tracks. Despite including a combination of real and fabricated tracks from a host of countries, it doesn’t take long before you start to feel a bit pot-bound. It also doesn’t matter if you race on six different variations of a track, in day and night, sun and rain, reversed or regulation, it is still the same fundamental feel and challenge. There is also a sense of sameness to city tracks, regardless whether the voice-over team says you are in Paris, Miami or Hong Kong you’re still largely looking at metal barriers and painted lines to win the race.
Mercifully those painted lines and metal barriers are brilliantly created. The lighting effects and reflections are two of the real features, while leaves drift across the track as fireworks go off and the crowds lining the barriers to make each race feel like an event. Similarly, if you are going off road and tearing up a dirt point-to-point track Codemasters’ history of rally games shines through. The sound is also a treat for the ear – especially if you have a meaty sound system with you. The grunt of a stock car rumbles heartily while the echoing around high-rises in the city, with pyros going off in the background and cheers coming through and a well curated song-list capping it off.
When you jump into a race day you can qualify first, which is very much recommended as the bulky nature of a lot of the cars means qualifying higher up the grid will really benefit you, and then it’s straight into the race. Your strangely South African crew chief will update you through the race about where you are sitting in the field, if you’ve done well and if a collision with another car will mean they will be your new nemesis and look to return the favour. Aggression is certainly a feature of Grid 2, with an understated encouragement to get your elbows out, but clean racing will earn you the most reward points during a race and should rightly be your aim; there is a real satisfaction in lining up a car, drafting him down a straight, only to pull out at the right moment, feel the weight of your brakes as you dive inside him, beat them under brakes and take the spot. They are the moments this game shines (if you choose to pull your handbrake and drift around said corner, you will be even better rewarded).
To extend its lifespan, Codemasters have added a great car list and host of tweaks to game modes that you can choose to fully master. Those who like to dive-deep and tweak the setups of their car may find themselves disappointed with only a few options available pre-race, which feels logical given the races tend to be shorter in nature anyway, and as someone who doesn’t really know what I’d be doing anyway am fine with, but some may be annoyed by it. While the multiplayer will again feature heavily, those wasn’t populated at the time of this review.
Overall, Grid 2 is a gritty, gorgeous, aggressive racer that does a great job of balancing game-play story and spectacle. It will be embraced by fans of the old Race Driver series, even TOCA before then, but a shortage of tracks or tweak options may send the hardcore drivers away after a time.
The Xbox One version was used for this review