By EMMANUEL LOPEZ
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Racing games – and by extension racing game fans – tend to fall into distinct two camps. Some players enjoy getting under the hoods of virtual cars, tweaking and tuning their racer to suit their needs. Others will relish zooming along at ludicrous speeds and whipping a ride around a corner with reckless abandon. Codemasters tries to find that sweet spot in between with “Grid 2,” the sequel to 2008’s successful “Grid.”
Thanks to “Grid 2’s” “True Feel” system, the game conveys a definite relationship between your wheels and the road. A car will respond appropriately if you’re taking a corner too fast. But while something can be said for sound racing techniques, the game is also rather forgiving of reckless driving. In fact, it encourages it.
In the single-player campaign, you are a driver working for an entrepreneur who’s trying to get his league, the World Series of Racing, off the ground and into the spotlight. To do so, you must compete against various racing clubs, with each victory raising the brand’s profile and persuading racers to take part in the World Series. You’ll hop across the map, trading paint with drivers in diverse locales including Chicago, Paris and Dubai.
“Grid 2’s” slick visuals make the scenery at each venue pop. The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe loom in the background as you negotiate the corners in Paris. The Pacific Ocean stretches to the horizon and beyond as you navigate precarious cliffside roads in California. It’s tempting to slow down and take it all in, but with cars whizzing by at ludicrous speeds, sightseeing will have to wait for test drive outings.
Not long into the campaign though, you start to feel you’ve seen it all, especially when each season has you scurrying around the same five or six tracks before moving on. The 20-plus courses – and derivative configurations of each – available in the “Project Gotham” or “Forza Motorsport” series makes “Grid 2’s” dozen or so offerings seem paltry in comparison.
“Grid 2” disguises this fact by including a wide variety of racing types, besides the standard race and time trials. Overtake challenges task you with passing traffic for points, while you must fight to stay ahead of the pack as the field is whittled one by one in Eliminator. Drifting competitions play out like a high-speed ballet; you slide your car around corners in eye-catching displays of automotive control in hopes of nailing the high score. New to “Grid 2” are Liveroutes, which provide a stiff test of reflexes; the mini-map is disabled and the randomly generated track unfolds on the fly.
You start out with a small fleet of cars but eventually accumulate variety of rides, all of which look like they rolled off the set of the latest “Fast and Furious” movie. Each car has strengths and weaknesses: some are better suited for flinging around corners, while others reward technical precision. Finding the right car for the race is critical. Gearheads will be disappointed at the limited degree of customization available. There are no parts and upgrades to acquire, but you can at least make your car look as pretty (or gaudy) as you want it.
When you’ve got the right car, with the right kind of track, everything clicks. But no thanks to shoddy opponent programming and dodgy collision mechanics, a race can become a nightmare in a split second. Computer-controlled opponents have no qualms above pushing you around the track, and can do so with impunity. Trying to ram an opponent has about the same effect as if you were driving a Smart Car trying to run an M1 Abrams tank off the road. Most of the tracks are narrow city streets, so the difficulty quickly jumps to “the third level of ‘Battletoads’” hard. Some races do penalize or even disqualify you for collisions, so nothing is more aggravating than having to redo a race because of a crash you didn’t cause.
The Flashback feature from the original “Grid” returns, allowing to you mitigate some of your high-speed gaffes by rewinding a small section of the race. You are only granted limited use of Flashback, so judiciousness can be the difference between a podium finish and picking digitized tire shavings from your grill. Most of the time, though, you’ll be using Flashback because a computer-driven car spun you out going around a corner.
The online component is separate from the single-player campaign. You can take part in races or complete weekly challenges to earn cash and experience, which can be used to unlock higher-end vehicles and purchase upgrades for your fleet. Souping up your ride is a little more hands-on, but still terribly limited.
Up to 12 speed demons can compete in a single race and “Grid 2” does a fairly good job matching up competitors, not only by level, but also by driving style. Codemasters’ RaceNet keeps track of your online career and you can share replays of your automotive smackdowns through Facebook or Twitter. You can also set up friendly rivalries among other users. Either you can race head-to-head, or asynchronously compete by seeing who can post the best time on a given track.
The sense of progression feels a lot more tangible in multiplayer. It’s a strange choice on Codemasters’ part to implement completely different systems between the single-player and multiplayer modes. In comparison, single-player feels a lot more shallow and arcade-like. If you crave more immediate competition, Grid 2 does offer a splitscreen mode.
Like a racer trying to find the ideal racing line around a turn, “Grid 2” attempts to strike a balance between pedal-to-the-metal arcade action and the exacting technical precision of sim-based titles. It certainly has the look of a racer, but you can’t help but feel the game overextends itself trying to appeal to the broadest base possible.
“Grid 2,” rated E, retails for $60 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and $50 on PC. For this review, I played an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher.