I grabbed a copy of Grid 2 this week with pretty much no prior knowledge of the series. It was developed by Codemasters, who built the pretty fun Dirt games, so one assumes they have a good understanding of how to create a solid racing game. And they do! Grid 2 has some really strong aspects to it that are worthy of praise. But at the same time, it also has some really weird aspects that annoy me to no end. They’re mostly nitpicky things that won’t bother everyone, but they bothered me enough to eventually cause me to play the game less and less.
But let’s start off with what Grid 2 does right. The thing you’ll notice right out of the gate is that this game looks beautiful. If you have the means to play it on PC, you definitely should. I’m sure it looks fine on consoles but the PC version is very impressive. Probably the most striking thing about the visuals is the lighting. There’s glare and lens flare from the sun when you’re driving toward it; the glow of your car’s lights is soft and vibrant, as are the lights of the cities and tracks you race through. Even the sparks that burst forth when you scrape a wall or barrier glow impressively. The other impressive visual that really stuck out to me is the reflections. Seeing the world speed by in a reflection on your car’s glossy hood is really cool and can evoke an almost iconic look on tracks like Miami. It’s very cinematic and makes the game just as fun to watch as it is to play.
Other than the visuals, the driving in Grid 2 just feels great. Codemasters has found a perfect mix between the weighty feel of driving sims and the sliding finesse of arcade racers. Each car feels different in a way you would expect and each class or category of cars feels different in ways you would expect. The American muscle feels heavy when you swing around a corner. Japanese cars drift with ease once you learn how to control the slide. European cars feel grippy and want to hold on no matter what. If the value of a racing game is based on the feel of the controls and the game’s physics, Grid 2 is already a success.
That sounds like a lot of praise, so what’s wrong with Grid 2? Well, the first thing that stuck out to me was the dialog. For some reason, there’s an unnamed guy on a radio who talks to you while driving and between races. It’s okay early on when they’re still tutorializing a lot of mechanics, but it persists as you get deeper into the game. You hear from this guy several times per lap and, once you’re through the game’s tutorial section, nothing he says is worthwhile. Remember how people complained about the Wii’s motion control because most of the movements would be better served by a simple button press? That’s how I feel about radio guy. He chimes in with helpful nuggets like “You’re in second place now—keep going!” and “Two laps remain!” I know it sounds picky, but this is the kind of information that the game’s UI tells me with a simple glance. In fact, this is the kind of information that has always been easy to find on racing game UIs. Basically, radio guy is annoying and totally pointless. A lot of times he’ll have a little comment at the start of the race about the track, but after two races on that track you’ll get very sick of hearing the same comment over and over. I’d much rather just listen to the sounds of the cars and maybe some light background music.
Radio guy is pretty bad, but he’s still not my biggest annoyance with Grid 2. That honor goes to the sponsor system. I don’t know if this system was in the first Grid (I assume it was), but I honestly think it should either be dropped or made entirely optional. In fact, that’s probably my biggest problem with it: it’s mandatory. Basically, you pick three sponsors for your racing and slap their decals all over every car you own. Each sponsor comes with an objective to fulfill while you’re racing and once you beat all three objectives, you choose three new sponsors. However, the objectives really aren’t that big a deal. All they do, from what I can tell, is earn you extra fans (the game’s method of progression).
Maybe it’s just me, but there are few things in the automotive world that I like less than cars with a bunch of tacky sponsor stickers all over them. Codemasters took the time to model these really beautiful cars and give you tons of options when it comes to paint schemes and wheels, but then it’s all ruined when you have sponsors plastered all over your car. Not only that, once you start racing in the actual league stuff, you get this giant league logo on your hood. This stuff would be fine if it was optional, but as far as I can tell there is no way to get rid of it! I even tried opting to select no sponsors when it gave me the choice, but the game actually stopped me and said that I had to pick three sponsors before continuing. Gross.
Maybe these are just trivial complaints, but they are a big enough deal for me that I’m already starting to grow tired of Grid 2. It’s a shame because the world and cars look amazing, the game has a decent sense of speed, and the controls feel great. I want to play it. But then I play it and I’m like “Oh. Yeah.” and I quickly turn it off. Maybe there’s an option to turn off radio guy and bypass sponsors, but I’m not seeing them. Grid 2 is still good, though. If you’re a fan of racing games and especially if you’ve got an up-to-snuff PC, it’d make an excellent Steam sale purchase. But if these things that bother me so much are likely to bother you, you may not want to rush out and buy it just yet.