In a world where the biggest game franchises have annual instalments intravenously linked to your bank account, you could have been forgiven for forgetting about GRID. It's been five years since it first slid onto our screens, and as Need for Speeds and DiRTs and Forzas have come and gone the sense of what makes GRID tick has become difficult to pin down.
But it's back. You can tell because you're reading this preview of it.
The build I played starts with an introductory spin round the Chigago Riverside stage. The race engineer was being piped into my ear and was, it must be said, being overly positive about my abysmal performance. I should let you know at this point that I prefer my racing games arcade-y, so GRID 2 does
fall into my wheelhouse. I'm also not that naturally gifted at them and both GRID
and GRID 2
fall at the tougher end of the arcade racer difficulty spectrum.
Because GRID 2
's well modern, your race engineer makes you watch a bit of your performance on YouTube before you progress to the next stage. This is a Track Day at the Indianapolis Infield Circuit in which you learn how the controls actually work. This isn't rocket science, as driving games basically all have the same controls. The handling does
require some fine control, however. It's easy to over-steer on a drift and you shouldn't expect to just throw yourself round bends without a second thought.
The first 'proper' event is New Union Club Race – California Pacific Way. Patrick (a race promoter or something), it turns out, was so impressed by the 15 minutes I spent bumbling round the track day trying to perform an adequate drift that he's got me and my Mustang in.
The race is point-to-point along a coastal road. It's not staggeringly wide, so taking positions is the name of the game, as your race engineer likes to keep telling you over the radio. The point is, you can't just slam your virtual foot down and thunder past your opponents. It takes more precision and timing than that.
From there, the build I was playing skipped ahead a bit to show off a bit more of the range that GRID 2
has to offer.
The fact the next stage I tried – part of the EMAAR Race Series on the Red Bull Ring – is a more traditional motorsports event on a traditional track was a little surprising. Codemasters seems to have decided to run the gamut of possible tarmac-based race styles for GRID 2
. It was vaguely disconcerting, playing a game with arcade handling on a track that looks like it's pulled from Forza
The drift event that followed on Okutama Mizu Mountain was a welcome break. Points are awarded based on length, angle and speed of your slide. If nothing else, it was an opportunity to work on my drifting – something that, even after several races – was still a little ham-fisted. Even so, while I got my drifting down pat in this low-pressure situation, those skills didn't transfer that comfortably to a race situation.
The Dubai race that came next was interesting. It followed a 'live route' in which you didn't get a map and the route would change on the fly. The event flagged up one of the key differences between this and the NGS/Forza Horizon open world sort of racer. Playing this event highlighted how learning the track and preparing for sharp corners is a key to success through most of the game. In this event, much as in open-world racer where events are more fluid and less predictable, everything comes down to your reactions and your ability to respond to changing situations at the drop of a dime.
Last up was the Paris event in the Alpinestars Elimination Series. This thing nearly killed me. It's from close to the end of the career portion of the game and it's tough as carbon nano-fibre nails. You probably know the format – a car is eliminated from the back every 20 seconds or so. To win, you need to not be at the back. This takes place along a night circuit and the supercars, along with the world's best drivers, are out to play.
The flashback feature we saw in GRID
is back. Given that it's been widely adopted since GRID
came out its inclusion here is pretty unremarkable, but it certainly came into its own in the Paris event. Where other arcade racers are about being fast and ballsy, GRID 2
is about being precise. With the difficulty ramped up, flashback is not just about reversing catastrophic crashes - it's also about reversing minor bumps that take you off your optimal racing line.
Likewise, with the Paris track rammed full of vehicles and hits to your car (or my
car, anyway) came in fast. The damage modelling really came into its own. More than once I hobbled into ninth place because I couldn't stop my car from pointing at a wall. A clean race is a must if you're going to keep damage on.
If you really want me to nail down GRID 2
's place in the racing game landscape in 2013, I'd have to say it's perched on top of a hill, leering down at arcade racing fans and calling them a bunch of pussies. We'll find out for sure when it gets released on May 31st...