GRID 2 10 years later: A renewed look at the sequel that should have defined the genre

GRID 2 is a bit of an embarrassment to me for a number of reasons. First, I’m in. Enter enough races and you’ll eventually find yourself on the starting grid alongside an AI racer named Justin Towell.

This happened because I went to a preview event for GRID 2, where the assembled journalists were told that whoever set the fastest time around the California track that day would be programmed into the game as an AI driver. Needless to say I won.

This backfired spectacularly because my editor and I both agreed that I have a moral obligation not to review a game I participated in. Nobody had thought about it and unfortunately the nice PR team never ran such a competition again.

I mean, I totally agreed with the premise too. In fact, GRID 2 was supposed to be the best thing ever. I excitedly captioned my preview with the words, “We played it. We call it: racing games will never be the same again.”

That’s the second embarrassing thing. See I wish I had reviewed it because I would have given the last game a 7/10. GRID 2 was a huge disappointment and…well, I’ll wrap it up now.

But time flies and here we are, a decade later. I’ve said many times that I think something went wrong in the racing genre in the early 2010s. Everything was gradually watered down, from the accidental damage to the soundtracks, the presentation style to the track design.

GRID 2 could be the true “last wine of the summer” from the golden era before it. I say this because it took Codemasters Racing Studio almost five years to create this sequel to the original Race Driver GRID and it still retains many of the elements that made this game great, noting the crisis of confidence that the parallel DIRT series suffers, is largely ignored.

GRID 2 social media feed

But it still expressed an amazing moment of change in the world at large. YouTube was in overdrive, connecting to the game for replay uploads. The narrator speaks of “camera phones” and the rendered images from social feeds have visible pixels, predating the days before super high-resolution screen displays were the norm.

There is also a download code in the box that you must enter to access the online mode. Back then, second-hand games were considered to be ruining the industry. So if you wanted to play a used game, you had to give the publisher some money to access the full functionality of the CD. Amazing Scenes.

GRID 2 dark

Also unusual by today’s standards: The game actively asks you to drift to keep up the momentum. If I recall that preview event correctly, the entire handling model was reportedly scrapped near the end of development and rebuilt from the ground up.

The result disappointed me at the time. I remember feeling that winning was all about dabbing on the handbrake before every corner, although I think that was an oversimplification. It’s actually more controllable than GRID Autosport on the Wii, and more down-to-earth and weighty than the original GRID. In fact, it drives surprisingly well by today’s standards, if a bit unpredictably.

Technically, it’s a bit messy by today’s standards. The Xbox 360 version has a few frames dropping and severe screen tearing. The helmet camera of the original is also sorely missing. At the time, Codemasters stated that only 5% of players were using the cockpit cam, but it required about 15% of the processing power to have it ready in case they wanted to switch, so they decided it would be better to do this Spend those system resources on other things.

GRID 2 Sparks

But not having in-car views available during replays spoils the style of the game and makes everything feel a little less immediate – and less impressive.

There were some other big promises at launch, such as some events that would change the track layout from round to round. While every now and then you’ll notice a hairpin that wasn’t there last time, it really isn’t very obvious where it happens, making it rather redundant. And since many people are now used to modern navigation devices, it doesn’t matter if the corners are the same or not. It’s almost like a rally if you follow the track diagram and just react to it based on corners.

“Premade” side events were also removed for the sequel, arguing that the game was exciting enough without them, but Race Driver: GRID benefited from cars crashing into tire walls and being thrown into the sky as they passed. The in-game language has also been reset. Sometimes you get praise for a good turn, or you’re told it’s the last lap and it’s time to push first, but it’s less of a hassle than before and it makes you feel more detached from the action again.

GRID 2 02

There are point-to-point races but no wet weather events. And while off-road play was of course reserved for the game’s DIRT stablemate series, there’s no denying that GRID 2 feels less varied than its own predecessor. Ariel Atoms can’t quite make up for true open-wheel single-seater championships, and the game feels like you’re basically doing the same things over and over again in some very similar cars, albeit with some nice, sprawling roads to tame is applicable .

Track design is a dying art, so it’s a pleasure to play a game from the time when track design was still valued, albeit less than it was in the 1990s. There is a lot of emphasis on the choice of braking point, although I have a funny story about that. Years later, a member of the development team said, “In the game, whenever you hit the brakes in the old GRID, you just turned up the wind over the car to slow it down.”

I assumed he was referring to GRID 1, but here’s all I can see. I swear you can even hear the wind. Still, these tracks reward real driving skill, albeit with a delicious arcade slant that gives you more grip than you’re supposed to have. In this respect, it is very similar to the 2019 GRID reboot.

Toby Moody, journalist and PR guru, in the video game GRID 2Former MotoGP commentator Toby Moody appeared in GRID 2 at the ESPN studio

The final point that set this game apart from its contemporaries was the lack of assists. There is no guideline, no ABS and no automatic braking at all. The team felt confident they had created a game that could be played and enjoyed by almost anyone, and where you could actually feel what the car was doing thanks to faster physics calculations than Forza (at the time).

It works, and even if you get it wrong, don’t punish the less vulnerable cars too harshly for a small offense… and still let a wheel snap out of the corner if you really screw something up. Wheels come loose? You just don’t see that in Codemasters racing games anymore. To shame.

GRID 2 wheel off

GRID 2 obviously feels of good quality, but I expected it to be somehow much better than I remembered. While it didn’t (couldn’t?) live up to my incredibly high expectations in 2013, even mediocre racing games from that era are quite worthwhile by today’s lower standards.

Unfortunately, it still feels like a fumble, and it’s hard to say why. Despite all the progression, wonderful features, and YouTube/ESPN-branded cutscenes, the race feels kind of…once removed. Maybe it’s because of the missing cockpit camera and the in-game speech.

Or maybe the whole thing subconsciously made me uncomfortable because I was there. Will the real Justin Towell please stand up? I repeat, will the real Justin Towell please stand up? Um… we’re going to have a problem here.

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