Now you're surrounded on all sides by 11 completely homicidal maniacs who want nothing more than to reach their respective vehicle's top speed and crash directly into you and/or anyone else around them. Despite your ability to partially rewind time, you are powerless to stop them and you will die. This is the madness that is Grid 2. As Grid 2's silent protagonist, you help mysterious philanthropist Patrick Callahan make his dream of a new racing league a reality by besting driving clubs around the world, recruiting their talent and earning fans in the process. Callahan's grand vision, a new institution dubbed "World Series Racing," is based on the idea of pitting drivers of different disciplines (touring car drivers from Europe, drifters from Asia, etc) against each other in a new form of omni-event.
Conveniently, all of Callahan's chosen styles revolve around driving track-spec cars on asphalt courses in perfect weather conditions, so despite the pageantry, Grid 2's actual premise is fairly mundane in that there are no off-road courses, rally stages, ice racing or the like.
There are a fair amount of things to do on that asphalt, however, as the game's Career mode encompasses ten different race types, from traditional 12-car heats to more interesting configurations such as Touge and Overtake events, where the player must pass as many obstinate trucks as possible while avoiding collisions and building a points multiplier.
Grid 2's main gimmick, rather than the one put forth by its plot, is your ability to "Flashback," or rewind the last few seconds of the race in case something goes horribly wrong. Initially, this is primarily used to correct mistakes that you make as you come to terms with the game's physics, though eventually it becomes a "rewind the race to before the AI t-boned me and totally jacked my car" button. You only have a limited number of Flashbacks available per race, so using them effectively is a large factor in achieving a podium finish, especially considering the tremendous amount of crashes that the computer causes later in the game.
The overall physics do take getting used to, more-so than the normal learning curve associated with starting a new racing game, because Grid 2 tries to clip the apex between arcade racer and simulation and generally fails to do so. Some cars, like the Ariel Atom or Golf GTI, have steering, acceleration and braking properties that feel natural and behave as you'd expect them to, but most vehicles embody a random grab bag of characteristics that don't feel tremendously related to what kind of car is being driven.
This is systemic of Grid 2's overall problem, which is that the few things it gets especially right are trapped at the back of the pack, obscured by design decisions flawed in concept, execution or both.
Career mode is cut up into seasons – each season consisting of a series of different events culminating in one final championship race – with the number of acquired fans dictating which tier of vehicles players must use for each event; the more fans they have, the higher the tier. While higher tiers coalesce into meaningful categories of similar whips, the lower tiers are a mix of muscle cars, hot hatchbacks, imports and roadsters meant to represent the different car cultures World Series Racing draws its talent from.
This makes sense within the confines of Grid 2's quickly discarded premise, but it also means that most of your time is spent progressing halfway through a multi-race event, only to realize that you've brought the wrong type of vehicle (or even wrong vehicle within the appropriate type). You must then either blindly try a different car, or spend time examining each available ride's intricacies on the test track. Either way, you have to start the event over again and hope the process doesn't repeat itself, which it often does. Additionally, the right car for a tier one drift event won't be the right car for a tier one time trial, so the hunt must be performed for each race type.
This gets somewhat better as the game progresses and there's less variation within the vehicle tiers and fewer cars to pick from in general, but it's an issue that could have been prevented entirely by further restricting which cars are available for which races, or by displaying the cars' stats in a meaningful way, rather than the vague, practically identical bars that measure top speed/weight/etc.
Grid 2's difficulty curve is equally hard to predict – you never know whether to expect an easy podium finish, or if you'll be completely massacred by the competition, both of which can happen within the same multi-race event. Drift and Checkpoint events most frequently suffer from this fault, since the AI drifters' performance capabilities appear arbitrarily random and it's impossible to know how forgiving the Checkpoint event's countdown timer will be. All events, however, experience increasingly fluctuating levels of challenge as the seasons progress.
Driver artificial intelligence is also something that Grid 2 struggles with. The computer's ability to drive competently is directly related to the width of the given track, with wider tracks seeing smarter AI decisions that narrower courses. A supercar race on an open-field Indianapolis raceway, for instance, will be fairly well behaved in terms of AI-caused collisions.
Take those same computerized drivers and put them on the streets of Paris and they lose their damn minds. The starting grid devolves into a mangled pile of aluminum and carbon fibre almost instantly; catastrophic crashes an unavoidable eventuality caused by the AI's suicidal mindlessness and the nearly undrivable nature of the vehicles at that level. Once you have advanced to the likes of the McLaren F1 and the Pagani Huayra, finishing a race in an urban environment is an astonishing achievement all on its own, never mind actually winning one.
In fact, almost none of the issues discussed so far are prevalent in Grid 2's online mode, which is fully customizable and runs like a top. The hosting player is in charge of everything from the event type, to which tier of cars can be used and where, meaning that they'll never be at the mercy of Event mode's haphazard configurations. AI is likewise taken out of the mix, though whether that solves the problem of having hyper-aggressive opponents depends on who you play with.
Grid 2 has its moments, but every racing game comes down to the relationship between car and driver, and here it is almost exclusively an adversarial one. Were the cars more fun to drive, the events more coherently constructed and the AI given a sense of a self-preservation, Grid 2's best moments could have been the norm, instead of the exception that proves the rule.
This review is based on a review-authorized build of the Xbox 360 version of Grid 2, provided by Codemasters. Grid 2 is also available on PS3 and PC.
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