The hope of a sequel is always one of balance; a balance of new and old, of the things you loved about the original being kept and improved upon, the things you hated being replaced with something new and interesting.
GRID 2 has done a surprisingly effective job of dashing my hopes and making me wonder if I actually liked the first one or not. GRID was one of my favorite racing games of the current generation of consoles. The over the top style and focus on fun with a bit of story made it attractive and engaging in ways other racers hadn't yet figured out. I was excited to dive back into that world to find a moment equivalent to the awesome nighttime downhill race that punctuated the first section of the original GRID.
Nearly everything about the game feels like a bit of a step back.
The presentation of GRID was striking to say the least. Flash and flair everywhere made it an exciting game just to boot up, and much of that is gone in favor of this weird story that drives the game forward without actually adding anything.
You Got Your Story in My Racing Game
The short version is that a rich guy wants to start a new racing league and has picked you as his salesman. You sell other racers on the league by outdriving them and sell the world on the league in the process, accumulating fans. Those fans are the currency of the game, with accumulation of fans taking you to new seasons. Unfortunately, that's all they do. You just increase this arbitrary number and progress forward.
During the races, there's a voice that talks to you, and at first it seems helpful. During the tutorial, the pleasant, upbeat guy tells you when to try drifting and how to do it, when to break, and warns you about an upcoming corner. The further in you get, the more annoying he becomes. He told me on my last lap that if I wanted first place, I had to get it on this lap. Well thanks, guy, I didn't know races ended during the last lap. He tells you to improve your time on "sector 2," but he'll say it on the first time you hit a course. He worries way too much about repair costs in a game that has no money. It's supposed to add realism, but it just adds irritation. He doesn't talk incessantly, but he does talk frequently.
There are some really bizarre elements to the story, too. The few cutscenes the game uses involve chintzy clips of ESPN that don't feel the least bit convincing, combined with an over-reliance on social media that's going to make this game feel old much more quickly than its predecessor. Then, when you set up your character, you can pick from a variety of nicknames (Outlaw, Drifter, etc.) and given names (Steve, Nick, and such). But if you want to play GRID 2 and you want to be the best female race driver, I hope you enjoy being a girl named Ed, because the game is devoid of any female names. This is also going to affect men named Kelly and Shannon. Sorry, guys.
There's very little in the way of choice outside of races, besides choosing from car A or B to race with. You can pick a snazzy paint job for your fleet if you like, and occasionally you win a car and get to pick from A and B again. Aside from that, though, it's mostly a straight line from start to finish. It's sort of a slow, painful drag race.
You Need a Good Mechanic
The driving itself feels good, but it takes some getting used to. The "TrueFeel" system hyped by CodeMasters seems to work fairly well. Once I got used to the driving, the cars did feel different without me having to tune them, and driving alone or in one-on-one races felt good.
The big problem with the racing itself in GRID 2 is, to no real surprise, other drivers. With a full five years between the new GRID and the original, I had hoped for a better experience. The other drivers don't even seem to notice you. Even while the voice in your ear is lecturing you about not hitting other drivers, opponents will slam into you in a way that says they had no knowledge that you even existed. It took me out of the game immediately. The game is telling me not to crash, so I brake to avoid other drivers, but then the cars behind me crash into me. Why would I want to drive like a real human if the computer drivers don't try to mimic that as well?
With the other drivers completely disinterested in my presence on the track, I often found myself spinning out because one of them did something like a pit maneuver on me, forcing me to use the rewind. I have no problem taking my lumps if I make a mistake, but if I feel like it's the fault of bad artificial intelligence, I'm going to spin the clock back.
The rewind feature first appeared in GRID and was an awesome idea. It was the prime bullet point that set it apart from other racers. Now it appears in just about every other game with cars in it; it was that good of an idea. It's been iterated upon since then in other games. In Forza, for example, turning off the ability to rewind is a way to score bonus cash. In GRID 2, there's no reason not to rewind and the mechanic feels dated instead of fresh.
The Spice of Life is Kind of Bland
One of my favorite things about GRID was the event variety. There were all sorts of car-related competitions that didn't have to do with laps. They're there in GRID 2, but the incredibly linear nature of the game keeps them out of your reach for the first six hours (or maybe it just felt like six hours, I'm not sure).
Instead you're stuck doing lap races, point to point races in frustratingly tight corridors, and the occasional elimination race. The only interesting mode early on are the Liveroutes, which are courses generated as you race them using pieces of the track. I haven't checked to see if the paths are just logical moves of traffic barriers, or if we're racing in some impossible space created by the game.
Only after countless slogs through those races do you get to the fun, meaty stuff: touge, drift, and checkpoint races. Touge is the classic downhill one-on-one race. One of the chief rules is no bumping. If one car bumps the other, the race is over. If you get far enough ahead or behind, the race ends. The computer AI is less stressed here and the problem with the car driving right through you doesn't seem to be as much of a problem. It is a problem during the drift sequences, but that doesn't keep them from being fun. Finally the checkpoint races are sort of an arcade-y mode that adds time onto your clock each time you hit a checkpoint, letting you race until you run out of time. It does a great job of letting you face off against the track itself to hone your braking and accelerating skills, as well as your understanding of racing lines.
GRID 2 looks great for the most part. That's one of the hallmarks of modern racing games, we expect them to look good, so it's hardly a surprise. The visuals come at the cost of a lot of loading time. One weird element that sticks out, though, are the sponsor stickers that adorn your car. Some of the sponsor stickers are incredibly low resolution images. You're driving in a high-fidelity race car with a reflective paint job that shows off the surrounding buildings, and it's interrupted by something that looks like 200 pixel image someone printed off Google image search blown up to fill a page.
Time to Put on the Brakes
GRID 2 does have good stuff. Some really good stuff.
The touge races are fun and tense. The driving feels good, and without that, nothing else would work. The painfully linear format, however, feels restrictive after games like Forza Horizon, and you're often stuck choosing between two cars you hate just to advance.
There are so many more interesting racing games out there, even from the last year, that it makes this one even harder to recommend. This would've been solid as a year-later follow-up to GRID, but five years on it shows too much of its age.
We purchased GRID 2 for Xbox 360 with personal funds. We played 16 hours of the single player before beginning this review.
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