I think we all can agree racing games split into two categories: in one we have games like Fortza Motorsports, Grand Turismo and the likes, while in the other there are games such as Burnout and the legendary Carmageddon. The main difference between these two categories is the driving experience; the first ones are more realistic and are usually referred to as driving simulators, but those in the second category have a more arcade vibe to them. Grid 2 is neither. It comes from the much respected legacy of TOCA Race Driver, but tries to break free from the bonds of driving simulation while still maintaining a high level of realism. Even with all that baggage, CodeMasters has managed to create a pretty good racing game, that will only appeal to racing fans.

There’s also a story behind Grid 2. You play as a rising star in the world of professional racing who just got his first official sponsor that sends you on a world racing tour. That’s about it for the actual story, but the game is more concerned with making the player feel like he is a part of a global sport, where fans replace the high score. As the player wins more and more events, he gains more and more followers in the social media and more public attention. After the first victory in a World Series race, ESPN will even do a little cover story on the player (within the game, of course). Grid 2 tries to simulate what it’s like to be an actual racer, with sponsors, fans and worldwide fame. And generally it does a good job at it.

This is the time for me to confess: Hardcore racing games are not my forte, so when it first started Grid 2, I was expecting some difficulties. I started off on the Normal setting, but I had to switch over to Easy fairly quickly (oh, the shame). The game is punishing; thanks to its realistic physics, every wrong touch of a button, or a second too long on the gas will cause the car to spin out of control.

Colliding into other vehicles and the environment will also send you flying, unless you learn to use them to your advantage (like using a safety rail to launch yourself back on track). Sure, you may take some penalties, but better that than losing the entire race. Sometimes your car will simply spin out all by itself, even though you didn’t crash into anything. It seems that the collision detection box is bigger than the car itself, so simply driving near another vehicle can cause the game to think you’ve crashed, thus ruining a perfect run.

That is the game’s one big problem. Beyond that Grid 2 looks great, with gorgeous views and lens flare that don’t bother you even when they are right in your face. The cars always look and sound good; the rumbling of the engine as you shift gears, the squeaking of the wheels as you turn a corner, the crackling of breaking glass as you drive into a tree… All these just raise the game into a new level of detail. Grid 2 is mostly a silent game, so these sound effects are what you’ll hear throughout most of it, though in tight spots some music does come in to magnify the tension.

There are a few more things I personally liked about the game – one of which is the option to allow damage to your car to influence the gameplay (and not just look cool). Tires blowouts will make driving straight a real challenge and broken windows will cause the wind to whistle in your ears. It’s possible (and even quite fun) to reduce the car to a crumpled tin can, with only one wheel and a blazing trail of sparks. In this extreme case, or any other time you make a fatal mistake, the game lets you rewind back the race a few seconds (for up to five times per race) and try again.

If you get real tired of wrecking the same old car, Grid 2 has a pretty extensive customization system that can turn even the most boring car into a lean speeding machine.

Now that be took a look under the hood, it’s time to get behind the wheel and drive like the wind. Like many other driving games, there are several modes available in game; all of them feel very competitive. You see, as you progress through the game you unlock more and more real-world locations – each new location is run by a driving club you have to “defeat” in order to move own.  You do that by racing in a few different modes. There are the standard races, Time Attack where you race against the clock, Vehicle Challenges that unlock new cars, and something that’s called Promo – in which you just have to bypass as many opponents as you can without bumping into anything (which sounds pretty simply, but is really fun). Other modes include Drift, Checkpoint, Eliminator and Touge – a sort of one-on-one race.

Unfortunately, there isn’t that much diversity in locations (at least not at first), and you’ll find yourself racing through the same track over and over again, which can get boring pretty fast. To combat this, CodeMasters has implemented the LiveRoute system, which dynamically alters the track between laps. This way, even familiar tracks can feel fresh and challenging each time you play.

The online mode can be summarized in just two worlds: nothing special. The execution is pretty standard, but it isn’t exciting or interesting enough to gather a following and fill up the servers.

So Grid 2 is a realistic (and a bit annoying) game with good graphics, some collision detection problems, repetitive tracks and plenty of fun different modes to try them in. The ESPN segments and social media buzz make the game feel almost feel like a real world event – and that’s great. It’s kind of hard to decide which way to approach Grid 2 – as a realistic driving simulator or an arcade racing game; it sure has the strengths and weaknesses of both. It will probably appeal more to serious racers than those who just want to destroy vehicles and let time drift by.

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