For as long as I can remember, racing games have either been a simulation or an arcade experience, but rarely have the two intermingled. But the arrival of games like Grid and Forza Horizon have merged those two categories into an interesting grey area. And now we have Grid 2, which will be making that grey area even greyer.
I got a brief hands on with Grid 2's single player mode the other day (multiplayer isn't ready to be revealed to us knaves yet), and found a game that clearly has one foot in the real world with another foot firmly planted on fantasy island.
When you start off in the game, you are a lowly nobody in the brand new WSR racing series. You have an investor behind you, a cheap car, and a small garage. You start off in low-powered cars in small events.
But then you gain international recognition. Sponsors back you and give you goals to meet. You go to bigger events with larger crowds. You get faster cars and a better garage. It's a progression akin to a role playing game, or RPG as the kids call it.
There is a pretty wide selection of cars in the game, although the official list isn't out yet. In my brief time I drove a BMW E30 M3, a BAC Mono, and a Chevy Camaro. Each car has unique handling traits, but they are definitely not console sim quality. Think somewhere between Need For Speed and Gran Turismo 5.
I played three game modes. First was an elimination race, where the car in last is stopped every 15 seconds or so. Second was a one lap race around the Red Bull Ring (formerly the A1 Ring F1 track). Third was a distance challenge to see who could get the furthest. I preferred the second mode, but more than one lap would be nice too. I'm willing to bet that can be changed in the full game.
Codemasters intended it to be this way. Like Forza Horizon, they wanted the cars to have characteristics of the real thing while also being accessible. For cars they couldn't get access to, they turned to Chris Harris to give them feedback instead of manufacturers. He drives a lot of cars, so it does make sense.
The demo I played did not have adjustable difficulty levels, which will be in the real game, thankfully. I was able to pick up and play two of the three levels and win the first time out. In one case, I passed about seven cars in one corner, on a track I've never driven before. That tips the scales decidedly more towards arcade than sim.
That doesn't mean the game isn't fun. Far from it. Even though I won the first time through, I came right back to play the level again. I liked the physics too. I tend to prefer something a bit more simulation-y than arcade-y, but the game was still a load of fun.
There's just something about drifting and crashing into random cars that puts a smile on your face.
Speaking of crashing, carbon fiber actually shatters and doesn't bend like steel, that's a thoughtful little addition.
Codemasters has also partnered with ESPN to give the game a bit of a real world feel. The developers I spoke to said that having coverage on the leading sports channel in the world (even if they barely cover racing) makes the game seem more legit. I was shown a couple live action cut scenes that occur after races where ESPN personalities discuss racing coverage and progress of the WSR.
I understand the intent of the cut scenes, but I did find it a bit awkward. Perhaps it won't be strange in the fully realized game.
Another gripe: There is now no cockpit view. Apparently only five percent of players use it, but for a racing game today it's a pretty big omission. It's the main complaint I've been hearing and the game isn't even out yet.
When I first played Forza Horizon, I was told the game wasn't for people that wanted to cut down their lap times. It was for people that wanted to drive. I tend to find the same with Grid 2. There is a heavier motorsport focus in Grid 2, but the gameplay style and supposedly massive multiplayer mode, which hasn't been unveiled yet, makes me think this is going to be Forza's biggest competitor yet in the new "semi arcade sim" category.