Everything is social these days. If you don't tweet and update your Facebook status every 40 minutes, you are an outcast and a pariah. If you don't Instagram your meals, your friends will pretend not to know you. And if you don't develop a social gaming experience, nobody will buy your latest game. And that's why Grid 2 has gone intensely social.
(Full Disclosure: Codemasters wanted me to try out Grid 2's new multiplayer so bad that they invited me to sit in a ballroom at a swankariffic hotel and gave me an hour to play against a bunch of other journalists. They also gave me a swell notebook.)
In a lot of cases, a compelling single player experience isn't enough to bring in customers anymore. People want to interact with their friends and harass strangers. Racing games are probably some of the best candidates for an in-depth multiplayer mode since racing against the computer is almost always unsatisfying.
You want to know you beat an actual human, not a bunch of lines of code.
For Grid 2, Codemasters has basically made the multiplayer mode an entirely separate experience from the single player mode. I already played the single player part of Grid 2, but they kept saying I have to see multiplayer before I can totally judge the game.
At its very core, Grid 2's multiplayer won't be much different than what you know from other games. You race against other people from around the world on tracks and in different modes. I tried out a circuit race at the Algarve Circuit in Portugal (Don't want to brag, but I won both times), a live circuit, which generates the track as you race so it's never the same, and a time attack where the goal is to get as far as you can in the time limit.
It was fun to play, but not much different than any other racing game I've ever enjoyed. Handling of the cars is also hard to get used to, especially the GT3 cars. The levels of front end grip are just too high, causing the car to dart with every input. You need to be super smooth with the controls to make it work. But it is supposed to be closer to an arcade racer, so unlike Gran Turismo or Forza, you can't really 'feel' what the car is doing.
So don't expect to be playing a true sim. But you knew that already. If you don't want a sim, it's a lot of fun to play.
Codemasters has worked to make the multiplayer experience it's own entity. Even though I didn't get to experience every part of it, I liked what I heard about what's coming.
There is a rivalry system that matches you up with a person of similar skill each week to compete against. I think that's a fantastic idea, because when I play Gran Turismo, it's rare to be in a race against people of similar skill levels. They're either way slower or way faster. There's no middle ground.
This sounds like a good solution. Of course, you can also add friends or people you randomly meet in races as rivals as well.
You can also "gain fame," which are called "RaceNet Followers,' RaceNet being the online hub for the entire game. The most famous drivers are the better drivers, and more people will want to rival them. There will be weekly leaderboards that get reset as well as legacy ones. It all sounds very promising. The weekly boards could also keep people engaged, because there's a new leader each week, you don't have an all-time best time to beat.
Customizing your car in appearance and performance (ala Forza) with a complete livery editor and everything is another big part of the game. Cars can level up to the point where an E30 M3 becomes a full on touring car.
But, by far the best part, at least for me, is the inclusion of being able to share highlights and replays from directly inside the game onto YouTube. Gran Turismo promised this ages ago and it never happened. I know this is something I've wanted in games for a while, so hopefully it can come true. It'll also go on your personal RaceNet page, for followers and friends to see and comment on.
And, of course, you can share them to Facebook and Twitter. No word on LinkedIn or Instagram. Yet.
If you don't mistake Grid 2 for a sim, then you'll have a blast playing it. Physics are slightly unrealistic, as are handling traits. But, it's easy to pickup and play and be fast right out of the box.
I tend to think the additions to the multiplayer universe, and making it it's own standalone part of the game. It's almost like you don't need single player anymore. We'll find out for sure when Grid 2 is released on May 28th.