GRID 2 PS3 review – influential racing series offers one more for the road

GRID 2 ps3 review

When this lofty racer’s prequel arrived like some sort of clever car simile in 2008, it sculpted the shape and form of racing on this generation. If every game since hasn’t nabbed its Flashbacks, HUD indicators showing tailing opponents, and team management component, it’s only because it’d be so flippin’ obvious if they did. So when Grid 2 arrives in a shorter skirt, promising much the same only now with more reckless abandon, who are you to argue?

GRID 2 PS3 review

You’d have to explain yourself to incontestable billionaire mogul Patrick Callahan, for one. The smooth-talking entrepreneur wants to form a World Series Of Racing, and he wants you to do all the legwork, damn it. “But I’m just a promising street racer,” you murmur, after winning the game’s debut event around Chicago’s drift-friendly street circuit. Yet his iron will can’t be bent – you will do his bidding, around a challenging mix of American open roads and tracks, competing against fictional teams who paint their cars like the civil war never ended. Beat them, and their best drivers sign up for the WSR. The unblinking eyes of YouTube fans click ‘like’ on videos of your driving, and Callahan’s maniacal vision builds momentum.

That’s your first season in Grid 2, and only when it’s over do you get a minute to digest it all. The racing is fun – more smoke and shattered carbon fibre than its prequel – and the muscle cars handle not like they did in our earlier hands-ons, but more like they did in 2008. No bad thing, of course. Grid’s motors were mighty accommodating and each nudge of the analogue stick came with a satisfying weight, but you wonder what happened to all that Truefeel stuff – Codies stabbing a syringe directly into a real car’s brain and squirting the flammable DNA into the game’s code, or some such.

Handling isn’t so realistic that you slam on the brakes in a moment of sheer panic, believing it all to be real, but the physics whirring away behind it succeed not just in delivering a surmountable challenge, but also in making its range of vehicles feel suitably eclectic. You can easily feel the weight difference between cars, and the huge shift in characteristics between drive models. Augmenting that solid bedrock is convincing, smart and subtle DualShock rumble programming that gives you information on how much grip you have, where the car’s weight lies and when it’s safe to hammer the accelerator again. More valuable feedback than whatever anodyne Californian platitudes your race engineer can think to holler at you mid-race.

You can easily feel the weight difference
between cars, and the huge shift in characteristics between drive models

On you rumble to season two in Europe: home to socialist lingerie, diplomatic techno and snooty race clubs who think you can take your WSR and just bloody go somewhere else with it… until you beat them all, of course. Then they’re begging to join. The mix of street circuits, point-to-point jollies and real-world tracks offers a similar challenge to its US counterpart, but Callahan’s been out with the ticker tape and tarted them up with WSR branding. With each decent result you gain more fans, who make themselves known first as a red number on a loading screen, then as bigger crowds at each event.

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But like your rookie season, all the races in your Euro jaunt and everywhere else seem to adhere to the same script in the name of drama – starting at the back, you prang your way through most of the pack early on, but find the frontrunner has worked up a massive lead. Then you cut that massive lead down to nothing just before the finish line, and either drift gracefully past him at the last gasp or don’t, depending on how many Flashbacks you splurged pranging your way through most of the pack early on. Every racer has an element of rubber-banding, it’s just a bit more obvious here for separating the field so specifically and consistently. Flashbacks themselves are a stripped-down, instant rewind now, though – a good call.

It’s when you hop over to Asia in season three that the WSR – and thus, Grid 2 itself – finds its pace. Bigger crowds, faster cars and the odd video clip from the real ESPN Sports Desk discussing your exploits. There are races, endurance events, drift courses and promo events to raise your profile by overtaking a string of pickup trucks in a set time.

 

Sadly the hiring and firing of team-mates has been stripped away, but you’re still picking liveries and sponsors, attracting more mega-corps as WSR gains recognition. You’re also racing against familiar drivers from around the world who you have to beat on their home turf to recruit, and this is one of the game’s most memorable characteristics. You line up on the grid next to quick and fair Harrison Carter, speedy-but-reckless Lucien Galfione, and Bruno Silva, the man easily better than you but always your second fiddle (since you can control time, and all). They say nothing, but convey plenty of character just the same.

On to the chief downer of an otherwise rampantly enjoyable racer: it’s Grid, with bits shifted around, tacked on, or missing. Maybe it’s wrong to expect another firm step forward from the franchise in PS3’s twilight, with the Ego engine showing such bags under its eyes, but there’s the overriding sense that Grid 2 sometimes just makes do, lacking the visionary quality of its former.

Consider its big innovation, Live Routes. It’s a way of scrambling a track layout on the fly so you’re never sure what lies ahead of the next straight. It’s an impressive use of existing art assets – but it doesn’t mean that much to your experience as a player. There’s a hint of this philosophy throughout Grid 2. In its career mode, which rationalises the rags-to-riches story of its predecessor using Callahan but doesn’t advance the gameplay; in the absent cockpit cam; and in the multitude of events hosted by the same stretches of tarmac.

You won’t find this much tyre smoke
and broken glass anywhere else on PS3

Should you join Callahan’s travelling circus of dangerous driving? Absolutely. You won’t find this much tyre smoke and broken glass anywhere else on PS3, nor will you enjoy creating it with the safety wheels of Flashback. Perhaps the Ego engine has a few too many miles on the clock now to leave the competition for dust, but Grid 2’s drama and paced progression earn it a champagne shower nonetheless. Lacking its predecessors’ ideas, but a worthy twilight joyride for the Ego engine that nails the white-knuckle speed and screaming tyres like few others.

 

Our Score

Score: 8