Thursday, July 04, 2013

GRID 2 (PC Review) : The true mega-sequel to Daytona, Sega Rally, and Ridge Racer - all in one massive arcade masterpiece.

I really enjoyed the first GRID game on the console. What I liked about that old game is how expressive it was about automobile racing. Instead of going for complete realism, it went for exciting moments. It had AI that weaved and bobbed about like real players. It had active environments that made every race truly exciting.

That philosophy continues with GRID 2. On a decent PC this game is the most beautiful game you've ever seen. It does a lot of stuff that makes each racing sortie all the more interesting and fun, and it does it in very minute details that only make sense when you put them together in a complete package.

The handling model is simpler than sims like Forza or Gran Turismo, but it never goes to the extreme control style of the latest Need for Speed game (Need for Speed Most Wanted). Somehow they found the perfect balance here, allowing you to drift and glide through corners but still requiring you to follow good racing lines to win. You'll be doing a lot of drifting initially, but when you get to later racing seasons you'll be forced to be more careful with your driving because the more powerful cars can become unpredictable when drifting at full speed. Part of the reason why I liked Forza in the past was the controls, and in the same way, it's the controls that make Grid such a blast to play.

Another amazing thing about Grid 2 is that it never seems to get boring. It pulls that off by giving you beautiful tracks to ogle at, amazing AI to race against, and overall a feeling that the racing world you're playing in is a living, breathing place. That's the one problem that Forza and Gran Turismo have sometimes; their racing worlds can be very sanitized that they lose that visceral thrill that racing games should have. You're going over 180KPH; it has to be exciting. The problem with racing games is that you can never get that sense of movement no matter how fast the graphics scroll on your screen. So games like this have to do a lot more to get you completely immersed in the game.

GRID 2 pulls this off perfectly and beautifully in the way it renders its locations. When you race at night, fireworks continuously go off; crowds are watching you drive and they all have cameras, so strobe lights are everywhere. When you drive in a forest setting you'll see the occasional flock of birds flying by, or an airplane or helicopter swooping in. Mega-screens light up each major corner of the track with the initials 'WSR' flashing repeatedly, just giving you this sense that you are participating in a major race being watched around the world. GRID 2 gives you a feeling that you're racing, yes; but more importantly, it makes you feel like you're in a party, a really fun, crazy party, every time you drive.

It's so subtle but it really does work. It kills the 'boredom' of 'left, right, left' that racing games can usually have. There's just something to look at at every wild corner.

And it really, REALLY helps that all your opponent cars have liveries. In Forza/Gran Turismo you'd usually be the driver with the decked out car, with the nice alloy wheels, the decals, the paint job. All the other poor AI drivers look exactly like that....AI drones. Their cars just have the standard paint job and that's about it. You always get the impression that you're racing against faceless drones in those other games. In GRID 2, your opponents are part of major racing teams, with their own logos and colors. They feel interesting to race against and they feel fun to drive past. Your screen will never be devoid of color when you drive a race in GRID 2. If you're sick of brown in first person shooters, GRID 2 should fix that; especially on PC, with all the ridiculous lighting effects everywhere.

I can't help but think that this game is the true, the real successor to every arcade racing game that has died horribly in the past few decades. Daytona USA. Ridge Racer. Sega Rally. If you are familiar with those games, and you miss the experience of playing them, this is really as close as it gets. While the physics here is a lot more sophisticated than those, when you start drifting by at over 100KPH, you'll get that nice nostalgic feeling of arcade racers gone by. This game just gets the simplicity that's needed, without completely dumbing everything down like what EA did with Need for Speed Most Wanted.

This is the type of game that makes me ponder on buying a racing wheel. Maybe even a cabinet. I just enjoyed playing it way, way too much.