Grid 2: Tearing up the Multiplayer Tarmac
The souped-up motors of Grid 2 are about to take their starting positions. The long-awaited title is finally set for release this May, almost a half-decade to the day since its much-lauded predecessor was rolled out. The maxim for this sequel is one of “total race day immersion”, an ambitious effort to recreate the tension, glamour, and sparking rivalry of any authentic competitive driving event. From our hands-on with the game’s re-imagined multiplayer modes, that sense of competition has filtered right through to the development team – Grid 2’s multiplayer is set to stand alone from that pesky career.
“We’ve decided to make it a completely distinct experience from the single player, because of the fiction we’ve created in the career – we didn’t want that impinging on the multiplayer at all,” says Senior Game Designer Ross Gowing, with a grin. Essentially, this separation means there are two dedicated games under Grid 2’s hood, with victories in solo and multiplayer modes resulting in rewards unique to each. “Online has its own progression system of XP and cash, and all the vehicles that you might have acquired throughout the career, you have will have to earn to use in multiplayer,” Gowing explains.
A significant shift from the first game is the new LiveRoutes system, which is implemented in various modes and randomly creates the track ahead of the racers. “The tracks will change lap by lap, dynamically,” says Becky Crossdale, Level Designer. “They’re all in the same location but at one point you might go down a straight and on the first lap, you’ll take a left and by the time you’ve come around again you might take a right but you won’t have seen anything change; it’s very subtle.”
For those who don’t fancy putting it all online, Grid 2 also brings back local two-player split screen, where players can create custom races based on the career mode. For the gently confrontational, there’s also asynchronous online play linked through Codemasters’ Racenet – think any turn-based game on Facebook for an idea of how this will work, where you won’t have to be online at the same time to compete and challenges are delivered to friends the next time they connect.
That’s all well and good – and as we’ve previously covered, the game looks great, boasts a stunning selection of cars (from classic BMWs up to supercars that Bill Gates probably couldn’t afford), and has spent its five year absence honing every nut and bolt. The handling in particular already seemed hugely improved when we looked at the game last. But how does that hold up in match conditions?
In a word, marvellously.
Dropped into a straight-up, first-past-the-post race against a squad of Codemasters’ finest – an unfair advantage to the home team, surely? – the Subaru BRZ responds well to the slightest touch and it’s soon clear each vehicle is performing to its own standards. Interestingly, cutting a corner in a mis-timed overtake prompts a penalty, decreasing performance until the illegal benefit had been equalised. We like it, but how this approach goes down with players en masse will be interesting to see.
Endurance mode mixes it up, first by showcasing LiveRoutes in action, the streets of a bewilderingly pretty Dubai snaking off into the distance, each corner providing a new surprise, second by forcing a new approach to play. Victory goes to the driver covering the greatest distance in lengthy races – customisable up to a whopping 40 minutes, though here a couple of merciful five-minute defeats – rather than passing a finish line first. Constantly keeping up with the unpredictable track while trying to nimbly zip between rivals and avoid collisions, all to get the most miles on the wheels, proves a thrilling challenge.
The last mode tested was Checkpoint. Flipping Endurance on its head, this knocks players out of the race as the run out of time between, well, checkpoints. Nothing gamers haven’t seen before but, coupled with LiveRoutes again randomising the track progression, feels somehow fresher than comparable efforts elsewhere.
Although not shown yet, Gowing promises that Grid 2 will also have “Time Attack, which is all about setting the best time whilst all drivers are on track but not jostling for position. Face-Off and Touge –two-player focussed race modes. Drift challenge. Then the Global Challenge which adds a couple of race types to that – Power Lap, which is standing start, timed lap; Overtake, which is passing event traffic in a given time, and the Checkpoint mode”
Beneath the hood of all the multiplayer components is Codemasters’ integrated Racenet. “[It’s] technically been in beta since [DiRT Showdown] was released, so Grid 2 will signify the 1.0 release of it,” Gowing told us. “We’ve been listening to community feedback, so that’s allowed us to expand our feature set. You’ll see Racenet being a pillar of the game, driving our Global Challenge system, where nine events are presented to the world each week, and you compete against your friends or rivals to do the best cumulative performance over the week. Racenet is the main pusher and puller all of that, it’s providing all of the rosters in-game, the tracking, everything.”
Although some players may not like the sound of ‘levelling up’ through the two chains of career and multiplayer, those separate paths and the option of playing with the variable LiveRoutes routes helps make the action genuinely competitive. There’s no grinding on single player only to take the best cars online, and having ever-shifting routes means every twist and turn is down to skill, reaction and performance rather than more obsessive players memorising tracks. Another subtle tweak is in upgrades, purchased with the cash won in-game, which can nudge a cars’ performance into the next championship tier. Trick out a Nissan R34 just right, and you could be racing it out of class against the likes of the BAC Mono. In these situations more than any other, each victory has to be 100% earned.
In the five-year gap since the first Grid, the DiRT series has veered between rallying and stunt driving, while the Formula One license has been focussed on creating a precise simulation of the real-world sport. Grid 2 now has the chance to complete Codemasters’ triptych of racing offerings, delivering an experience distinct from its garage-mates – and with it shaping up to be a chrome-plated, sexed-up street racer with a fresh take on competitive multiplayer, it should do just that.
Matt Kamen is a freelance games journalist. When the revolution comes, he’s putting anyone who didn’t buy a Dreamcast up against the wall first. You can follow him on IGN and Twitter.
By Matt Kamen