When I sat down to demo Grid 2 with Iain Smith and Ross Gowing–the producer and senior games designer of Grid 2 developer Codemasters, respectively–there was one idea they wanted to get across:
You are the driver.
You are the star.
You are the next step of the racing industry.
And you better be the fastest person in the world if you want to keep it that way.
Grid 2 is based around a simple premise: what if there was a true “discipline vs discipline” organization of racing in the real world? A UFC of burning rubber, if you will?
We’ve seen a ton of games in the past that have united various racing types under one banner, but Codemasters wanted to go one step further, and really make that concept the basis for everything Grid 2 is. They wanted it to feel real, to “pitch a premise grounded in realism.” And to do that, they really asked themselves how this would work. We’ve seen this kind of thing work in the past, with a “who’s the fastest man in the world” race between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson, and a “who’s the baddest man in the world” fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki (which, for what it’s worth, was horrible). But those kind of things weren’t what Codemasters had in mind, not completely.
“Those kinds of things have always been a promotional event, for a little bit of buzz and press; for money, not who’s the best,” Gowing said. “We wanted to lend a level of legitimacy and make it feel like we’re actually creating a league of the upper echelon of what we can do in motor sports… we want to do something that is the ultimate crown of motorsports, to find the ultimate racing superstar” And to do that, they turned to ESPN, and the UFC.
Using an ESPN SportsCenter promo as a way to center Grid 2, they questioned how the real world would react to an “ultimate crown” as Gowing called it, and we’ve already had an idea of that through the UFC’s Dana White. In White, Codemasters saw perhaps the ultimate idea of a person who would attempt something like this, and from him they created Grid 2‘s World Series Racing, and its visionary, Patrick Callahan.
Callahan is this guy with bug ideas, and he wants to unite the various disciplines and continents under one huge racing federation of champions. But–like other attempts in the past–the idea can’t move unless it has a star to help push it and gets not only the fans behind it–but the other drivers as well. And that’s where you come in.
You are the answer to getting the WSR off the ground.
You are the hero of this racing vision.
You are Patrick Callahan’s star.
Grid 2 is all about that experience. Making you feel like the driver and the hero of this journey. You are the Michael Jordan of this franchise. You are the Tiger Woods of this sport. You are the Chuck Liddell of this idea that the world has never seen before. And you won’t be this nameless avatar like in most racing games that have come before, because Grid 2 is all about making you feel like a star who has risen up from nothing to become a beacon of awesome around the world.
When you start Grid 2, you start off in a lowly garage, somewhere out in the suburbs between “Who Cares” valley and “Where’s That?” city. Codemasters wanted players to always feel immersed while playing the game, so there aren’t any spiritless menus to take players from event to event. The garage is your menu, it’s your home, and it looks like crap. You’ll find roaches crawling around in a corner (perhaps dreaming of being the racing champs of their world), you’ll find dust and grime everywhere, and your space will barely hold a car or two. Of course, as time goes on–along with your fame rising–you’ll move to a better place in a more upscale suburb, then a garage in the city, and eventually to a most glamorous hangar on your own private property, large enough to compensate an episode of Cribs worth of expensive cars. Each garage has its own feel, its own look, and really gets across that you’ve moved up in the world.
And this is where Grid 2 continues to drive the point in: a sense of journey. Like Joseph Campbell’s hero, this is your journey and your quest. Your mission: to become the face of the WSR and recruit other drivers and fans to your cause. To do that, Grid 2–and Callahan–will send you to different racing clubs in the USA to get the WSR off the ground, then to Europe to legitimize it, and then to Asia to really turn it into an international phenomena. And unlike most racing games, the point isn’t to win money, but to win fans. Fans are your currency, and Codemasters wanted it that way to keep the game centered on being a star.
“The fans are really the important thing, actually, because they’re the driving force throughout the game,” Gowing says. “It’s not about the money, it’s not about the XP; it’s all about the number of people who are watching you and watching the WSR.”
And you’ll see that happen: Gowing and Smith showed me the Barcelona and Chicago tracks at different points in your career, and there’s definitely a sense of growth to be seen. The environments themselves are fantastic: fully detailed, gorgeously lit, and real. So well done, in fact, that I felt like I could jump the car over the racing barrier and just driving into a building and park (which will be my excuse for why I crashed so much). The Codemasters sent out teams to take thousands of pictures at the various locations their races take place in–with some creative license to make the gameplay smoother in certain cases–and it shows.
Driving as a superstar later in the game, the track was surrounded by what Codemasters said could be up to 40,000 people. The lighting was amazing, with just about each one of them taking pictures (with flash) along the track, all excited, all amped. I seriously looked like I could stick a hand out the car of my window and high five everyone along the way to the finish line.
As you get more important, not only will fans grow, but your sponsors, your brands, and coverage. Codemasters wanted to make you feel the fame, and you’ll see your customized name being shown on websites, social media, videos, the works, as buzz starts building on the WSR. This leads to promotional events and races, which will of course start with local, smalltown challenges, to large WSR events, which Smith and Gowing promise may be normal or crazy and outlandish. Don’t be surprised to find Rockstar Energy sending you an email to do something big, whacky and crazy to give you the opportunity to “grow your fans and your publicity.”
And that leads to the real heart of Grid 2, and the Codemasters as well: the racing.
If there’s one thing that Codemasters wants fans to be center of, it’s that racing will be as important as ever before in Grid 2. Using a new system called “Truefeel,” players will have the most nuanced manual feedback they’ve ever felt through their controller, strong A.I., powerful driving mechanics, and more. And during my hands on time with it, I could feel it. As Smith put it, “tension and drama captures what Grid 2 brings to the table.”
The demo I tried had two of the three types of settings announced so far: Urban, your street races, and Track, your professional circuit type of races, which were tried out on the Barcelona and Chicago locations, and the Red Bull Ring in Austria location. For someone who hasn’t played this type of racing game before–which is part simulation, part arcade-like–there was part of a “learning curve” when it came to driving, if you’ll forgive the pun, especially when it came to getting used to the mechanics and hit thoses turns right. I saw other people face this issue as well. But after a few races, it was easy to start getting a handle on things, and it was easy to see how Codemasters was integrating the race types under one game with a variety of cars, each which had their own strengths and difficulty.
Grid 2 is split into four tiers of cars and difficulties, which Codemasters promise will allow all racers–veteran and new–to drive “truly special cars”:
More importantly–although one could ask what’s more important than sexy cars–is that the racing experience feels more organic. There’s what seems to be a strong continuity, an attention to detail on the little things. One good example is that as I was driving–and maybe once or twice crashing into things–a piece of my cars would break off here and there. Unlike most games where these things just sort of vanish into thin air like a Criss Angel magic trick, those pieces were actually there when I returned for the next lap, and in some cases I had to steer around them to prevent slowing my car down. Another great example is that when playing an Elimination-styled challenge, I noticed that when a car was eliminated, it also didn’t just vanish into thin air, or–like in some games–just blow up for no good reason. It actually had to drive off the track like any real car would do in the real world, and so I actually had to steer around that too when I was trying to make my way around the track.
Couple this with strong A.I. that will do everything it can to make you lose, and Grid 2 felt as tense and dramatic as anything else I could imagine. There were moments when I tried to pass the car ahead in the Barcelona street race, and my opponent would block me off to prevent my getting ahead; at other times it would try to direct me into a fork in the road to make me crash; and at the worst times it would come from behind me and attempt to tip my backend to make me steer off crookedly and lose my place. These are things we’ve definitely seen before with Need for Speed police A.I., but it feels just as good here in Grid 2, and it feels good to get that from other racers. Codemasters also promised that there will be tons of room to tailor it to a player’s desire, so that if a weaker driver wanted an easier experience, he or she can still enjoy the game without having to toss their controller out the window. But if a player wants to really embrace everything Grid 2 has the offer, there will definitely be plenty of challenge to find.
And there’s still more we haven’t seen yet.
One thing I was looking forward to getting a glimpse of was the Flashback feature from the first Grid, a mechanic that allowed players to rewind back from a bad crash or mistake, sort of like what the Burnout series has offered in the past. While there was no Flashback for this build of the game I demoed, Codemasters did promise it would return, but they wanted to improve the core of the game’s mechanics and the Single Player campaign new narrative and structure first before working on special features.
Multiplayer was also not available for this build, but was promised to be “its own beast,” more of which will be seen soon. While the single player campaign and the WSR won’t really crossover into the Multiplayer experience, there will be “Racenet,” which will offers races, rivals, and rewards, and is currently in Beta. Codemasters promised there will be tons of content offered, saying they’ve “just scratched the surface on race types.”
Most exciting to me is the “Liveroutes” feature, yet another thing we’ll have to wait to get a look at, a Grid 2 racing mechanic that is supposed to dynamically change the race as you play. While driving in urban environments, the system calculates the route through the city on the fly, so players won’t know what’s coming next until they get to it. Codemasters said that they want the race to become “a test of racecraft, car handling, and reactions to circuits which cannot be learned.” It’ll keep players on the edge, guessing, and relying on pure skill to survive. As both a single player career race type and a multiplayer online experience, I expect this could be one of the most fresh and challenging experiences racing fans have ever played, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see it in action.
If anything, Grid 2 has me excited for that overall feeling of immersion, drama, and emotion that its promising, and the other locations, like California, Abu Dhabi, and the others that haven’t been confirmed yet. With the Codemasters’ track record with racing games, and what I got to play for myself, I’m sure they’re onto something powerful here. But we’ll all have to wait and see when Grid 2 releases to the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC on May 28, 2013. Until then, stay tuned to DualShockers.com for all your gaming news.