Hands-On Preview: Grid 2's Multiplayer & Race.Net
The last time I sat down with Codemasters to get a look at their upcoming racer, Grid 2, not much could be said about the multiplayer. I was excited about the single player campaign, which emphasized “being the star” of fictional Patrick Callahan’s World Series Racing, a sort of UFC of driving. But that excitement also made me equally apprehensive about Grid 2‘s multiplayer, which sounded like it would be bereft of that “star quality” the single player was touting. But after sitting with Codemasters again to discuss Grid 2 multiplayer’s at length, I’m glad to say those doubts were proven wrong.
Very, very wrong.
Not only is Grid 2‘s multiplayer as much about “being the star” as its single player experience, Grid 2 also seems to incorporate some of the same “next-gen” ideas that Sony spoke about at their conference: emphasizing strong gameplay, strong mechanics, and smart driving just as much as creating a lively online community and sharing your experience with the world.
First things first: does Grid 2‘s multiplayer gameplay feel like its single player?
The first thing I noticed when I sat down with Codemasters’ Ade Lawton and about half a dozen other journalists trying out the multiplayer mode, is that it feels exactly like the single player. Grid 2‘s multiplayer was still about delivering that same tension, what they call the “moment to moment drama,” which comes through the brutal gameplay, precise controls, and human players that obviously fight as hard as the game’s A.I. The little things matter too: you may remember that in my first preview I talked about damage, and how there’s a strong sense of continuity. When a piece of your car falls off, it stays there: it doesn’t just fade away into the land of Narnia, or wake up in the real world to find out that it’s been dreaming in a false reality called the Matrix. It stays right there, so that every time players return to that part of the ring, they may hit it, run over it, or knock it into something else. The same thing applies to the multiplayer, which I found pretty cool, especially considering the amount of damage that happens when players start playing hard.
On that note, the same playstyle was encouraged: nothing was sacrificed for the multiplayer. For the uninitiated, Grid 2 can be unforgiving at most times, brutal at others. While Grid 2 isn’t completely a full simulation game or an arcadey one, it definitely leans more towards the sim side of the spectrum than the arcadey. That means that you can’t just hold the accelerate button nonstop until you make it to the end: you really have to focus on handling properly, managing your speed, and not driving like a maniac.
This idea was drilled into our heads from the very first race, when–just seconds in–eight drivers taking speedy cars onto the Algarve Sport Circuit in Portugal had a pile-up so bad that not even Fox would air it on “World’s Deadliest Car Crashes.” It was that bad.
In fact, we got to try out a few different tracks across a few different play modes, and there was a noticeable difference between cars and tracks. The Algarve Sport Circuit, for example, was like most professional circuit races: long straightways, and then sharp, sharp turns. Using the McLaren like I did the first time was a mistake: as Lawton said, “it was a beast to control.” The second time I used the Audi R8 LMS Ultra for better grip, which slid far, far less than the McLaren and drastically improved my handling (but couldn’t correct my lack of skill). Later I used the Mercedez Benz SLS AMG, and focused on my handling more than speed, but couldn’t get the same progress as I did with the Audi. It also didn’t help that I was slammed into five or six times by rival drivers. But again, paying attention to the car you’re using and the tracks you’re playing on is important. Sounds like basic knowledge, but it’s really the core component for succeeding in this game.
Strategy is a key part of the game, just like the single player campaign. Aggressive and defensive driving skills came in very handy here: piles up could occur at various parts of the tracks, some accidental, some certainly intentional. When driving on Paris’ Circuit de la Seine during a Checkpoint race, I used the superb handling of the SRT Viper GTS to slide in and out of oncoming conflicts, and pulled out the classic PIT police maneuver to make an opponent spin out of control while I shot past them. I’m seriously tempted to start YouTubing as many driving skills as possible to see what I can do against other racers the next time I get my hands on the game.
Potentially most exciting was the online endurance Dubai track we raced, using Grid 2‘s Liveroutes system. This mechanic creates the track as you race, keeping players on their toes with sudden route changes so that no two races are ever the same. Through a few different playthroughs I noticed some changes to the tracks we raced, though not anything very dramatic. Don’t get me wrong: the gameplay was still brutal, and the tracks weren’t weak, but for now, don’t expect anything as dramatic as Split/Second‘s “Route Change” mechanic. The Liveroutes mechanic is still in progress, though, and has tons of potential to be the number one feature in Grid 2.
All of this proves Grid 2 has a strong enough multiplayer to try out, but what makes it stand out against other racers, and against its own single player campaign?
When Codemasters’ Graham Bromley and Lee Roberts–the lead level designer and lead Race.net designer respectively–showed off Grid 2‘s Race.net system, it reminded me of Rockstar Games’ Social Club Crews feature, with Race.net as a single multiplayer profile that can be applied across all of Codemasters’ future games. Accessible via desktop, mobile, and soon a mobile app, it will track stats and connect players to Codemasters databases. And connecting is the most enticing aspect to Race.net.
The game industry has been, and will be even more, centered around connectivity; social gaming, sharing, and online communities have grown exponentially in the last few years, and Grid 2 seeks to ride that wave to its peak.
In my first preview I said that your fans are a kind of currency in the game, perhaps as great–or greater–than money: the same idea applies to Race.net. But instead of fictional fans, it will be the entire world at your wheel. Players will be creating an online identity that connects them to thousands of other players, all with the idea of being the best. Like the single player, you are a star of World Series Racing, and in turn, you are now a star of the world. Everything you do in Grid 2 levels you up, earns cash, and earns followers. The more successful you are at competing, completing objectives, and showing off how good you are, the more you’re likely to earn followers. This is compounded by the ability to upload and share videos to Facebook, Twitter, and Race.net directly, and communicate to others via forums.
But the biggest draw of what makes Race.net a viable social game is the Rival System. Gone are the days of endless leaderboards that couldn’t be scaled by newer players: Codemasters have replaced it with a week to week set up that forces players to stay on their toes if they want to maintain dominance. The Rival System also seeks to connect players and create a community of racers hellbent on competition: each week, the Rival System will use a matchmaking service that can match players by level, playstyle, and fame, and beating these rivals earns bonus cash and XP. To keep things from getting stale, there are always new rivals coming, with each week providing new challengers to your throne of popularity. This also encourages players to win and steal followers from each other, again making the social aspect of the game its strongest currency.
Much like any other multiplayer community (or drivers in real life), there are some who play strictly by the rules, and others who play a little dirty. Instead of completely excluding those kinds of players from the game, Codemasters have allowed gamers to seek opponents and rivals based on their playstyle, which Grid 2 tracks as they play. If you want to find players who are less likely to slam into you, you can set that in your search preferences; if you don’t mind rough riders and players who cut corners, you can take them on if you choose. Anti-griefing and anti-cheating mechanics have been set into the game as well, with built in collision detecting and corner cutting detection that–when triggered–will punish guilty racers with a short-term performance penalty to their speed or handling.
All of this makes Grid 2‘s multiplayer feel like an amalgamation of The Hunger Games, The Running Man, and The Fast & The Furious, something that could encourage players not only to play for the gameplay, but to prove a point: that they’re the best and baddest drivers you’ve ever seen.
And I must admit, I’m excited to prove it too.
Now if only I could get the hang of those Circuit corners…
We still have yet to get a taste of Grid 2‘s patented “Flashback” mechanic, but I’m sure it’ll come up soon before the game releases on May 28th, to the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.