Grid 2 imagines a world where one driver, across all disciplines, is crowned the king of the road. As the player, you're off on a trek across the globe, competing in the disciplines permeating North America, Europe and Asia – recruiting drivers into the World Series of Racing along the way.
The WSR is the dream of Patrick Callaghan, the organizer of the WSR and mouthpiece throughout Grid 2. While you're racing to improve your own status and become a top driver, you're serving double duty to prove that the WSR is the place for the elite drivers to compete at the very top level.
So, essentially Grid 2 is the Ultimate Fighting Championship of racing games.
"With Grid, we had the straight-out racing and we also had the drift and it was kind of interesting to see our community forums where people were talking about what the purest discipline was to race in and it got us thinking," senior game designer Ross Gowing told me during a preview event. "Who would be the best? But then, obviously, the UFC and MMA has exploded in the UK over the last few years, so we thought like, 'Yeah, that idea is kind of really relevant now.' And that's kind of how it came about."
The correlation between mixed martial arts and racing is a pretty interesting one – racing has become as segmented, if not more, than martial arts disciplines. You have F1, you have drag, drift and countless more. It's an interesting question to pose and smart fodder for a racing game.
Still, a question lingered on my mind: why now? What made this the right time to produce a sequel to a 2008 racing game, especially with so many successful DiRT games looming in the rearview? Gowing told me that Codemasters considered doing a sequel right after Race Driver: Grid, but that the technology wasn't where Codemasters wanted it to be for the game the studio wanted to create.
"We didn't really feel like we could do justice with the technology at the time. Obviously it was still quite early in the console generation cycle, so we wanted to wait until we thought we could really capture exactly what it was we wanted to achieve. As the platforms developed over time, we've been able to build piece by piece, and now we're at this stage having done a bunch of DiRT games and developed the tech with that, we now felt like we can now do everything we dreamed of – hence the timing."
Codemasters had two different races available during this event, each representing the different spectrums of the WSR throughout Grid 2. Barcelona is an elimination race: a timer ticks down to zero during the race, then the last racer is eliminated and the clock starts anew. This takes place near the outset of Grid 2, where the player is still trying to win over the local Barcelona tuner crowd and show them the WSR is the place to compete. By winning the race, drivers are signed and the league grows.
The other race took place in Chicago at the height of the WSR's popularity, evidenced by the spectacle of pyrotechnics and plethora of advertisements adorning the guard rails and billboards around the track. Crowds dotted the sidelines.
Another interesting idea proposed by Grid 2 is Live Routes, special stages where components within the stage will be randomized to provide a different hodgepodge of routes all mashed together into one course. Live Routes will be specific to certain stages.
"It won't be in every single race – we're going to save it and make sure it's a special showcase bit," Gowing said. "Basically we take all of the tracks we'd have in a city – for example, say we'd have six tracks in a city – and we'd take all of those and load them at once, so as you're driving around one section of the track, the game's working out what it's going to do around the next couple of corners. So we can then load in the corners from the tracks from that city, so each time you go around, it'd be different." The randomization helps test driving skill over memorization.
If there's one thing I can say about those two race events, it's that the undeniable Codemasters feel was there, along with tenacious AI. CPU drivers had no qualms pushing me into the guardrail, PIT-ing me at every turn and just generally racing in a really aggressive manner. Turns out, it wasn't all the AI drivers; just a few.
The programming doesn't just boil down to behavior, however. Gowing told me that characteristics will carry from race to race, so if a driver is labeled as being dominant in one racing discipline in Grid 2, his tendencies will show. "You'll also find a drift driver who's set up to drive exceptionally well in drift events, but not as good at racing – he drifts a little too long into corners so you can see his drift style emerging in the other race types."
What little I was able to experience of Grid 2 showed a lot of promise: a core idea that is all at once elementary to the discussion of the sport and a great template for a video game, riding upon those tried-and-true wheels crafted in the Codemasters labs over so many moons. The lineage of Codemasters is very much racing and in this preview build, cars felt as crisp and responsive as I expected.
Grid 2 launches on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on May 28 in North America, May 31 everywhere else. Warner Bros. will publish in North America.