This article originally appeared in Xbox World magazine.
"We want every player to be able to pick the game up and within a couple of laps feel like a hero, power-sliding and paint-trading their way to victory," says Ross Gowing, senior game designer on GRID2 when we quiz him about Codemasters' main priorities for their racing sequel. Having played the new demo earlier in the week, we can safely say they're on the right track - but is there still room in the world for GRID?
The original released back in 2008, meaning there will be a five year gap in between games by the time this appears in 2013. Since then we've had Forza 3 and 4, a fistful of Need for Speeds, Blur, three Colin McRae DIRTs, and a rabble of mixed-quality kart racers. Strangely, though, none have matched GRID's mixture of accessible handling, beautiful cars, and slick 60 frames per second racing.
Perhaps that's why GRID2 doesn't feel too different. Our demo takes place over two tracks: the first a straight, point-to-point sprint through a California coast circuit, the second a multi-lap race through Chicago. The first of those is all about the edge-of-control racing we know from the DIRT games; that balance between keeping speed as high as possible, cutting corners where you can, and actually staying on the track. It's super-smooth, and from the bonnet view you can see the trees that line the track perfectly reflected on your car's buffed paintwork. A small detail, perhaps, but these are some incredible reflections.
Importantly, though, Codemasters have nailed that handling. Our first run ends in a respectable time, but we clearly recall moments when our tail kicked out too far, we missed corner cuts, or we were too cautious with our braking. Our first run felt great, and yes the handling was much more forgiving than a sim like Forza, but there was plenty of room to improve our time, which is where most of GRID2's depth will come from.
This isn't a game for tinkerers. Seconds won't be shaved off times by adjusting gear-ratios or softening suspension − quicker times mean bigger risks and smarter racing. Oh, and bouncing off railings.
For better or worse, our demo simply didn't punish us enough for riding barriers around tight corners, or side-swiping opponents to slow ourselves down. The Chicago track is packed with right-angle bends, and the road cleverly fluctuates between narrow, twisting sections (where overtaking is risky) and wide straights for opening up your engine. But bullying your opponents into the hoardings is far too easy at the moment, making skilful overtakes largely redundant. New guys will happily pinball onto the podium, but the hardcore will expect more from the final game.
While the handling remains familiar, the devs are planning big changes for the career and online modes. "The career is all about the player being the cornerstone of a growing global phenomenon," says Gowing. You start with classic muscle vehicles, and work up to the top end super-cars. There are no run-of-the-mill motors here.
"We've hand-picked the vehicles that we want to work with, and our handling team are really able to do each one justice," he explains. "I'd rather take the time to learn every nuance and feel like a hero in every vehicle I drive, rather than have twice the amount but notice no difference between any of them." He also confirms that personalising cars will be a big part of the career mode too. Hope you like decals of aggressive animals and tribal tattoos, then.
Online, the team are aiming to imitate and better EA's superb Autlog system. "Whereas previously players enjoyed simply being able to compete on track against others in any capacity; these days you need to offer so much more in terms of progression, longevity and asynchronous play," says Gowing. That means competing against your friends, their times, and their achievements.
So, is there still room for GRID? We think so. The handling is the star of the show, and the game looks brilliant. Almost next-gen. Almost. Hopefully the 'no-duff-cars' career mode and expanded online will justify the five year wait for this sequel when it finally arrives in 2013.