Race Driver GRID 2: The next generation is already here
23rd Sep 2012 | 17:00
We're sitting in a Mercedes SL65 AMG, teasing the rev limiter as the countdown to the race begins. It's a warm Chicago afternoon and the Windy City's famous breeze is rippling through the coloured bunting above our heads. When the countdown ends we put pedal to the metal and begin our two-lap tour of the city circuit: us and seven other racers all desperate to take the chequered flag.
The details are astounding. As we race past the stands, pages of newspapers scooped up in the city's gusts whip past. Trees shed leaves and in the background the famous elevated 'L' train rumbles past on its daily mission. A few turns later and we're under the L-train as another carriage screeches overhead, brilliant blue flashes and the odd burst of sparks raining down as it does so.
DRIVE THRU A LENS
In the distance we spot all sorts of neat touches: ascending balloons that have escaped from the netted ranks bridging the start/finish line, jumbo jets and trailing vapour trails on the ascent from O'Hare, flocks of pigeons flying away after being unsettled by the raging vehicles...
Codemasters cite Michael Mann's Collateral and Chris Nolan's Batman films as two of their many, many influences for GRID 2's aesthetics. It becomes abundantly clear why during the race replay when we see footage of the race juxtaposed with fleeting, serene shots of the environment. The art team's goal, we're told, was to create videos in which any frame could be removed, blown up and then hung onto a wall as art. It's tough to argue with the results so far.
A tunnel crops up around two-thirds into the lap, and when we dive inside we're smashed in the face by a wall of sound. The audio system's every bit as detailed as the visuals and noise bounces off the surrounds as it would in real life. The effect's even noticeable when pelting past a few skyscrapers, but underground it's positively deafening.
There's an on-screen marker to warn you of tailing opponents. It's hardly needed, for the sound guys have cranked up the whine of a slipstreaming engine to warn you if somebody's filed up behind you and is readying for a pass. It gives you ample time to plan your next blocking move. How you react in this situation - or any other, for that matter - is crucial. Every AI racer treats you differently depending on your behaviour. Play nice and they'll give you space in kind. Shunt them and they'll have no qualms about bumping you back.
They're true individuals. Carey Briggs, Roland Holzer, Paul Clifton and all the rest are made up from over 60 abilities apiece encompassing factors such as drift control and reaction speed. Each character has unique values for these abilities, resulting in distinctly recognisable traits. By the end of our race we knew who was shaky on corner braking and who to watch out for on straights.
Other small touches come into play on the second lap. Make contact with the environment and you won't simply bounce off like a squash ball. Both you and the world will wear the scars of the collision. In much the same way as you'll find bullet marks left in the walls in most shooters, you'll find paint flakes gouged into roadside barriers.
The bodywork reflections are stupidly good (amazingly we couldn't see any loss of detail as the city's sunniest areas were mirrored on our bonnet) and they'll realistically react to every misshapen lump as your careless driving warps the metal into new shapes. We were stunned to see the tiniest of bodywork separations subtly vibrating in replays as we hit the top speeds, and even more blown away by the smallest of details reflected back off the moving part.
Of course, bigger collisions might result in bumpers and the like falling off completely. Amusingly, it can spoil the progress of cars behind, Mario Kart-style, and slow them down if they make contact. Weaving out of the ejected bodywork's way will also slow tailing cars (and potentially you too on subsequent laps). Not that we'd recommend deliberately damaging your ride as a tactical move, of course. Damage isn't purely cosmetic and if you're in the wars your performance will be hindered with everything from busted engines to punctured tyres.
Yet all of this detail plays second fiddle to the feel of GRID 2. Underpinning the racing is a mechanic known as the Truefeel handling system, which is a natural continuation of the handling model that sets Codemasters Racing's titles apart from the crowd.
Powered by a 1,000Hz surface model that calculates the force of the car tyres on the floor one thousand times per second it translates every minutiae of road detail into a tangible effect you can see and feel. We ruined more than one drift by unwittingly whipping a rear wheel onto a rumble strip we hadn't prepared for. We even felt the change in feel through the pad when we steered over a metallic steam grating - a tiny detail isolated to just one corner of the racetrack.
Throw your car into a turn and it'll pitch to the side, placing more force down on those outer tyres. If you've ever driven a car too fast around a winding road you'll know precisely how this feels, and it's been captured perfectly in GRID 2: especially as we hared our way through a snaking trail beside California's coastline after the Chicago track.
And what of the first game's drift events? They haven't been showcased just yet, but we're told that there will be plenty of events in which finishing first won't be the goal to aim for. Challenges based around 'skill', 'speed' and 'distance' and so forth are coming, and Codies are aiming to surprise us with innovative, never-seen-before events like Gymkhana surprised DiRT 2 players.
Forget the fact that this is the follow-up to the game we awarded a whopping 94% back in 2008; even without that pedigree our hands-on playtest would be enough to see GRID 2 zooming up our Most Wanted chart in top gear. Couple that to the fact that Codemasters are viewing the PC version's 'forward plus' tech as a big focus and we truly are in the presence of the next generation of racing titles.