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"The most important racer of this generation". That's what we called the original GRID recently. Can you imagine how good a game could be if the team that created it was given four whole years to make a sequel? No pressure, no deadlines… just developing a game in tandem with the technology that was already incredible near the start of this console generation. Can you imagine that? Well, there's no need. This is it. Look:
It's true, GRID 2 is real. We've played it. We've crashed over the Armco of the Californian coastline and into the blue sky beyond. And we're here to tell you everything we can because we're ridiculously excited about it. This has the potential to be the best racing game of the generation. Perhaps ever.
Above: GRID 2, baby! Even after hitting one of those trees. GRID 2, baby!
Codemasters has finally concurred with what we've been saying for years. "While most devs seem to think 'more content = better game', the opposite is often true." As a result, they say they are 'not playing the numbers game'. Everything that's been included is there because the team deems it worthy. There's no fluff or Premium/Standard divide. It's top quality or nothing at all.
The aim is 'Total Race Day Immersion'. To create a racing game that gives you heart-pounding action every second of the way. We're not talking about artificial, scripted events or cheap camera-shaking effects to give an impression of speed. We're talking about the roar of the crowd, the smoke from screaming tyres. Rivalries that develop organically between you and the other drivers depending on how much or how little respect you show them. This is all about the race. The glory, the spectacle and the danger.
That danger is made all the more real when you hear the games first major revelation: There are no driver assists. Automatic gears, yes, but no 'dynamic suggested line' crap, no traction control and most certainly not a hint of 'auto-brake'. Why bother having these safety nets when you can get the basic handling right so anyone can play it? Instead, the cars have been finely tuned to be playable with either a wheel or a pad (the latter of which is still 85% of gamers' control choice, we're told) and you should be able to feel how the car is behaving.
Above: You may wish to apply the brakes at this speed. Need anything else?
It works, too. Playing the Californian coastline route on a massive projector screen at Codemasters' HQ (pictured below), less daring players take things slowly. They squeeze the brakes for the corners, turn in smoothly – they drive the car like it's a Sunday afternoon leisure activity. And the car purrs as they do so. But, when pushed (by us, of course), the physics engine shines, allowing for long, controlled slides in which you teeter on the edge of control. Yet one snatched correction can all go suddenly wrong, which is how we ended up careening over the cliff.
Above: This is known as the D-Box - it's as brilliant and expensive as it looks
You're probably wondering by now why we keep saying 'Californian coast'. Fans will know that's not traditional GRID territory and sounds more like something you'd find in Need for Speed, or even OutRun. Well, it's down to GRID 2's new focus on three main driving types: Street Racing, Road Racing and Track Racing.
The California demo we played is Road Racing – a sprint from point to point, cannoning along the cliffside road before hurtling through painfully-solid trees and dappled sunlight. It definitely isn't like anything in GRID 1, but is pleasantly different from DiRT's point-to-point events too.
Everything GRID stands for is still here in spades. We can't emphasise enough the feeling of scale as you exit the second corner, staring down a slight decline to a left-hander with the full vastness of the Pacific Ocean beyond. On a 2D projection display, we're getting vertigo.
Above: That open space off to the left there is literally a 100ft drop to the ocean
The second demo we played takes place on the streets of Chicago - and it's much more like the GRID we recognise, just so much slicker. We've never seen shiner bodywork and glass effects, and that's including Gran Turismo 5's photo mode. The word here is 'hyper-realism'. It's ludicrously detailed and grounded in the real world, yet it's clearly a super-charged version of reality. Shafts of light through iron girders, a beautiful hazy distance effect on the tops of the skyscrapers... it's like a playable, CG render of concept art and exactly what arcade games would look like now if arcades had continued from their '90s heyday.
Above: Racing under light shafts like that is classic GRID. And now we want another go
However, we mustn't allow the spectacle to gloss over the first big omission from the game: There's no helmet cam (Insert dramatic chipmunk here in your mind). Now, chances are you don't care. It's said that 95% of GRID players use bonnet or chase cam. But we care. The reason for its absence is simple – the exquisitely detailed interior shots used too much processing power to justify including them when nobody was using them, and the team would rather use that power elsewhere on the things that people are looking at. Fair enough, but we're still sad to see it go. So are the developers - they said so.
The other big omission is Destruction Derby mode. Yes, it was great fun in GRID, but you can play DiRT Showdown for that now. 'But it's not the same!' you're probably thinking and you're right. We'll miss it too. But the argument from the team is that all the destruction and close racing is present in the street racing anyway. And one of the few criticisms we have of the first game is that some of the modes were under-developed, destruction derby included. But that's not going to happen here – everything that's in is going to be done properly.