I had no idea what it was going to be like playing a modern racing game with a wheel and pedals until I hit Grid 2 at the Eurogamer Expo. The last time I did was in an ancient beat up SEGA Rally Arcade unit that was gathering dust in my University Students Union. So playing Codemasters’ next big racer with a full wheel and pedal setup was like walking on Mars to me, I didn’t have a clue how things were going to work.
To be honest, it didn’t really work; I spent more time smashing my Ford Mustang into pieces on various trees and rocks than actually driving smoothly on the road in the point-to-point race I was in. This was just one of the demo booths available for Grid 2, the other was a traditional two-lap race with a bunch of AI opponents and an Xbox 360 controller.
But it was the point-to-point race along the California Coast that held my interest, I don’t know whether it was because of the wheel and pedals shindig, but trying to tame the beast that was my Mustang was an edge of the seat experience. The race was on a stunning course going through a forest section and a rocky hillside area. Barrel rolling a Mustang down the side of a cliff isn’t clever, but I managed it. The car came back minus a few doors, but it handled perfectly still. I would have liked to have played the game with full-damage on, but in an atmosphere such as a gaming expo, that isn’t always possible.
What I did find grating was the lack of the in-cockpit view. I know that this isn’t going to be in the final game either, and I will admit I rarely use it, but not having it at all as you scroll through the views is disconcerting. It makes the game feel a bit less serious, more like a cheap arcade racer that you play for a couple of hours but get little long-term satisfaction from. It is certainly a cosmetic issue for me rather than a game breaking detail, but it will certainly be something more hardcore racers will be aggrieved by.
There was another noticeable issue when I was playing the version of the game with the 360 pad around a street course in Chicago. The handling felt perfectly fine, and was easy enough to dive into and get up to speed but it leads me to wonder how much depth the TrueFeel system will offer to more hardcore racers.
I would never consider myself to be a full-on simulation racer, namely because I don’t have a wheel and peddle setup to suit it, but I like to be able to turn various driving assists off as I get more experienced with a game. As it was though with the demo, after completing my first lap on the Chicago course I felt very comfortable with the car handling. I hope that come the full game there is noticeable difference in handling between various cars and classes because things might become very samey otherwise.
However, the game did look stunning with some small details such as the crowd leaning over the barriers on the start/finish straight having some depth and drain covers smoking away with a noticeable change in road noise as I raced over them. These might sound like small things, but they help make the difference between a good racer and a quality racer.
I have my concerns about the handling model, and I would have liked to see car damage play a bigger part in how the races unfold, but I am quietly optimistic about Grid 2, especially as the point-to-point race looks set to offer a nice change in pace from the traditional races that will undoubtedly dominate the game.