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Grid 2 is a visual masterpiece, at least on PC

Submitted by on Tuesday, 2 October 2012No Comment

Grid 2 impressed onlookers at this year’s Eurogamer Expo – no doubt about it. With its dazzling visuals and intelligent physics, the game has the potential to be something special.

It is due out next summer on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, but this impressive demo that captivated many wandering eyes was played on PC. Console versions were nowhere to be seen, which led us to wonder if we’re about to have another Battlefield 3 situation on our hands.

After seeing the game up close, we’re not convinced our ageing consoles are capable of producing these crisp and clear visuals. Sure, that’s not to say the PS3 and 360 versions won’t look fabulous, but prepare to have plenty of high-spec PC footage used to promote the game which simply won’t resemble the product that’ll arrive on PS3 – or are we just being too cynical? There was a lot to admire, though.

One race saw us power round Chicago’s iconic streets. Standard city track fare, sure, but the level of detail was astounding. Large crowds and camera crews lined along the tracks; some cheered and waved while others took pictures. Each figure was carefully animated, and the flashes from their cameras were noticeable, believable and even a little distracting. On the beautifully polished cars, clear reflections of the surroundings glided over the bonnets.

Further into the race, an overhead train passed by on a suspended railway line, dropping sparks on to the track. It wasn’t helpful (we were already bedazzled by the fluttering newspapers on the track) but it did add to the atmosphere, helping to make the city feel more alive. And as we headed through to the finish line, celebratory confetti fired up along the track to offer a rousing welcome home. It was the perfect way to end.

We then sampled the long stretches of road on the sun-kissed California coast. This was ideal for testing how the game engine would cope with those pesky dust particles and dynamic lighting effects – but it passed with flying colours. It also offers some absolutely gorgeous vistas.

The level of detail in this game has to be admired, although the lack of in-car view is disappointing – the developer says not enough people use that view to justify the amount of processing cost. The popular bumper view is available though.

Adding to Grid 2’s allure is a seemingly well-designed physics engine. We saw one reckless driver veer off his racing line on this dirt track and catch a bump, triggering a well-executed barrel roll. It looked natural, not forced.

Codemasters Southam isn’t interested in making a pure sim racer. Instead the Leamington Spa-based developer wants Grid 2 to sit somewhere between arcade and sim. The way this translates is the cars are weighted nicely but they generously drift round corners and have no problems regaining high speeds even after exiting the tightest bends. This balance helps make Grid 2 feel both fast and accessible, but we hope not at the expense of depth.

Racing fans should definitely take note of Grid 2, because the early signs indicate that it’s taking a big leap forward for the arcade-sim genre. How much of this is down to advanced technology is hard to say, so we’re hoping to see  some console footage in the not-too-distance future.

We understand why Codies will want to push the PC version – of course they want to showcase the game in its best light – but the console audience is huge. They will suffer suspicion and tempt disappointment if they push the PC version too hard. It happened to EA with Battlefield 3. But hey, maybe the PS3 version will surprise us and look every bit as sparkling as this PC demo.

At the very least, it was exciting to test out this next-gen quality gameplay, because it gives us an idea of the quality of racing games that we can look forward to when Sony does finally play that ace in the pack. We’ll be in for a treat when they do.