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PREVIEW

GRID 2

I'm a arcade racing purist.

If I'm not defying physics with a hammer of a handbrake and taking a corner at a 90 degree angle I tend to get skittish. I've never driven in my life, and I'm now getting worried that nearly twenty years behind the wheel of Ridge Racer and Burnout will make me a danger for everyone else on the road.

Grid 2 feels a midpoint between the arcade pleasure I've been used to since Outrun, and the sharper skills that a racer on the realism side of the road is born with. This is Codemasters second entry into the Grid series, and the latest in a long line of the TOCA franchise that is its spiritual ancestor. I still spend time staring at a barrier rather than the track in front of me, but not as much as with other games of the ilk. And more importantly, I start finding that illusive sweet spot when man and machine come together in the perfect racing line.

Grid 2
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All told, I tot up some ten races in the two days that I and other journalists from around the world spend in the hotel that houses this year's Global Gamers Day by Namco Bandai. Eight system-linked machines heat up a conference room that's down the corridor from another which holds the majority of the other titles airing at the show.

Yet it's this room myself and others keeping gravitating back towards long after our allotted hour slot with the game is finished. The first day ends with a call of "just one more go" in here. The second day opens much the same. Also unchanged is our thrashing by the members of the development team here to showcase the game.

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It's multiplayer only hands-on, single player reserved to powerpoint presentations. Combined the game looks to be a comprehensive beast, the UK racing studio tweaking their Racenet system - their answer to Criterion's Autolog - further with Rival mechanics and scoreboards, factoring in a XP and prize money progression system, offering social features and ticking off a list of multiplayer challenge modes that are clearly meant to be enjoyed rather than thrown in for the sake of covering all bases.

Grid 2

We cannon through a couple of these - Race, Checkpoint - with all controllers in the room finding hands. The final game will fill empty slots automatically to give the feel of a full race if needed. For now, that's not necessary. There's a Live Route system in place that evolves the race track during the course of the race, redirecting competitors down new roads, corners, as the race continues.

Checkpoint is best racer wins, a countdown clock increased through crossing zones dotted along the track, eliminating those who hit zero by not keeping to a perfect racing line in turn until one racer remains...and they're not out until they hit zero either. It's a great insult to leave others staring at a results screen as you continue round the track.

Courses are wide, corners a mix of soft and brutal. Collision damage sees my ride turn into a wreck in short order as I thrust into barriers, get shunted by those trying to get past. This early on, I'm ready to dismiss the whole thing, call it another beautiful-looking racer that caters to another calling other than my own.

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Thankfully, we've still the better part of an hour to kill. So I stick with it. Learn to caress the handbrake, find the bite point when wheels go from grip to slide. Somewhere between my fifth careening into a wall and third placement at sixth on the grid, I start getting to grips with the control scheme. The dial's between arcade and realism is somewhere in the middle, slightly closer to Gran Turismo but pulling up short of Forza. It's far from Need for Speed, but there's enough commonality to give me something to work with, to learn and earn. Come the first couple of corners that I'm stuck to the road rather than the barrier, the grimace on my face turns to a small grin.

It's lost again when we switch over to a 'proper' race track and some suped up machines. I spend more time on the grass and gravel than the track. But this is one part of a much bigger whole: Grid absorbs cars, classes and styles from the entire world of racing, rather than just one sub-section. The studio's got plans to nudge players into trying out everything with weekly online challenges evenly spread across the different modes and cars. A line of oil-coated breadcrumbs to lead you round the game's diverse line-up.

Grid 2

It's a good looking game. Great even. I'd go far as to say it's one of the best-looking racers of this generation. Renderings of Barcelona, France, all looks fantastic, with enough track-side detail to make you want a victory lap post-race just to stare at the eye-candy. It's all artistic interpretation though, the game creators pulling in a kerb here, tucking corner there for whatever made the best racing lines. I joke with the developers that any studio in rain-lashed territories will always seek warmer climates for "photo research" trips. You can feel the heat coming off the virtual sun here. Everything seen so far has the sharpness of a clear summer's day.

Come us being kicked out of the room finally, I'm still coasting at sixth place come the finishing line. But my bumper's less mangled, my racing lines somewhat cleaner. Grid 2 went from just another racing game I couldn't get to grips with to a title I'm looking forward to returning to and exploring come the release. If Codemasters can make even a crap driver like me want to renew a licence with them, then they've done something right.

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