Codemasters' base

Codemasters’ base

I’ve been lucky enough to do some pretty cool things as part of my job over the years and last week afforded me another such unique experience, as I took a step out of my usual comfort zone and into something completely new.

I’ve always loved computer games, and so I was pretty giddy when I arrived at Codemasters’ base in Warwickshire for a press preview of a new racing game. “Codies”, as they’re known, have for the last three seasons produced the official and BAFTA winning Formula 1 computer game, and last year added the hugely enjoyable F1 Racestars to the mix.

The fact that Codemasters won the deal to create the F1 games had come as no surprise to me when the deal was announced. I was a huge fan of their Racedriver GRID game, which had its genesis in the TOCA touring car games, and I had always been very impressed with the attention to detail that they had put into every element of the racetracks on the game that I knew well. Istanbul Park, Spa, Nurburgring, Donington, Le Mans… they were pretty much close to perfect. Even manhole covers in grass run off were present at the right point. Every little detail was right. It was the sort of attention to detail that won them the F1 gig.

I loved that game. So I was pretty thrilled that Codemasters should invite me down to trial the sequel… GRID 2.

© Codemasters

© Codemasters

The original game was released in 2008, but the follow up has taken so long because Codemasters had to wait for technology to mature so that the team could meet their aspirations and make a sequel befitting the original. The racing experience remains at the heart of the game, and just as in the original the concept of a career progression on a season-by-season basis remains.

The original wasn’t without its detractors, however. Twitter poured out bile when I announced I was off to trial GRID 2. Many felt it was too much of an arcade game, and not much of a sim. Frankly, that’s never really bothered me too much. Computer games should be fun, shouldn’t they? And besides, how many of the armchair detractors have ever driven the full array of cars available in these type of games to be able to say with any clarity whether the driving experience is truly realistic? Perhaps only the likes of a Jeremy Clarkson would be suitably positioned, but I doubt you’d get him on a PS3 to find out.

Did Guitar Hero provide a realistic experience of playing lead guitar? No. It had five buttons, not six strings. Call of Duty may be all well and good, but until your TV starts firing bullets at you, it’s not actually realistic, is it? So having people complain that a racing game is too much fun and isn’t realistic enough just rubs me up the wrong way.

That said, Codemasters clearly took the complaints to heart and in their development of GRID 2 have created what they term as TRUEFEEL™. This handling system has taken years of work in order to provide the most realistic car handling experience possible, and for each car featured in the game weeks have been spent with representatives of the car companies to ensure that the handling and feel of each vehicle is as close to reality as possible.

Damage has been altered and advanced, with car specific damage now playing a key role. The notion of “pre-baked” damage is a thing of the past, with each incident resulting in unique damage specific to the collision experienced, differing depending on what car you’re driving and what you’ve driven into.

Or, should we say, depending on who has driven into you. The AI on GRID 2 has also been developed to create a more ruthless opponent. And they really are bastards. Swerving around in the braking zone, edging you onto the grass, into walls… its like they’ve been to the Michael Schumacher school of dirty tricks.

Racing around the Red Bull Ring © Codemasters

Racing around the Red Bull Ring
© Codemasters

The concept of the game, in terms of the narrative, also sounds pretty exciting. It is all based around one simple concept… Who is the Greatest?

It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves in motor racing time and time again. Just who is the best driver in the world? With so many championships, so many disciplines, across so many continents, how can you ever figure out who really is the best of the best?

That’s the concept of the game.

A crazy old billionaire has decided he wants to answer this very question. He has set up a tournament to find out who is the best racing driver in the world, and you, as the player, are to be the poster boy of this new championship.

You start off in Year one in the US. Year two sees the tournament cross over to Europe. The success of the championship grows along with your fame as it moves to Asia in season three.

The original ability to design your own car livery and choose which sponsors come on board remains, and you can spec your cars to your own choice, even though some vehicles are provided by the championship itself.

And the name of this championship? World Series Racing. Yep. WSR.

I did ask the question. And yes, its been cleared by the legal department. Seems a little odd they didn’t try to come up with an original name. The International Racing Championship? IRC. Ah, no that’s already taken too.

But you see what I mean. Seems a needless oversight. But that’s a small detail.

The game itself features street racing (even around Paris… awesome!), drifting, and a very clever system where you will be on regular roads, blasting down the Californian coast for example, and the route will not be made available in advance. The computer will decide, on the fly. You’ll never race the same route twice. I quite like the sound of that.

There’s also circuit racing, of course. And it really is excellent.

Can I take this home with me please? © Andy Gray / Codemasters

Can I take this home with me please?
© Andy Gray / Codemasters

I had a go around the Red Bull Ring in a BAC Mono. I strapped myself into the £12,000 D rig, and blasted around the track. And I’ve got to say it looks perfect and drives beautifully. Responsive, realistic… and FUN!

But I don’t own a £12,000 simulator type thing. I own a PS3 and one of those handheld controllers that shakes when something is supposed to have happened. And that’s the litmus test. Does it still work on a controller?

Yes. It does. And it is brilliant.

The list of cars and tracks were not made fully available, but unfortunately there was an admission from Codemasters that rallying is not to be part of the game. If you’re looking at finding the best driver in the world, across multiple styles of racing, it does seem a pretty large omission.

The guys wouldn’t be drawn on endurance racing. In the original GRID, each season would see you compete at Le Mans. But the fact they didn’t say no when asked if it would still feature in the game, when they did say no to the rally question, means that we can read between the lines and expect endurance racing and LMP cars to be part of the experience.

The Merc McLaren SLR © Codemasters

The Merc McLaren SLS
© Codemasters

A McLaren MP4-12C GT? Oh go on then... © Codemasters

A McLaren MP4-12C GT? Oh go on then…
© Codemasters

There remain different tiers of cars to race, from BMW E30s to Mustangs and Camaros, from Pagani Huayras to the McLaren MP4-12C GT, the Mercedes -Benz SLR McLaren 722 GT, the Ariel Atom and the aforementioned BAC Mono.

But what about the race cars? Well, Codemasters are staying pretty tight lipped on what we can expect in terms of single seaters, but there will definitely be an Indycar pack available for pre-order and once the game is released that will feature both the Dallara DW12 Indycar, and the Indy pace car.

Yes, that is Indianapolis. © Codemasters

Yes, that is Indianapolis.
© Codemasters

And you’ll be able to race at Indianapolis. We’ve already touched on the fact that the Red Bull Ring is in, but so too is Brands Hatch and Yas Marina. Again, Codemasters are keeping the others close to their chest.

I’m not a game reviewer. I’m a motorsport journalist who enjoys the occasional bit of fun on his PS3. But I’ve played my share of games, and driven my share of decent cars and a few race cars.

I loved GRID. And after just the shortest amount of time playing the sequel, I already know I’m going to love it even more.

Why? Because GRID 2, more than any game I’ve ever played, has paid an almost obsessive, compulsive attention to detail whilst somehow maintaining that most important of elements… fun.

In short, it promises to be absolutely mega.

GRID 2 is out on May 28th in the US and one week later on May 31st in the UK.