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Grid 2: Real to Reel

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Codemasters to release Grid 2 by summer 2013

First look and hands on

Anyone waiting for the sequel to Bafta award-winning Race Driver: Grid will be glad to know it's roaring off the start in the shape of Grid 2. And I, HashableT, was one of the first to test it. As part of a select team invited to the serene British countryside setting of Codemasters' HQ, I was about to push the new title to its limits. Anyone familiar with me on the gaming circuit will know why I was there. I am the stunt man. The one who dares.

Sat in a £20,000 D-box at the wheel of a Ford Mustang, the diffused Californian sunlight playing upon my gleaming bonnet through pine trees, the moment of truth was dawning. One colleague couldn't bear to watch and had to leave the darkened studio as developers nervously viewed the giant cinema screen. As the countdown hit go, I mashed the accelerator to the floor and roared off, the back end of the beast swinging out of control. And it was a monster, every cylinder of the heavy muscle car straining at my steering wheel.

At the first bend I fought for control and swerved to the other side of the road and . . . lift-off. I was hurtling towards oblivion in my first deadly off-road stunt. For me the game was an instant smash. Quite literally. I could feel the relief of the Codemasters executives, riveted as one by my performance. The crash test dummy says YES! High fives all round.

I love racing games as much for the spectacular crashes, as managing to cross the finishing line in a respectable time. And it takes me a while to achieve the latter because I am crap at video games, but I insist on playing them. This is why new titles need broad appeal or 'accessibility'. Grid 2 has that in spades. Moments after you spill off the track you are back on the circuit, ready for more mayhem.

I watched as gaming experts (boy racers) completed the circuit in under half the time I managed, under-steering and nudging round corners, gripped by the tremendously real feel of the race. They all felt the same buzz as I got, essential to any driving game. It has to recreate that adrenalin rush you got when you first pushed a car more than you thought you'd ever dare in real life.

As someone who shuns the showroom sterility of Gran Turismo and prefers the grittiness of Burnout Paradise and Driver: San Francisco, Grid 2 is for me. There's no pathetic entry-level hatchback to push-start your career, it's at least a Mustang Mach 1 or BMW E30 M3 awaiting you on tier one. We were shown two cars from each of the four levels and tier two featured a Chevrolet Camaro SS and Nissan R34 Skyline. Tier three had a McLaren MP4-12C and a BAC Mono, while tier four included a Koenisegg Agera R and a Pagani Huayra. All of them were monstrously alluring to look at. And we were assured that Codemasters' Truefeel handling technology will deliver the individual driving characteristics of each motor, whether its a front-engine American muscle car or a Pagani, or a mid-engine Audi.

No doubt Codemasters will reveal many more of these bad guys as they progress towards a release date around a year from now. But what came across from the presentation is that the Grid 2 team is not afraid to make choices about what to put in the game. And the reason I am bothering to write about this is that Codemasters have gone the extra mile to put this game at the industry's cutting edge.

Executive Producer Clive Moody says: "It's all about the race. We want to enhance that second-to-second, in the moment experience for every player, every time and make the most immersive, compulsive and dramatic racing experience available."

And this statement pretty much defines the whole approach to the game. Obviously we've yet to see how each car compares in its handling. But we did get to contrast two circuits, California coast and Chicago. And it was the art direction that went into creating these that really impressed me. The detailed lighting effects are stunning.

The reflection on the bonnet of the Mustang on the coast was totally lifelike, depending on whether you were in direct sunlight or shade. And when in the urban canyons of Chicago, the light filters down in seamless gradations from the skyscrapers lining the streets. The audio faithfully reflects the position of the car: harsh when the engine noise is bouncing off the walls and flatter when in the open.

Trying the Chicago circuit on an Xbox 360, away from the D-box, the game was just as compelling. Doughnutting a Merc in a tunnel, the audio and smoking tyres were a blast and drifting into 90-degree corners was a seat-of-the-pants thrill. As I progressively trashed the limo, its bonnet eventually peeled away like an anchovy lid and dent after dent left it looking like I'd spent the day reversing around Naples after drinking two bottles of wine. But the thrill of all this was not the most compelling aspect of the game.

Codemasters have approached Grid 2 with the ambition of improving every aspect of driving games out there, from hand-picking the iconic cars, to rendering the career mode with realistic context, so that the crowds grow and get more enthusiastic as you progress through circuits. The AI reflects your level of aggression so that single-player mode rival drivers give back what you dish out.

The audio and visuals draw your attention to what matters in the race, whether it's the roar of a competitor behind you or the sight of one looming in front. Codemasters promise a novel multi-player mode that will redefine the genre, without yet revealing how.

And the makers of Grid 2 are promising realistic circuits from all over the world. Also, the flashback sequences come at you showing every turn and shunt from various angles. All the features you'd expect, complete with enhancements.

But the aspect that really excites me about Grid 2 is the combination of the Truefeel handling and the novel cinematic mood of the visuals. They're calling this hyper-reality. You experience the reality of the race as if you were in a movie, making it unrelenting escapist entertainment. And that is the triumph of the art direction. The action is all "shot" as if by a film director. That puts this game at the forefront of the best games produced today.

Art Director Nathan Fisher says: "Every sequence and shot is designed to look and feel gritty, super-real and ultimately arresting. influences are drawn from the world of cinema, notably sombre, style-heavy blockbusters such as Collateral and Traffic."

The look is even influenced by fashion photographers. It's almost like you are driving what would normally be cut scenes.

So often games are let down by either the gameplay or the look and feel. Grid 2 promises to combine these seamlessly at a high quality to deliver a screeching, wheel-spinning, flat-out super-immersive race winner.