Grid 2 (Xbox 360, PC, PS3) is an exceptionally fun, fast and focused racing game. It has beautiful graphics, intelligent physics and varied urban and track-based circuits.
But it's so ruthless you might give up before you notice any of that.
Developed by Codemasters, Grid 2 is the swan song of this generation's driving games: it's clear that every ounce of power and processing has been drained to produce a stunning, near-photorealistic visual polish. Backgrounds, surfaces and the car models themselves are all killer. The crowd moves and reacts to the race, and the damage modelling is accurate, brutal and strategically important.
The game is stacked with challenges and incentives. They all involve competing in different local racing leagues and challenges, while building up the size and fame of the inaugural World Racing Series, presented with nicely-done Sports Center interludes. And while the action itself comes down to variations on the familiar time trial, race, elimination formula, there are wrinkles involving sponsor missions and other objectives which add depth.
The tracks, which stretch from American urban circuits and dramatic coastal tracks to Brands Hatch here in Blighty, are also interesting and challenging, and the sheer detail involved - the variations in surface texture, the potholes and bumps - is breathtaking.
All of which is a bit of a side-show, however. Because Grid 2 is dominated not by its scenery or its options (present: dozens of cars, missing: customisation), but by the fact that it's really very difficult indeed. The game eschews auto-assist of any kind for a brand of racing which relies on pin-point drift control, trial-and-error track analysis and - thanks to aggressive and intentionally fallible AI - luck.
It's impossible to overstate how annoying and exhilarating it is: each moment of every race feels like you're about a second away from instant death. Some of the coastal tracks, with their cliff edges, single-lane roads and tunnels, are laugh-out-loud hard. And while the result when you get just a single corner right is an exultant feeling of immortal driving prowess, most of the time the game involves endless restarts, rewind mulligans (five per race) and angst.
As a simple implementation of an intentional gameplay style, this is a perfectly valid vision of a racing game. And as a demonstration of style, it's actually quite remarkable.
But as an actual gameplay experience? It's more of a matter of personal taste. Still, if you can hack Grid 2's pitiless, angular corners, it's hard to think of a current-gen racing game that can match it.