You know when your best friend shows up, all excited because they have a new squeeze? And you're in a more analytical place than them, you're looking in from the outside, and they bring this potential love interest over for you to meet. We've all been in the situation where we just can't see what the fuss is all about. I mean, sure, they're pleasant enough company, don't steal the towels from your bathroom and aren't so hideous that they make you throw up in your mouth, but whatever it is your friend sees... you just don't see it.
Well, I think of you all as my best mates. Every last one of you. And when you spend money on a new game, I feel like I'm always there, smiling through my teeth, then when you leave the room, I'm hissing "If you hurt them, I'll shoot you through the head."
Grid 2 is the new girlfriend who just doesn't provoke any strong emotions. She's pretty, beautiful even. Everything is in the right place, she is sociable enough with all your friends and spending time with her is painless enough, and pretty fun for a while. But why anyone would really go crazy for her is a little bit of a mystery.
Racing games have to have a gimmick. Or, once in a while, of course, there's one that just stands out as so sublimely wonderful, so incredibly playable and addictive, that it doesn't need any gaudy frippery. So, yeah, Grid 2 has a gimmick. And actually, it''s a pretty cool gimmick. Borrowing a page out of ye olde tome of FPS gameplaye, Grid introduces a mechanic which feels a lot like the frenetic quick save - quick load ritual of many a fine FPS. Every race in campaign mode, you have access to a number of 'do overs', rewind buttons that can be immediately activated by pressing backspace, usually when you're wrapped around a tree or facing the wrong way into the pack after a spectacular spin. Bang! Smack the backspace, watch as twisted pieces of shrapnel reattach themselves to your car and become fenders again, as you zoom backwards around the course. Hit backspace again and resume the action, swearing to yourself that you'll take that corner a little slower this time. This instant gratification is a clever mechanic that saves you from chucking your controller at your expensive HD monitor when you clip a tree root mere metres from the finish line and end up on your roof.
The graphics are tight and clear, and they do actually look like the places they're supposed to represent. Chicago stands distinct from Paris, sure, but you can tell that Chicago is actually Chicago too - courses snake beneath the Loop, through the skyscraper canyons and alongside the parks. The Pacific seaboard tracks have pine forests and weaving hill-climbs where the sun shines right in your eyes. The cars look beautiful and everything is optimised in a very professional way - I cranked that mother up with the Chillaxe, Game Debate's test machine, and got a steady, fluid frame rate throughout.
There are a couple of different game modes - head-to-head races, timed tracks, overtaking competitions (where points are scored for overtaking slow-moving trucks while maintaining a goodly clip yourself) and endurance runs, but at the end of the day, there doesn't feel like a lot of strategic difference between them - just strap yourself in, floor it, and try not to die. At the end of each race, the game ferrets through your Steam friends list like a cross between Murray Walker and the NSA, telling you frankly how badly your time matches up against theirs.
Speaking of online friends, there are a couple of game modes specifically about racing your friends – unsurprising, really, seeing as this game is less than fifteen years old. These modes have a completely different scoring method from...
Ah, yes. The main campaign mode has this kind of storyline thing. You're an up-and-coming... illegal street racer? Legal street racer, just starting out? It's hard to tell, really. Sometimes your races seem like they're just a bunch of guys in souped-up boy-racer rollerskates ragging it round the streets, other times it's all perfectly legtit. Either way, you and your incredibly earnest mechanic buddy are trying to make a name for yourselves on the racing circuit. This is all about the fame and not at all about the fortune – winning races nets you 'fans', and cut-scenes focus on text messages and Youtube comments on your latest racing performance. This stuff was all written by an intern on a lunch break – the dialogue is stunningly bad throughout, with your best-mate grease-monkey offering you such nuggets of Confuscian wisdom as “keep one eye on the road and the other on the traffic”.
So, Game Debater, she's nice enough, I just don't think she's 'the one'. I don't think you should waste too much time or emotion on her. What's wrong with her, you ask? Well, nothing really. It's not what's wrong with her that's the problem. She's fine. She's just not that special. And you deserve only the best.