There's a long corner arching through a part of Grid 2's sun- drenched Californian track where a squirrel dashes across the road. It's always at precisely the same point, and always just as your car lurches into the basin of a gentle drop and rise. And, despite racing that stretch of road 30 or even 40 times, I still haven't been able to hit it.
And nor should I, really – it would be an unjustifiable act of violence, and more importantly some bloodied shreds might get stuck in a delicate part of the engine. But the squirrel is symbolically significant, even if it refuses to be run over. It speaks to Grid 2's wonderful presentation, which is glistening and iridescent and other things your car would be if it was really clean.
But it also embodies Grid 2's biggest problem – that for all its top- class visuals and excellent handling, somehow the game doesn't seem to believe that just racing is interesting enough on its own.
That's why the Career mode, in the laboured style of older TOCA titles, is propped up clumsily with a threadbare story. It's not the existence of this narrative level that's the problem, more its brick-subtle style, a combination of American-accented enthusiasm (ESPN sponsorship brings with it some clunky live-action interludes) and awkward social media buzz-wording, with fans collected like a currency as your driver rises to prominence.
It feels like a desperate stab at relevancy, designed by someone who knows that likes, comments and subscribers are important, but is unsure exactly why.
Put the squirrel and the YouTube flirtation aside though, and Grid 2 is chock-full of good things. Central among them is the handling, which from the first few cars earned in your modest garage to the driveable fortunes won after a few successful seasons is punchy, weighty and growling. Can handling be growling? Yes.
It's sophisticated enough to require an adjustment to the precise balance and purchase of each new vehicle, and to enable you to feel rather than simply see when you slide across different surfaces, whether it's inching a tyre into grass sidings, bumping over a raised curb or rumbling across a gravel patch. But it's a long shot from simulation, too – there's no cockpit view, no driving aids and, whichever car you're racing, the back end is always straining to kick out around the next corner.
In other words Grid 2 is more fun than a sim, and as a bonus, it's spectacular to look at. The cars are approaching photorealism in a way that makes it difficult to describe them without coming over all amateur Top Gear, and the tracks – including bleached Miami, crackling Chicago and atmospherically muted Paris – give a highly textured depth to each event. The game runs very smoothly at 1920x1080 with all the graphics options turned up, never dropping below 60fps on my i5, Radeon 7850-powered rig, even during first-corner traffic.
There's decent variety to Grid 2's grab-bag of events too, mixing up point-to-point races with closed road and track competitions and a handful of one-off promo events (like racing pickup trucks against the clock). What really keeps the experience fresh, though, is the admirably aggressive AI, which will happily shunt and nudge you cliffwards even on the medium difficulty setting. And, as a welcome counterweight, it will also make realistic mistakes itself.
It's no replacement for the game's 12-player online races (which have a separate, less annoying experience- point system) but it does ensure that the singleplayer career is always a challenge and never a grind.
Grid 2 is an accomplished and visually strong racer let down only by a bafflingly lame Career mode narrative.