I’d just finished lecturing the kids.
I’d told myself years ago that I’d never be one of those parents who lectured my kids. Talk after diatribe after lecture from my own parents convinced me that I’d be one of the magic ones, the ones whose kids would never drive them to lecture, or punish, or even contradict. We’d live in a state of constant harmony, and there would be no need.
Turns out, kids make noise when you’re trying to to drive. Sometimes, they need be talked to.
Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t making noise when it happened. They were perfectly quiet. It’s just that talking to them about making noise in a car is the last thing I remember doing. I didn’t even see where it came from. It was from the left I guess because after the crunch — and oh my god, the crunch was loud, it was so loud — I saw the landscape move to my left as we turned to the right, I saw the airbags pop out and lie limply over the steering wheel and glove compartment, and I saw the car that hit us veer into the oncoming traffic lane, where there was mercifully no actual oncoming traffic.
This is the moment I remember most vividly from when my car was totaled just a few weeks ago, a moment that narrowed my field of vision, a moment slowed down in my memory as my adrenaline undoubtedly kicked up. It was the moment before the blur, before getting the kids out of the car, talking to the police, and waiting on hold for insurance representatives to help me. It was the moment before I knew the rest of my family was safe (they were and are), the moment in which I considered very quickly the ways everything might change. It was pretty horrible, truth be told.
I started playing GRID 2 two days after the accident.
* * *
There is a camera effect that happens in GRID 2 at the moment of serious impact. Everything slows down a bit; the top and bottom of the screen darken; if it’s particularly gnarly, the camera flies over the crash instead of staying put behind it. It’s an extremely effective visual trick, one that maximizes the point of impact for just a split second before forcing the player to try and deal with what that impact might mean.
As it turns out, it’s a visual trick very much akin to the moment of collision in an actual collision. For a couple days, playing GRID 2 made me physically ill, which is actually to its credit. Its collision physics and damage system, combined with that little trick of the camera, were too much. I played it in spurts, knowing I was supposed to write about it, but never really wanting to go back to it. I needed the bounce-off-and-keep-going physics of Forza or the comic mayhem of Burnout. This was smack in the middle, not necessarily realistic in any tangible way when looked at from a rational point of view, but very true to what the impact feels like when you’re actually in that car.
And collisions happen. Even if you’re playing GRID 2 on the easiest skill level (“Very Easy”, a pride-shattering difficulty level for those who can’t even win a few of the sometimes shockingly difficult “Easy” races), the AI seems to take a certain perverse pride in nudging you, bumping you from behind, or braking right in front of you when you’re not even close to expecting it. Sometimes, you can recover. Just as often, these bumps lead to the sort of loss of traction that’s impossible to recover from. Every so often, the car will begin flying end-over-end, the moment pausing ever so slightly at the moment of impact, the scope of the visual shrinking just a bit.
For this reason, whether you’ve been in a crash recently or not, GRID 2 is not fun exactly. It is intense, it will make your palms sweat, and its presentation is impressive. It is not fun.
Its story is barebones. You’re an anonymous racer trying to make his name, you catch the eye of an agent, and with the help of said agent and a whole bunch of YouTube exposure, you win fans. You move up in the ranks, you win a whole mess of different types of races, you race on the same tracks over and over again, and you get fans. You get new cars from sponsors; you get more fans. You lose a few races; you get more fans anyway. All the while, you race, you grind away at your teeth, and your controller gets slippery from sweat. It’s dead serious. It’s too busy punishing you for going into turns too fast or trying to thread the needle between two of your surly opponents to crack a smile.
Maybe that’s what you’re looking for. Maybe you think a little more intensity and a little less user-friendliness is what the racing genre needs. I missed the accessibility of other recent racing franchises. I missed the opportunity to turn it into an arcade experience rather than a good-looking simulation.
There is a multiplayer component as well, and it fits right in with the single player game. That is, it’s not fun — at least, not at first. You need to grind your way through the early going, pushing your online profile to the point of getting better cars so that you can actually compete with the highly motivated online community. Going in and knowing you don’t have a shot is not fun, regardless of what the future may hold.
Games don’t need to be fun to be good. GRID 2 is good in that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, to bring a sort of white-knuckled intensity and constant tension to the racing genre. At no point in any race do you feel safe. At no point do you feel as though you are so in control that you can take a breath on a straightaway or showboat your way to the finish. Sometimes, a slight curve that you forgot about may well be as devastating as a blue shell. I can’t hold that approach against the game. I can say that it means GRID 2 will be sitting somewhere behind Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Burnout Paradise, Blur, and pretty much every Forza game when I look for a little racing game to play.
GRID 2 is fine, but it is not escapism. Maybe I’d rather feel like a superhero than like someone who was all too recently reminded just how human he actually is.