Had two half-hour sessions last night and an hour this morning.

The first session last night was simply free roaming around. Had a wonderful time finding my way up and around mountains to reach some liveries and vista spots. Great stuff, including a heart-in-mouth drive across a very narrow ridge.

The second session saw me find a challenge that I couldn’t do (of which more later). And then, for some reason I don’t understand, just before shutting down, I spent all my money. I went to the car list and chose random cars and bought them. I went down from over 100,000 Fuel to just over a thousand in seconds. Why did I do that? I’m not sure, honestly, but I think it was because I’ve been finding the currency a bit pointless, having so much stored up. I think I just wanted to get back to the beginning of the game, where every barrel found sitting in a forest or by a farm house was worth finding. I think I’m going to regret it, but we’ll see.

This morning I went to find the challenge I couldn’t do last night. It wasn’t the challenge marker I thought it was, so I went and did a nearby career race instead. I won on two-star difficulty on my first go without any problems. Then, though, the challenge was bothering me. Instead of driving to it, I just chose it from the menu. That’s the first time I’ve done that, but probably won’t be the last. You see, I have nothing against using the menus to go to races and challenges, it’s just not normally how I want to play, but this morning I just wanted to try the challenge again – so I did.

And what a challenge!

It’s a checkpoint race against nine other cars. You’re forced to use a particular car – one that goes incredibly fast in a straight line on asphalt, but which hates corners and which slows down to nothing the moment it hits dirt or grass. So, the tactics for the race are very simple – go fast on the straights and STAY ON THE ROAD. Yes, that deserves the capital letters. Coming off the road in this race is fatal. And it’s not easy to stay on the asphalt. You’ve got a car that doesn’t like corners. You’ve got nine other racers, all driving heavier cars that send you flying off the road the moment you touch them. Oh, and this all takes place in the middle of a huge storm, which reduces visibility quite significantly.

So, yeah, it’s hard. Luckily, the course you drive on, either by luck or genius design, is perfectly set up. It starts with two long straights, with a 90-degree corner in the middle. This does two things. It tells you as soon as you start the race for the first time everything you need to know – stay on the road, respect corners, go fast on straights. It also gives you, if you manage to stay on the road, a chance to get past most or all of the cars in your way. The next third of the race is the tricky part. If you’ve got out in front by the time you reach it – which you really need to do – it’s terrifying, full of sharp turns, climbs and drops. Taking it slow enough to stay on course, but not so slow that you fall behind, requires complete concentration. It’s very stressful, in the best way possible. Then comes the final third of the race, which is flatter, faster and actually quite easy. You can’t relax, as such, but it’s certainly less stressful.

It’s one of the best races I’ve ever done in a game. That track, combined with the opponents and the car you’re made to drive makes for a thrilling, difficult, rewarding race. When I finally won it – on my last try, no really, this one’s the last one before work – an Achievement popped up (for winning thirty challenges). I really felt like I’d earned it.

So there you are, one of the best races ever, either by luck or design. The interesting thing is, though, that if taken out of context – as a demo, say – the race would completely put people off the game. It works because you’re not always stuck using cars that can’t go off-road and refuse to go round corners, but because this is a special event. I’m never going to free roam in that car. For all I know, that’s the only challenge that will use it. But it’s brilliant.