Back in the 7th generation of consoles, GRID was arguably one of racing’s behemoths, with its unique blend of serious, gritty racing across famous tracks and a very cinematic yet arcade-like behaviour, making it the most accessible way to dive into legendary races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The series had its ups and downs, and with Codemasters’ other series like DIRT and the Formula 1 titles receiving more praise, the hype for this franchise got more and more muted. But the developers aren’t giving up on the IP, and they decided to give it a new coat of paint with a completely revolutionized story mode among other things. Will GRID Legends be the shot in the arm the series needs?
And so the story goes
With the name of the game, the cover art and practically all the marketing focusing on the brand new story mode, it’s only fair that’s where we begin our journey as well. The player is immediately given a choice of going straight into the classic career mode, where players can hop from one 4-wheel discipline to another with a customized team, or a prequel of sorts that takes players through 2 years of racing between 2020 and 2021. It’s a story of 36 bite-sized chapters about the path of the fictional Team Seneca, going through the lower leagues of the GRID Series that we learned to know from prior games, trying to qualify for the final events and become champions. But the journey is a lot more complicated than that, and after introducing a scripted story in F1 2021, Codemasters brings something similar to this year’s GRID as well.
This rich campaign is presented in a format that takes a lot of inspiration from Netflix’s hit Formula 1 documentary, Drive to Survive. And, indeed, the FMV cutscenes are recorded with real actors that, for the most part, take their roles credibly enough to sell the idea of a mockumentary. A variety of drivers, team managers and such sit down in front of a camera and narrate a heavily dramatized take on what happens on the track, underlining the rivalries and the sporting drama that ensues from the on-track battles. The player hops into the shoes of their not better-specified avatar with the #22 number, who joins the relatively small Team Seneca, a team led by much-respected team boss Marcus Ado, but whose limited budget never allowed them to make a big break.
It’s all about the money, however, as the talent in the team isn’t the issue. Ado’s a talented team principal, his main mechanic Ajeet is precise and passionate, and teammate Yume Tanaka is also one hell of a talent, but with less budget and political power than their main rivals, results just don’t seem to arrive on a regular basis. This all changes with #22’s arrival, as a string of strong results and excellent teamwork with Tanaka slowly but surely take the fight with rival team Voltz, as the qualification for the 2021 season of the GRID Series is looming. Since the game’s marketing clearly emphasizes this, I can definitely spoil that the top series is eventually reached by Seneca, which is when the story becomes a lot more intense as well.
Here, players get to meet a James Bond-level of villainy in GRID’s strongest team, the rich and legendary Ravenwest, owned by millionaire Ryan McKane and led as a driver by Nathan McKane, who happened to absolutely annihilate the competition for 5 years in a row now, winning as many championships in the process. They are arrogant, impossible to like, with almost cartoonish levels of being annoying on purpose. They even swooped up the promising Lara Carvalho, who was supposed to join Seneca and then was offered twice as much by Ravenwest at the last second. They have all the money and power and therefore dominate. And the game does its best to make sure the players hate everything about them.
Drama up front
This is the basis GRID Legends works with to deliver a pretty exciting story, one that even takes some surprisingly dramatic notes in the second half, as Ravenwest’s unfair politics and McKane’s erratic racing style cause the tension to rise continuously. Each chapter is a bite-sized look into things GRID Legends has to offer, as they showcase the many types of cars such as open wheels, GT, trucks and so on, all the way to the large variety of modes like race, time attack and Eliminator, of which we’ll talk about more later. It’s quite an excellent way to experience the main styles and experiences the game has to offer in what is a campaign that can be beaten in about 6-8 hours, even less if players less enthusiastic about the story were to skip the FMV scenes in-between.
Of course, the story is very linear, with failure to reach a certain objective that only results in having to replay that event. Overachieving in an event does not alter the story, so while the game gives a better rating for winning a race where the target was 8th or better, there’s nothing in the story to account for the said result. No matter the difficulty or playstyle, events always play out the same way, with even a few scripted events in a handful of races that players can not avoid, such as a mighty crash that’s referenced in the game’s opening chapter or our teammate’s car’s failure at another competition. And so, even the ending of the story is always the same, and while it’s certainly conclusive and satisfying enough, there’s already a hook for a sequel in place.
It’s my career now
Personally, this brand new Story mode has been my highlight of the entire GRID Legends experience, as the story was satisfying, the cast was diverse and mostly convincing, and the variety of events and race scenarios always made sure the tension was high. The main rivals at Ravenwest are a little bit too on the nose with their being evil and cocky, but the final dozen chapters or so feature more than enough drama and excitement to make up for that one little shortcoming. Perhaps it would have been nice to see a bit more player agency in the storyline, but Codemasters’ second attempt and the first in the GRID franchise is something I want to see again in the future for sure. There are also some odd difficulty spikes here and there, which also happens in the Career mode to be fair, but there was ultimately only one out of 36 chapters that I’ve found surprisingly tough to beat.
At this point, if players haven’t done so already, they can pick up the classic career mode, which happens to take place right after the events of the story mode, and once again sees the player work through the ranks of the feeder series all the way up to the Pro League of the GRID Series. This time, players get to pick from a large selection of series in any order they like, unlocking further and more difficult events and finals for the various categories. Completing a certain amount, allows the player to play through another dozens of new events, culminating ultimately with the access to The Gauntlet, the last epic battle for the GRID world title. The main downside of the career mode is that certain series of events can only be accessed once a certain car or upgrade is unlocked, some of which can be locked behind distances driven via a single car as well, occasionally requiring a little bit of mileage grind to get there.
Pedal to the metal
Before diving into the vast selection of race styles, tracks and so on, it’s important to point out how GRID actually feels like behind the wheel. And whether you’re on an average Xbox controller or a high-end Force Feedback racing wheel, the verdict is: it feels great! Even more so than past instalments, the game manages to find a satisfying blend of simcade-esque track designs and physics, while also simplifying the controls, grip levels and damage enough to keep the car stable and easily controllable even on extremely fast street circuits – a feat that is normally very difficult even in Codemasters’ own Formula 1 games.
With various adjustable sliders and options to set up individual racing assists, it’s easy to simplify the game to a point that even newcomers can blaze through tricky tracks, and even cranking the driving difficulty up it’s still fairly easy to control heavier or less grippy cars. Large-wheel trucks and oversteering open-wheel rides still feel pretty challenging to get through complicated turns, but even compared to 2019’s GRID game, it feels less like you’re fighting the car to be fast, and more having the freedom to drive as fast as you dare. And even the damage model is forgiving enough to account for some wheel banging and wall hits, albeit it can’t quite be abused like in Forza Horizon games. Even a limited amount of rewinds can be used in each solo race if players so wish.
Despite this arcade approach, the races feel surprisingly authentic and tense, partly thanks to a fun AI. Computer-controlled competitors are not afraid to abandon the racing line for a daring pass, even banging wheels is not above them at all. Like the previous GRID titles, there’s the fun Nemesis system that makes drivers we treat aggressively do the same to us. Multiple times they straight up drove into me while racing me side-by-side, with some BTCC-style push and shove they certainly aren’t too shy to employ.
Races feel authentic also because of the game’s smart, although kinda artificial ways to implement drama. Unlike the player whose (optional) damage model is fairly linear, AI can get issues that come up over time, making for example spectacular tyre failures in the middle of a straight, sending them spinning or even flying. Similarly, it almost feels like the AI injects errors into the drivers’ routine, making them spin or hit a wall even in moments where it frankly makes little sense. The drama that ensues from these moments makes races more memorable, but it also feels like the game intentionally tries to spice up races that would otherwise be a bit less exciting. This may be a placebo effect, but it sometimes feels like the game implements a little bit of rubberbanding too, as I recall several races where I was leading fairly comfortably on a stable pace, with suddenly the AI gaining a suspicious amount of ground on me near the end of the race. The result of all this? Nearly all races are very exciting, so the net result is positive.
All you can drive
One other aspect the game shines in, as noted before, is the surprising variety of race styles and events. There are dozens of different locations, from real-world tracks like Suzuka and Brands Hatch to fictional city or mountain tracks in famous locations of the globe, including several classics from prior games such as the very difficult up and downs of Mizu Mountain that challenged us back in 2019’s GRID. But even more importantly, the game offers GT races, open-wheel events, truck races with ramps – there’s even an off-brand Formula E of sorts, with boosts to drive through like in the real thing, albeit it can be done every lap here and with a much bigger speed extra given for it. Going near the end of the career, even classic Le Mans prototypes and Renault’s Formula 1 car from 2006 can be unlocked, which are a riot to drive but also mighty difficult to handle due to the extremely fast and reactive controls.
And as it should be, all this can be used in a vast variety of modes. Online play is present as always, albeit we couldn’t properly test it out just yet before launch, and players can create any kind of quick event with custom rules as they please. Even the ramps or boosts can be introduced in nearly any track, creating such wild sights like a Suzuka with ramps or the incredible Indianapolis oval with cars receiving boosts every lap. And custom races can go up to 99 laps, so it’s easy to build quite the marathon sessions too! Cars’ looks can also be customized, with a livery editor similar to F1 2021’s: thus it’s just the many basic skins that can be customized in colour and style, not quite the freedom seen in games like Forza Horizon 5 or Need For Speed Heat.
Look at these looks
On a technical level, the game is satisfying, though not all that mind-blowing perhaps. The assets of cars, tracks and such don’t quite compete with the incredible standards set by recent Forza games, and would perhaps be more comparable to racers from a few years ago. Much like in DIRT 5 however, this allows Codemasters to go absolutely crazy with some of the particle effects, the quality of the lightning system, the precision of the reflections, all this at a comfortable 4K resolution and generally rock-solid 60 frames per second on Xbox Series X, even during more chaotic races. For those with monitors or TVs supporting 120hz refresh rates and beyond, even 120 frames per second mode is available, though not without a few technical compromises.
As it’s often the case in this complicated COVID-19 era, barring miraculous day one patch, it’s very likely players at launch will encounter a handful of technical hiccups. I had my console hard crash twice during the campaign, with another occurrence of the game freezing during the customization of a car’s look. Quick Resume is also a bit poorly implemented at the moment, with the game requiring a reboot after going back to the menu after using said feature. And I also encountered a bizarre bug that absolutely tanked the framerate at times, usually after long sessions of gameplay, even going as low as 15-20 frames per second – something that would be fixed with a quick reboot of the game.
GRID, more like, GREAT, am I right?
GRID Legends is the best the franchise has been in quite some time. The new story mode is engaging, fun and varied, the driving model feels precise yet accessible, and the amount of content and replay value is high enough to come back for weeks or months. It may not have the highest of production values in every aspect, and there are various (fortunately relatively rare) technical hiccups to fix in future updates, or maybe in the day one patch already. Yet, Codemasters’ new racer is a truly great experience on the track, with drama that renders nearly every race a memorable and exciting ride. Isn’t that the most important aspect, after all?
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4|5, PC|
|Release Date||25th February 2022|