GRID Legends, the fifth entry in the racing game series by Codemasters, now under the stewardship of Electronic Arts, has the weight of the franchise resting upon its shoulders.
Ever since the 2008 original – Race Driver: GRID – it could be argued that it has struggled to find a clear identity. There have been some high points, GRID Autosport for example, but the 2019 reboot, simply entitled ‘GRID’, was somewhat of a misstep.
It repurposed large swathes of previous content, lacked online lobbies at launch and, crucially, suffered from a wayward handling model.
That’s why GRID Legends needs to successfully straddle the line between accessibility and authenticity – I have fond memories of the earlier GRID titles and I would hate to see the lineage go to waste.
The game begins with a slick cutscene of two racers duking it out at new fictional race venue Strada Alpina. They collide, with Seneca Racing’s driver Yume Tanaka out of the race, and Ravenwest’s Nathan McKane seemingly at fault.
You’re then thrust into the race midway through and thus begins our journey through GRID Legends.
This is the Driven to Glory story mode, and it’s a new take on the GRID formula, where you are Driver 22 competing for the upcoming Seneca team led by Marcus Ado.
“It’s time for us to deliver,” explains the enigmatic head honcho.
This is indicative of both the fictionalised team and GRID Legends itself.
You play through a near-seamless – when played on a device with a solid-state drive – mix of story and driving events, which does its best to enthral you. The aim is to reach The Gauntlet, a knockout style event for the world’s best racing teams.
While I enjoyed the characters and Nathan McKane’s machismo, apart from the opening salvo, every hands-on moment is either a straight-up race or time trial. There are no pre-determined scenarios, which to a purist sounds attractive.
But the separate career mode is for that. Driven to Glory is meant to be a saccharine sweet explosion of flavour, bombastic should be its modus operandi.
Well-acted, a plot twist or two, but it didn’t grab me in the same way as, funnily enough, Codemasters’ stablemate, F1 2021’s Braking Point.
Not only did that have more on-track setups, but it also spent more time building the Aiden Jackson and Casper Akkerman characters through phone calls and emails – all notable by their absence here.
As an aperitif though, Driven to Glory successfully manages to stimulate your appetite.
The career has taken a back seat during the pre-release hype for GRID Legends, but it’s the meat, or meat-free substitute, between the bread.
A familiar tale of starting from the bottom, rising to the top. Renault Clio Cups and Ginetta GT5s will be your staple diet for the opening hours before you progress to quicker machinery and sterner rivals.
That progress, however, isn’t quite as straightforward as the minimalist menu may have you convinced. In order to advance, you not only achieve strong race results, but you must also manage car upgrades and sponsor objectives.
Earn credits, spend those credits on upgrades and then level up your car, ergo unlocking new tiers of events. Except, sometimes car upgrades aren’t unlocked until you have driven it for a set number of miles and there’s no guarantee you’ll have ticked that box simply racing in the career.
Sure, you can skip ahead to a new class of car and there’s always a way of progressing in some form, but for completionists, this is where online multiplayer comes into play.
No matter what race you’re taking part in, you are still clocking the miles, earning XP and cash, in turn, counting to your single-player stats. In addition, should you select the option, any one of your friends can ‘hop in’ to your career races to help you out via the cross-platform EA account friends list.
Seeing a friend join a race and starting up a party chat to talk away while still completing your career objectives is riotously good fun.
But – a little pointless. Sadly.
Clever technology that works with aplomb during the pre-release player numbers. But only the lead player actually progresses their career. For the other drivers joining online, they earn miles and XP, but not career objectives. It works, but I’m not fully sold on why.
There is the ‘Race Creator’ too, however, where you can set up a combination of parameters in a more traditional lobby-style event.
You can go wild with this. How about Suzuka, backwards, at night, in the snow with jump ramps and an Aston Martin Valkyrie. If this is picked up by a fervent online community who just want to have a laugh, it could be the most clippable racing game in aeons.
Another strength of GRID Legends is variety and it’s this feature that exemplifies the breadth. Not necessarily the number of vehicles or tracks, but the combinations and choice selections.
Classic touring cars like a Renault Laguna, or late ‘90s GT1 cars like the Panoz Esperante, combined with electric open-wheelers or hypercars. Throw in reverse track layouts, weather conditions, plus multi-class and Eliminator modes and you’ll never be lost for cocktail inspiration.
Some of the new street circuits are dazzling too, reminiscent slightly of 2000’s Metropolis Street Racer but with more pizzaz.
Moscow in the snow or London in the rain, at night, are sensory overloads. It’s magical how GRID Legends can pull off such visual finesse using an aged game engine.
But then other times, it struggles to mask its origins, Okutama GP and Mount Panorama looking decidedly second hand in comparison.
There are also Mechanic and Teammate upgrades purchased with cash, but they are hidden within a sub-menu of the main home screen, despite it including one of the most interesting features from prior GRID games – being able to manage the speed of your teammate on the fly mid-race.
Other UI strangeness included obfuscated livery selection and incorrect positions for multi-race event standings – both of which I’m sure can be altered post-release.
The strange thing is, though, I didn’t feel like I needed to upgrade the cars. I’m not doubting the on-paper performance gains, and this will likely pertain to the difficulty level and assists options, but a fully upgraded Alfa Romeo 155 didn’t make it any easier to win a race.
Once that was clear, I lost my motivation to press on a little. As did the lack of incentive to buy new ones too.
With a promising, yet ultimately lightweight story, an expansive career that stumbles with its upgrade progression and online options that are clever but a little superfluous so far GRID Legends gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
Much is true of the driving experience. At times, this is a superb racer, with each vehicle feeling unique, accessible and with a modicum of authenticity. There’s a sense of purpose that was missing in 2019’s release, and you can use a steering wheel peripheral in combination with a detailed interior camera for every car.
Once you’ve found your ideal rival difficulty level – and I can’t stress that enough, as for me ‘Hard’ wasn’t very indicative of its title – events can be fraught affairs.
With heavily populated grids and lively AI performances, the pack is condensed at the start and elbows out throughout. Your rivals will suffer from spins and tyre blowouts too, although it’s a little odd they suffer from mechanical maladies when you cannot.
That rather neatly sums up GRID Legends. There are a lot of brilliant ideas here without feeling as cohesive as they could do. Perhaps it’s a lack of engrossing progression or some of the older tracks standing out like a sore thumb against the new ones.
Either way, this Codemasters team has it within them to make something truly brilliant. Given enough time and resources, I’d love an all-new GRID game and I hope EA provides them with the green light to do so.
For now, GRID Legends is a fun romp that can deliver some edge-of-your-seat thrills and a satisfying driving experience – it’s just that the appeal can be fleeting.
|25th February 2022
|PC (Steam), PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S
|Best played with
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.