GRID Legends is designed from the outset to be bold and bombastic, and perhaps so far, no other facet showcases that more than the online multiplayer.
By now, we’ve tested the upcoming racing game by EA and Codemasters on two occasions. Once to try the vehicle handling and a second time to play through the initial chapters of the Driven to Glory story.
Earlier this week, alongside Traxion.GG colleague Justin Melillo and select media, we were able to try an hour of racing online in a variety of lobbies.
All the ingredients
Once again, the breadth of race types was impressive, with more variety than the Heinz food product range.
We experienced Stadium Super Trucks in the rain, over jumps at a street circuit, followed by electric single-seaters at sunset and rounded out by a drift event at night.
All of this can be set up via the ‘Race Creator’ tool, which on the face of simply sounds like a glorified settings menu, but the flexibility of the game’s circuits, weather conditions, time of day, vehicle classes and race rules means something more powerful and accessible was required.
Form here, you can create a straightforward race, or a multi-class event with trucks and junior formula cars in the snow if you feel that way inclined. These can form the basis of an online lobby, where your unique recipes can be enjoyed by others
Much like a frittata, the result is more than the sum of the ingredients.
Moving away from the slightly suspect food analogies and onto the racing itself, the online action is riotous.
The two of us can attest to the fun time had by all. Sometimes you just need to let your hair down and this is the racing game to do just that.
I used a combination of a gamepad and a steering wheel, Justin his Fanatec setup, and in both instances, we agreed that the game provided a feeling of solidarity regardless of controller input.
Yes, you will be quicker by clipping all apices and braking at precisely the right point, but because the venues are so varied, most of the time you’ll be following the on-screen track map and running wide or clipping a wall is all part of the experience.
Everyone else will be, with the key to a successful race being avoiding the inevitable lap one, turn one, contretemps.
If rubbing is racing, then GRID Legends exemplifies that mindset.
Thankfully, the cars can handle several hits. There is visible damage and tyre stacks fly liberally, but the development team has clearly made sure they can take several impacts to keep you in the race.
I do have mild concerns, however, that open lobbies could just become pile-ups without obvious penalisation for deliberate attacks.
Hop On, Hop In
Thanks to cross-platform online functionality – PC, Xbox and PlayStation, new or old consoles – you’re able to use the new ‘hop-in’ feature via the EA friends list.
Once signed up, you can see who of your friends are online and seamlessly take over one of their computer-controlled AI rivals, provided less than 60 per cent race distance has already taken place.
As you do this, the game will find you a randomly assign car on the track, and just moments later you are in control. It could be at the front; it could be at the back.
This also applies to online lobbies, where AI rivals can be used to backfill the grid numbers. So, if you’re late to a gathering, fear not, you can still participate.
A private lobby option will be available too, for those looking to limit group numbers, and four Race Creator setups can be saved for quick access to your favourite combinations.
Throughout GRID Legends, you amass experience points and credits, so while there’s a lack of a specific online ranking system per se, there is at least a reward for your efforts, helping you to unlock further vehicles for the rest of the game.
How this keeps you hooked into the network play will remain to be seen over the months following launch, but what will hopefully keep you entertained is turning up within your friend’s single play career races or trying to unlock every vehicle. There will also be one year of post-release downloadable content.
Hankering for more
With the chaotic races over with, and the online services handling 22 players with aplomb, I wanted to carry on. Find more lobbies and create some weird and wonderful combinations myself.
But alas, that will have to wait for now.
The anticipation for everyone to bank their drift scores after three error-strewn laps was palpable and it made me realise that certain game modes within GRID Legends are simply better with friends.
I suppose now I understand why the ‘hop-in’ feature could be useful. Why WhatsApp a friend when you could join them playing the career and start a party chat?
While the preview sessions have been fun, we are yet to see how Driven to Glory‘s narrative arc plays out and the team management plus vehicle upgrades work in the finished product. There’s still plenty to explore before a definitive verdict.
But my main takeaway from the three hands-on previews is that despite sinking several hours into GRID Legends already, I’m looking forward to starting afresh and reviewing the game ahead of its 25th February launch. That’s a good sign…