When I tried the preview version of GRID Legends a few months back, it only took a matter of minutes for me to know that the full version would be quite the package. Now, with over a dozen hours of track time accounted for, it’s safe to say that Codemasters’ latest project has passed all of the dynamo tests, wind tunnel calculations, and crash course preliminaries. That is to say, this sleek speedster collection has a lot of things going for it.
For myself, traditional circuit racers don’t particularly grab me as much as they used to. So, I find it remarkably impressive that GRID Legends has actually managed to sweep me away with a tight driving model and gameplay mechanics that are a textbook example of a racing title that fits the “simcade” moniker to a T.
Stories of slipstreams
GRID Legends has some neat ideas when it comes to its mix of gameplay offerings. For a full single-player experience, there’s a dedicated Story Mode and a single player Career campaign that even has optional online functionality, but more on that later.
Additionally, players can also create their own events and customize the rules, track features, and settings to their liking. No matter where you start off, there’s often not much in the way of restrictions, which makes the experience rather flexible compared to a traditional racer. It’s become commonplace to do the usual rigmarole of starting off in a basic set of wheels and grinding your way to the top by earning enough money and experience to unlock better machines. While there’s bits and pieces of that standard format, the small amount that is present is just enough to serve as a needed barrier to make progression feel worth your while.
The plot of the Story Mode has player’s take on the role of the shell-like Driver 22. Represented by that generic name and a simple body model in a racing suit, this character is hired by the Seneca Racing Team, which has been fighting to keep its spot in the GRID League for several years. Now, it’s on its last legs and you have to do the impossible by joining forces with Seneca’s only lead driver and rising above the competition.
If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because it’s as cliché as it gets, right down to the very one-dimensional cast. You have the gifted driver, the optimistic leader, the masterful engineer, cocky rival, and certified villains whose existence is clearly just to be exactly that: villains.
For a game that emphasizes how the racing world rewards points for great performance, it’s a shame that it didn’t use this opportunity to tell a more compelling, dynamic story. Racing games never really need a strong narrative to begin with, so justifying the inclusion is practically a necessity.
Despite its forgettable nature, I did enjoy my six hours with the story. The acting isn’t insufferable by any means, but, of course, the real bread and butter is the actual gameplay experience.
As you progress through the Story Mode, you’ll end up playing through all of GRID Legends‘ eight racing disciplines and nine vehicle categories. As a result, you’ll pretty much end up enjoying not only all of the event types, but also all of the car types.
From spritely Mini Coopers to sleek electric concept racers, Codemasters outfitted GRID Legends with a healthy variety of different vehicles. But, it’s definitely not an authentic car collectathon in the same lane as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Having said that, this is a good time to mention that GRID Legends being labeled as a “simcade” experience is an important distinction.
Since the story allows you to dabble in all the disciplines, it doesn’t take long to get acquainted with the game’s overall handling and feeling. The vehicles definitely have some weight and grip to them, but the driving model and systems don’t call for anything super realistic. There’s no fuel calculations, tire wear/pressure monitoring, or the like.
While damage can be amassed and affect the vehicles mechanically, seeing the bumps, scratches, and unhinged car parts your vehicle receives as it gets bashed and tossed around the track is mostly for visual flare.
Forza Motorsport 7 was the first full-on racing sim that I truly dived into, and while I enjoyed it, I still found myself getting far cozier with its sibling, Horizon. Meanwhile, even more complex racing sims like Project CARS simply bored me to the point of dropping them after a few hours.
The GRID series has always walked the line between toying with authenticity and retaining some of the more flexible fun offered by an arcade-like experience. And, so far, GRID Legends is one of the best representations of such a feat I’ve played to date. Combine this with the interesting AI system, and you have yourself quite the experience.
Toying with the drive line
Perhaps due to some balancing quirks, the difficulty levels don’t seem to correspond with their names. Playing the review build, the difficulty level defaulted to “Hard” for me. I took note of that from the beginning, but didn’t bother to change it at first. To my surprise, I have yet to do so.
As Andrew, a fellow PC Invader who helped me to take a look at Legend’s online component put it, “Hard feels like it should be Medium.” NPC drivers still regularly made very natural mistakes, not to mention their vehicles retained severe damage. Many times I saw vehicles barely scraping by after getting involved in a bad crash.
By comparison, when I would make a mistake, after the use of a flashback (rewind) or two, I could reasonably recover and still get a winning position — if not first. Compare this to the likes of Forza Horizon 5 where, more often than not, you have to catch the lead car in a race by the midpoint to win it.
Many races in GRID Legends also happen to have some very forgiving requirements, such as only requiring you to come in the top five. Overall, the system is pretty fair. It allows you to enjoy a realistic experience without the added pressure of cutthroat requirements or having to learn the ins and outs of your vehicle to succeed. Of course, there are also some driver assists that have changeable values, giving you even more flexibility to tweak just how much of a challenge you want.
Still, some races are certainly more technical than others. A track’s layout, the weather, and car type all play a role. But, even with those factors, the game still feels well balanced, especially given the fact that many races will often have a driver in each type of car.
This balancing act does have the arguable con of making car upgrades feel a little rudimentary. In career mode, upgrades are necessary to progress to later events, but it’s hard to really notice a drastic change between them. This also bleeds into buying new vehicles. While you will have to acquire specific models for some events, you can often get away with what’s in your garage. In custom and online races, you can even get a loaner car for free, though, your earnings will be cut and it won’t count towards upgrade progression.
Online obstacle course
Regardless of what you’re driving, however, there’s still nothing like competing against a human player. In addition to the usual online mode, Codemasters outfitted GRID Legends with a nifty feature that allows players to hop into Career events with their friends. It really is as simple as that. As mentioned earlier, Andrew collaborated with me for this section, and we were both able to jump into the other’s sessions just by inviting each other from the in-game menu. Communication with Steam Chat was also seamless.
Overall, the matches went pretty smoothly. Seeing that we both had good internet connections, there weren’t any jerky movements or other weird visual oddities. The quirks that did begin to creep up had to do with random issues, such as the HUD/UI not displaying for me during one of our races or me not starting at the same time as him in another race.
In that instance, I was left looking at the pre-race menu after the match had begun, leading to me backing out of the race and reconnecting to it once more where I then took the place of an AI driver. In another instance, a similar thing happened to Andrew, but he wasn’t able to reconnect.
I chalk this all up to early connectivity glitches that will likely be fixed in the release build. Or, they could just be the standard bugs associated with online play. There’s no perfect system. Nevertheless, GRID Legends‘ implementation of multiplayer is pretty slick, and it certainly helps add a little more flare to the usual routines in a single player campaign.
A well-oiled machine
GRID Legends does a remarkable job of offering a pure racing experience without much else. There’s no car museum, like the larger race sims, nor is there any over-the-top action, like the arcade racing titles. It’s simply a semi-realistic track racer that offers a well-balanced experience. It fits best with those who aren’t too keen on wrapping their heads around the complexities of games like iRacing and Assetto Corsa, while still remaining grounded in traditionalism.
It has some glaring omissions, like a lack of a photo mode, full car customization and a true livery editor, but these are mere extras that can (hopefully) be added in down the line. The meat of the experience is definitely more than enough to satisfy the appetite of hungry race fans.
GRID Legends lacks the elegance and grandeur of the Gran Turismo racing experience and the overindulgence of high-fidelity car models in Forza Motorsport, but it isn’t trying to compete with those games. It knows that it’s a more simplistic offering, and it absolutely nails its assignment. This isn’t Codemasters’ first rodeo. Considering that there are plans for a steady flow of post-release content, the team has packed in a lot in the base package, with plans to keep players coming back for more.
Rough and tough, fast and frantic, and full of heart, I’d say GRID Legends is poised to keep you rocking from the starting line to the finishing podium. Take a victory lap, team.