Strap in for an adrenaline-filled racing experience: GRID Legends marks the fifth entry in the franchise, and the newest title by Codemasters and EA does not hold back in the action department – we have taken a look at the title to see what it is all about.
Picking up GRID Legends for the first time, you will not have to wait a long time to find out just that. The game starts off in its story mode by default – it is the showpiece of the game, after all, and Codemasters and EA have put considerable amounts of effort into it, using real actors to portray the story’s characters. It has a similar vibe to Formula 1’s “Drive to Survive” series, following three teams on their path through the GRID World Series.
The player takes on the role of the unnamed “Driver 22”, who is drafted into the second seat of the struggling Seneca team around their team principal Marcus Ado and their lead driver Yume Tanaka, picking up immediately after an enormous multi-car crash in a prototype race at the fictitious Strada Alpine track and requiring the player to finish the race in a damaged car. After that, they can choose how they continue the story: You can either start 16 months before the crash to find out how you got to that point in time, or keep moving forward from the events you just played through.
The former grants the player a more detailed look into the team’s rise and a deeper look into the characters they are surrounded with, including teammate Tanaka and the main antagonist Nathan McKane, whose uncle Ryan is the team principal of the all-conquering Ravenwest team. If the name McKane sounds familiar to you, you are not imagining things – Nathan has been in previous GRID titles and is now finally shown to the player, while Ryan’s roots go all the way back to the first Race Driver title (using either the TOCA, V8 Supercars, DTM or Pro prefix depending on the region of the world it released in), him being the protagonist in that game. Interestingly, Nathan looks similar to Ryan’s antagonist in the first Race Driver game, James Randall, while Ryan does not bear much resemblance to his past self in GRID Legends.
On track, the pace is rapid: Races are usually only about ten minutes long, and it is rare that the same car gets used twice in a row – the same is true for tracks. This means that GRID Legends gets to show off a lot of its content in story mode, and there is no shortage of vehicles to drive – be it prototypes, GT cars, Stadium Trucks or Muscle Cars. In total, more than 120 vehicles are in the game, accompanied by 22 circuits that have up to eight different layouts each. Real-life race tracks included are Brands Hatch, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mount Panorama, Red Bull Ring, Sepang International Circuit, Suzuka Circuit and Sydney Motorsports Park.
GRID Legends does not leave the player with too few things to do: Accompanying the story mode is a career mode in which the player gets to set up their own team and lead them to success, a cross-platform multiplayer mode and a race creator, which allows the player to set up custom races with multiple options for tracks, weather, car class and more.
The emphasis in GRID Legends is on action, and racing against the AI reflects this: Battling them results in contact more often than not, as they will turn in on the player even if they are properly alongside them going into a corner. Too much contact results in the AI drivers becoming rivals, leaving the player even less space and even swerving to avoid being passed. During the races, the player gains race craft XP for actions like following the racing line, drafting, shifting gears correctly and overtakes. What goes against the “race craft” moniker, though, is the fact that contact is rewarded as well.
Of course, GRID Legends has no ambitions to be a racing simulator. This is rather obvious most of the time, especially when your race engineer tells you to drift around a slow corner as it is supposedly faster – the complete opposite to what a real racing driver would do.
In general, the cars have more grip than you would expect, making it possible to chuck them into corners at higher speeds than anticipated. Even without assists, they are relatively easy to keep under control, though sudden snap oversteer can spin you out from time to time, which is not always predictable. Luckily, the rewind feature that has been in the series for years is there to help in such cases, so race restarts are less frequent. The number of rewinds available can be set in the difficulty menu.
This goes hand in hand with the damage model: While it does take quite an impact to actually damage a car beyond cosmetic things, there is an option for terminal damage, meaning big crashes will end your race if you have run out of rewinds. Damage can be scaled back or turned off entirely, however.
Make no mistake: GRID Legends is a beautiful game. The cars are all very detailed, the tracks look great and the weather effects are a sight to behold, especially at street circuits at night when the neon lights of the city reflect off of cars and puddles. Even without rain or snow, the effects are impressive, with dust being kicked up, tire barriers being dismantled by collisions or rays of sun passing through trees.
Even on medium settings, the game still looks very well, and performance is good, too. The game is capped at 60fps, meaning PC players with high-performance setups will not have an advantage over console players that they are able to race thanks to the cross-play feature.
Just like the rest of the game, GRID Legends’ audio is bold: The sounds of the cars, both interior and exterior, as well as the location with its trackside announcer and cheering crowds and music soundtrack leave a lasting impression. The sound design fits the action-laden gameplay perfectly, but it is adjustable in case players do not like music while driving or want to hear the car’s engine better.
To make sure that players are quickly able to find a session to participate, GRID Legends uses two features to its advantage: For one, there is the aforementioned cross-play, meaning PC, PlayStation and Xbox players are able to play with each other. On the other hand, it is possible to join a session that is already in progress by taking control of an AI car in the race, meaning long wait times are a thing of the past. The race creator can be used in multiplayer as well, leading to countless possibilities of setting up events just the way you want them and even add ramps (usually only used for Stadium Trucks) or boost gates (usually used by electric vehicles). Multiplayer sessions support up to 22 players.
Having been developed with the focus on action and fun, GRID Legends offers multiple different ways to control the game: It recognizes keyboards, gamepads and numerous racing wheels – all of which can be used together for different functions, at least on PC. The controls are highly customizable for bindings, deadzones, force feedback and more. This way, GRID Legends can be enjoyed by SimRacers with a dedicated rig and casual players that like to kick back on their couch with a controller alike.
The force feedback on racing wheels feels less detailed than in most sims when racing on the real race tracks that are included, likely a result of them being smoother than the various street courses in the game which have more imperfections, small kerbs and bumps.
GRID Legends sets out to provide a fun, exciting experience – which is exactly what it does. If it is approached with this in mind, it can be incredibly fun for casual racing gamers and SimRacers alike. The game looks amazing, especially in difficult weather conditions, and does a great job of creating an exciting atmosphere, be it at the real race tracks that are included or at the variety of street circuits in locations around the world.
It is accessible to all skill levels, providing a number of assists for beginners and novices, while rewarding drivers who know how to race without them. A great variety in cars, locations and game modes keeps GRID Legends from getting stale, especially with the well-thought multiplayer mechanics of joining live sessions and cross-play.
The story mode is entertaining and well-made, using real footage of real actors, creating interesting antagonists in the McKanes and Ravenwest, though the plot is nothing groundbreaking – which would be wrong to expect considering what the game set out to achieve. The “Drive to Survive” style of the story, however, is innovative and gets the player more involved with the characters, especially once their backstories shine through.
Visually, GRID Legends is an impressive racer that uses its locations and weather features well to create a dense atmosphere, which is helped by the game’s audio. It is easy to hop in and have some fun while racing a number of current and classic race cars. SimRacers expecting high-level realism are not going to find this in GRID Legends – but that is not what the game is trying to achieve. What it sets out to do, it does very well, making it a fun semi-realistic racing game for all skill levels.