GRID Legends Review: "Jack Of All Trades Racing"
The GRID series has never been about simulation or tried to appeal to die-hard racing fans, and GRID Legends is no different. This is an arcade racer through and through, but it brings to the track some unique offerings, especially when it comes to the brand-new story mode, which takes inspiration from a certain Netflix documentary that any Formula 1 fans will be familiar with. We're a long way from the series' origins with TOCA Touring Car Championship in 1997, but Codemasters' classic racing game still has some life in it yet.
A Racing Game Of Old
The recent trend of racing games has seen many of them opt for open worlds to drive around in, finding races to complete and objectives to fulfil in gorgeous landscapes. Forza Horizon 5 does it best, but it's not the only one: The Crew, Need for Speed: Heat, even Burnout Paradise back in 2008 kicked off this genre shift. GRID Legends feels like one of the final "classic" racing games, because it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it focuses solely on the driving instead of the experience in-between.
The bulk of the gameplay comes in the form of Career mode, which will be familiar to most. Three sets of categories - Rookie, Semi-Pro, and Pro - each with a selection of racing classes, such as Touring Car, GT, and Open Wheel Racing. Complete each of these to earn access to more races, vehicles, and increase the difficulty level. It's really simple stuff and if you played GRID 2019, then you'll instantly recognise the format.
Comparisons don't stop there though, because if you compare a race from the three-year-old title to GRID Legends, everything looks almost identical. Sure, it looks better graphically now - and it is quite an improvement, the weather effects especially are phenomenal - but everything you see when you're racing, from the HUD to the UI, is practically identical.
There is vastly more content on launch though, as compared to its predecessor launching with just 13 circuits (albeit many variants of each one), GRID Legends has 22. It also has over 120 cars which is almost double the count from GRID. In many ways, it does feel like a meaty expansion pack, until you turn to the story mode.
Drive To Survive
The popularity of Formula 1 has soared in recent years, in large part thanks to the dramatised Drive To Survive documentary on Netflix. Codemasters has capitalised on that and made their own playable version, which sees the player race for a team called Seneca. As the team edges closer to going under, with threats of "one more poor result" burying the casket, you have to race and form rivalries with other drivers on the grid, keeping Seneca afloat in the meantime.
Each race is interjected with cutscenes showing some of the other drivers on the grid - all filmed live action, by the way - talking to camera-people interview-style or milling about the grid in their respective team garages. Forced narratives in sports games often don't work how the developer intends and can be quite cringeworthy - I'm looking at you, FIFA's The Journey - but GRID Legends does a remarkably good job of not being too over the top.
Each race gives you an objective, such as "place in 10th or higher" or "beat your rival driver], so while you'll still want to try to win every race, you don't have to be the very best to progress through the story. The only downside to this is when your objective is just to finish in the top half of the grid, but you go ahead and win the race anyway, the scripted story then only treats it like you've scraped on through.
The competition you're racing in is a weird one too, because one race you'll be in a touring car, then the next you'll be in the game's equivalent of Formula E, before then partaking in an elimination event with muscle cars. It sure does a wonderful job of introducing you to all the different disciplines, despite not mimicking any racing category in the real world.
Of course, this is a mode only designed to be played once though, so while it's a fairly chunky story with 36 races, it's likely to be the mode you'll spend the least amount of time in. The rest of your GRID Legends experience will either be online, or in the aforementioned Career Mode, which harkens back to older racing titles of racing just to unlock new cars.
Bono, My Tyres Are Overpowered
While other racing games opt for realism, GRID Legends is much more pick-up-and-play, even for those who haven't played a racing game before. Tyres stick to the track like magnets, you'll be hard-pressed to spin out except for on the odd corner in the rain, and even with damage set to full, totalling your car is a tricky task.
As such, it's a racing game that encourages getting your elbows out and not being afraid to use other vehicles as buffers when going into corners. The damage you'll take is minimal - even when driving extremely aggressively, the biggest performance impact I had was a slight difficulty steering round sharp corners rather than any engine troubles or retirement-worthy afflictions.
What this does mean is that if you do have a wheel or sim-rig to play the game on, it makes you feel like a driving god. Move over Lewis Hamilton, because if my performance behind the wheel of a Formula E car in GRID Legends is anything to go by, it's only a matter of time before I'm duking it out at the top. Sarcasm aside, this makes it much more accessible, and the perfect game to test out high-end peripherals, or practice before jumping into a much more immersive title like Assetto Corsa or F1 2021.
Something For Everyone
GRID Legends is the place to go when you're not sure what type of racing you want, but you know you want to drive fast. The vast array of modes and vehicle categories make it a jack of all trades sort of racing game, and while Gran Turismo 7 may appeal to the racing enthusiasts a little more when it launches next week, GRID Legends has a brilliant story mode and the chaotic nature of online racing means it's the prime racing candidate for a laugh with your mates.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.