Codemasters are hostages of their own history. In 2008, they released a masterpiece, called Race Driver: GRID, and they’re struggling to repeat this outstanding accomplishment ever since. Fans were disappointed with 2013 GRID 2 (although 2014 GRID Autosport appeased them a bit) and then again with 2019 GRID. Codemasters were not discouraged and tried once more, promising to draw conclusions from failures and make the community happy. So, will fans be happy with GRID Legends? I doubt it.
I think fans can’t be truly happy because GRID Legends lacks three elements that, combined together, made 2008 GRID so special: awesome career mode, astonishingly advanced car damage and somewhat difficult driving physics. It doesn’t mean that GRID Legends is a bad game. It just feels like Codemasters were suffering regress and were unable to make games as great as they did ten years ago (I’ve drawn this conclusion earlier, when I was comparing DIRT 5 to DiRT 2).
A story of a career
- unpredictable AI and good sense of speed make racing quite intense;
- large variety of cars, tracks and game modes (drift!);
- spectacular graphics;
- seamless multiplayer.
- bland career mode, dull progression system;
- overly simplistic damage of cars;
- 2008 GRID had much better physics;
- lazy replays after races;
Codemasters knew they’ll have to deal with some sharp-toothed sharks (Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo, even Project CARS) when deciding to swim once again into the pool of racing games centered around real-world race cars. That’s why they opted for including a cinematic story mode in the game. It coped great in F1 2021, so it was a natural choice to do the same thing in GRID Legends as well. Especially that none of the aforementioned “sharks” has any similar feature.
So Codemasters gathered some professional actors and used them for telling a story of underdogs (Seneca racing team) and their dramatic struggle to qualify for Grid World Series and then overthrow its long-time champions (Ravenwest team) with hands of the player (an anonymous driver called Number 22). This ordinary plot won’t keep you on the edge of your seat or make you shed a tear, but the decent performance of actors makes it somewhat captivating. At least from the second half on I had some sympathy for characters, and I was curious what will happen next.
The story mode is also a good starting point in the game. Across thirty few events you’ll travel the world and try different cars, tracks, and challenges. You’ll also make some money that you can spend later in the career mode for purchasing vehicles or upgrades.
Regrettably, the career mode itself is a disappointment. Again. Codemasters took the formula from 2019 GRID and just pumped it, providing more content, more races, more car classes and some additional challenges, like drift or eliminator. You buy (or rent) cars and simply start in race after race, trying to accomplish some very basic goals (“finish 4th or better” or something like that). In theory, things should get interesting due to unlocking upgrades and swapping sponsors between races, but these features are poorly implemented, so they don’t.
Sponsors require you to drive large distances in cars from specific classes, and you’ll lose progress if you change the sponsor before you hit the target, so they negate one of the game biggest advantages: a large variety of racing disciplines and freedom of choice. Naturally, you could ignore sponsors as well, but without them your income will barely suffice to buy any cars. Upgrades are cheaper, but they seldom make the difference that would convince you to invest in them. At least you can still design your own livery for cars.
An action-racing game
Let’s talk about more important thing, i.e. driving. That’s another area where Codemasters made a maneuver that could save them from a collision with Forza or Gran Turismo. These games are somewhat realistic (it’s so called simcade), so GRID Legends had to be more accessible and easier to pick up. In other words: it’s arcade. Even when you turn off all assists, driving is simple and RWD cars aren’t prone to oversteer. Truth be told, Forza Horizon requires much more skill than this game.
Thankfully, devs had some tricks up their sleeve that save racing from becoming tedious. First of all, AI behaves quite unpredictably. They aren’t sticked to the ideal racing line, they make mistakes, sometimes push you aggressively in the corners, and happen to spin out of control or suffer sudden malfunction (like engine fault or tire blow out), so with 22 cars on the grid races are intense and filled with “action”. You just need to pick one of the highest difficulty levels to feel it, otherwise you’ll overtake everyone on the first few corners and drive alone. Also the sense of speed is great, significantly better than in 2019 GRID (it applies especially to the cockpit view, as you can change its FoV).
However, at this point Race Driver: GRID must be reminded again. It’s hard to believe what Codemasters were able to achieve in terms of car damage and physics in 2008 – and how low they have fallen ever since. Yeah, car manufacturers have later put a muzzle on developers, and stifled their lust for destroying licensed rides, but it still doesn’t justify this oversimplification of car damage in GRID Legends. While bumpers, hoods and other parts sometimes bend a little and come off, things like wheels seem irremovable (even in open wheel cars).
At least mechanical damage has been kept, although you have to smash in the wall a few times before you’ll notice a slightly malfunctioning transmission or power drainage from a smoking engine. There is a possibility to suffer terminal damage on extremely brutal crash as well, but it looks… inconspicuous, to say the least. Also, pushing rivals out of the road isn’t as fun as it was fourteen years ago. Other cars seem very heavy, barely movable. Fairly difficult handling was another factor that made 2008 GRID a more enjoyable game (and makes today too).
Steps in the right direction
Thankfully, there are also parts where GRID Legends shines much brighter than its revered ancestor. Amount and variety of content is one such part. Codemasters fixed one of the biggest flaws of 2019 GRID, providing 22 tracks with total of 137 layouts and more than 120 cars in the next installment. That’s true, the latter number is nowhere close to what Forza and Gran Turismo offer, but it makes up with the diversity of available machines. There are GT3 racers, touring cars, Le Mans legends, muscle cars, Japanese drifters, NASCAR, hypercars, even various trucks. Combine it with locations all around the world and broad range of weather conditions (including snow), and you get variety that can keep you entertained for many hours.
Codemasters took one step further with this abundance of content and introduced Race Creator. It allows you to mix and match cars, tracks and rules as you see fit, and organize, for instance, some crazy multiclass racing for stadium trucks, open-wheelers and vintage GT cars with ramps. Yeah, GRID Legends is definitely arcade. Another interesting feature is seamless multiplayer. You can join other players in the middle of their “solo” races and take control over random cars from AI, if only they’ve set their session to open.
And there is one more advantage of GRID Legends over its ancestor – graphics, obviously. Actually, the game looks really pretty on its own terms and won’t be ashamed in front of Forza or even Gran Turismo 7. Rain is especially well done; it may be the first time when I was impressed by weather effects nearly as much as in DriveClub (yup, the one released in 2014; this game still has stunning graphics). Also environments are very detailed and decorated with dense crowds of people or fireworks.
Not without a chance against Gran Turismo 7
Let’s conclude. GRID Legends is not a bad game. It’s just not fine enough to recommend it without hesitation, especially when putting it next to other similar products on the market. Yes, neither Forza, nor Gran Turismo won’t offer you racing so intense and spectacular. On the other hand, if you’re seeking action and destruction with cars rather than a driving experience, there are better choices, such as Wreckfest or even Burnout Paradise Remastered.
And differences in comparison to the previous GRID are not big enough to justify spending 60 bucks once again. It feels almost like Codemasters launched a barebones version of the game in 2019 in some kind of early access, and now, more than two years later, finally prepared it for the full release… but decided to charge players twice. If you find the arcadey, action-packed formula of GRID Legends appealing, I recommend waiting for sale. It won’t take long, judging by history of prices of previous games from this studio.
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com