Grid Legends Review

Xbox One

The venerable Gran Turismo 7 is not the only racing game being released in the next week or so that can trace its roots way back to 1997; indeed, the first seeds of Grid Legends sprouted that same year with retro racing royalty TOCA Touring Cars on PC and the original PlayStation. Mining that 25-year history for inspiration and reenlisting some long-forgotten characters, Codemasters has turned Grid Legends into a sequel to both 2019’s Grid and 2002’s TOCA Race Driver, which was the first time the studio had injected a story into the series. The live-action, documentary-style approach of Grid Legends is very different from the primitive PS2 cutscenes of the pioneering TOCA Race Driver, but it’s a story I’ve enjoyed watching unfold – even if the on-track action hasn’t changed dramatically from Grid 2019.

Grid Legends’ story mode, Driven to Glory, is a little different from the one Codemasters debuted in F1 2021 last year; in Grid Legends the story is presented as a sports documentary rather than a standard drama. The ebb and flow of the fictional, globetrotting, multi-discipline Grid championship is contextualised via one-on-one interviews with the characters, plus other fly-on-the-wall moments as the camera crew slips into garages, VIP areas, and hovers around the paddock. It’s more Netflix’s Drive to Survive and less Sylvester Stallone’s Driven, and it’s probably the better of the two paths.

It’s more Netflix’s Drive to Survive and less Sylvester Stallone’s Driven, and it’s probably the better of the two paths.

The live-action presentation has been pieced together using a mixed-reality process that places real actors on entirely digital backdrops, similar to the much-discussed technique employed to shoot The Mandalorian, and has actually worked quite well. It’s certainly an old-school solution – and reminiscent of the so-called cutting edge FMV cutscenes the games industry excitedly filled CD-ROMs with back in the ’90s – but, despite being an uncommon approach, Driven to Glory is a slick and well-edited package that has been executed largely without hokeyness.

It’s a simple story – unconventional upstart team Seneca Racing seeks to upset ruthless champions Ravenwest – but it’s effective enough, even if I find it a little incongruous to accept Seneca as penniless underdogs when their garage is stuffed with barely used racing machinery worth tens of millions. I’d also be lying if I said I buy all of these actors as credible racing drivers, but the cast’s performances are decent and broadly earnest. Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa is particularly entertaining as the playful Rwandan-Scottish racing driver Valentin Manzi, though his appearances are limited. The villainous McKane duo ham it up slightly as Driven to Glory’s token toolbags, although there’s admittedly nothing here quite as memorably cheesy as a Command & Conquer: Red Alert-era Tim Curry declaring his intent to flee to outer space. Nonetheless, the official re-introduction of the McKanes is a cute touch for me as a long-time fan; it’s fun to see retired TOCA Race Driver hero-turned-heel Ryan again after two decades. It’s also nice to finally put a face to his nephew Nathan – a long-time Grid series AI opponent who’s been terrorising us on the track since 2008. They’re not the only characters dusted off for resurrection in Grid Legends, either, but I certainly won’t spoil the late, Cobra Kai-esque reveal here.

"Devon Butler? Never heard of her."

“Devon Butler? Never heard of her.”

Urban Legends

The curated set of 36 events in Driven to Glory took me roughly seven hours to work through and ultimately serves as a springboard for the broader main career mode. Grid Legends breaks its career mode into chunks rather than displaying every available event on a single screen, like Grid 2019 does, which is a neater and more traditional approach to a racing game career. On the other hand, I did feel a bit more railroaded this time around, with some event types randomly locked behind the completion of unrelated others. There’s a bit more to do off-track as well, with sponsorship objectives to select and achieve and boosts to buy for your teammate and mechanic, but Grid Legends is still spinning its wheels elsewhere. Unlocking new pictures for my team logo or pre-made livery designs simply isn’t exciting when the creative tools in peers like Need for Speed, Forza, and even Hot Wheels are lightyears ahead.

On track, Grid Legends also struggles sometimes to fully distinguish itself from Grid 2019 – something at its most noticeable when I was running the same races in the same cars on the same set of track ribbons that were arguably overused in the previous game. That said, there has been a significant increase in the amount of tracks on offer in Grid Legends relative to the limited set in 2019, with high-profile circuits like Suzuka and Mount Panorama rejoining the roster alongside a host of new urban street courses from London, Moscow, Paris, and more. The new urban tracks are filled with the same fancy firework effects and thick crowds as Grid 2019, but the layouts are a little vanilla, lacking standout corners or sectors that would have me remembering the name of one course over another.

The Greatest Racing Games Ever

The other thing that subtly distinguishes this Grid from the last are a few tweaks that returning players are likely to notice. The tendency of the AI to make performative errors and suffer failures has been ramped up a lot, meaning it’s now common to watch as opponents ahead spear off the track with punctures or retire from the racing line with their car belching white smoke. It happens far too often to be considered realistic but I like it, and it adds a bit of interesting unpredictability to the racing that Grid’s accomplished but more comparatively sedate rivals often lack.

It’s now common to watch as opponents ahead spear off the track with punctures or retire from the racing line with their car belching white smoke.

Speaking of rivals, Grid 2019’s nemesis system has returned and has been honed to make your on-track rivalries last longer than the remaining duration of a single race. While in Grid 2019 nemeses would drop their grudges against you after the chequered flag, if you rough up an AI too much in Grid Legends their angst will continue into the next race and beyond. This hyperbolic brand of high-contact racing is generally so aggressive by default that it wasn’t always clear to me how much angrier my nemeses were than normal, but I do enjoy the tension during moments where they’re clearly trying to sideswipe me. A reduction in the pool of AI drivers Grid Legends fields on the 22-car grids also means you’ll be seeing the same names more often; yes, they’re just faceless AIs, but they quickly became familiar names to me – especially the ones I found myself upsetting most regularly.

Top of the Multiclass

But beyond that, Grid Legends looks, sounds, and feels largely the same as its predecessor – cars grip tight, brake hard, and brush off crippling accidents with contempt. It can be a challenge without the optional assists but Grid Legends is by no means a simulator – it’s a far more accessible, arcade-style racer at its heart. This doesn’t mean every car handles the same, though: classic British touring cars still have the feel of being tugged around by their front wheels, high-downforce open-wheelers feel pressed into the asphalt, and stadium super trucks twist until they’re hustling through bends on three wheels.

Those stadium super truck races and the ramps they feature are one of the new events in Grid Legends, and the racing they provide is chaotic and interesting. Grid Legends also sees the return of drift mode from Grid Autosport, but it’s the tense new multiclass races that I enjoyed the most. These events pit different classes of cars together, with the faster ones handicapped by a delayed start. The slower cars need to hang on out in front long enough to make it to the end, and the faster cars must hunt them down before they run out of laps. I’ve found myself spending a lot of time creating matchups in Grid Legends’ race creator, which is very user-friendly and allows us to save and edit our favourite custom races. Honestly, I’d be happy to see all racing games have multiclass racing work just like this.

They should probably also crib from Grid Legends’ clever hop-in multiplayer, too, which works by always filling races with AI up to the 22-player limit and allowing new human drivers to take over a random AI driver while the race is in progress. Other players can even drop into your career races if you opt to let them in, although I found it a bit of a frustrating way to play the career because it puts you into an always-online state where single-player luxuries like pausing or quick restarts are unavailable, even if you’re the only one playing at that moment. In practice, though, hop-in works surprisingly well in Grid Legends’ low-stakes, rough-and-tumble multiplayer environment. If you drop into last, how many places can you make up? If you drop in closer to the front, can you hang on for a good result? Either way it’s better than sitting in a lobby with your gearstick in your hand. In testing, the multiplayer has worked very well for me and displayed very few synchronisation hiccups, despite the fact I was racing from Australia against players in the UK, the US, and who knows where else.

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