reviewed Grid Legends
So, I’m not gonna lie, seeing the two letters “E” and “A” listed in the credits of this game had me worried. In fact, that’s an understatement: I was positively bricking it. Was EA about to kill one of my favourite racing game series of all time with yet another cashgrab pile of greedy filth? Thankfully, no.
GRID Legends feels almost like an apology for the terminally dull series reboot back in 2019, a game that was so devoid of personality it felt like playing through a game that was made whilst watching a tutorial about how to build a functional racing game: You buy cars, you race them, you win said races, you buy more cars with the money you just won, cycle repeats. By the time I got to the final faceoff against Ravenwest I was functioning entirely on autopilot.
GRID Legends fixes that by bringing back some fan-favourite game modes such as Elimination and Multiclass Racing, touching up the visuals to make the game more colourful, adjusting the progression to make things less of a slog and adding something completely new as a sort of amuse bouchée: A story mode.
Said story mode is called “Driven to Glory,” a faux-documentary based on the fictional GRID World Series that follows the trials and tribulations of Seneca Racing, a down-on-its-luck backmarker team looking to make it big in the Pro Leagues and disrupt the status quo by taking down long-time series antagonists Ravenwest Motorsport. It’s actually a lot more fun than it sounds.
The cast in particular is what makes the dish (To steal a quote from character Marcus Ado), with an excellent ensemble of characters that all have their own unique personalities: Nathan McKane is arrogant and brash, Yume Tanaka has a veneer of Kimi Räikkonen-esque steeliness and Valentin Manzi has a playful charm that adds some comic relief to what is otherwise a surprisingly dark storyline.
The plot is no narrative masterpiece and it certainly won’t win any Oscars, primarily due its predictability (I don’t want to spoil the ending for you but you probably already know what it is anyway), but it’s pretty solid and should keep your attention until the credits roll - And trust me, you do not want to skip the credits, the mid-credits scene is a worthy payoff.
Moving on from the story, we have the campaign. It’s largely the same as GRID 2019, but it’s been reworked to encourage less linear gameplay and more jumping between disciplines: Sponsor objectives usually require you to drive certain distances or do certain things in certain cars, upgrades encourage you to try as many cars as possible and find one from each class that suits your driving style and the greater variety of events help keep things fresh. It’s a much more rewarding experience as a result, and a more fulfilling one too.
However, the game has some glaring issues that stop me from giving this a full five stars. The AI is my first port of call - It sucks.
Ok, that’s exaggerating a little. They’re not terrible - They’re actually pretty smart and every driver has their own personality that makes each one just as fun to race against as the last, but they’re far too slow. Even on the highest “Legend” difficulty, I found myself winning races by over 5 seconds with incredible ease, and that was whilst handicapping myself by using the slowest car in each class.
Next is the vehicle balance. Some classes have cars that simply do not belong, whether that’s because they’re too fast or too slow. Trackday Hypercars is the perfect example: The Bugatti Veyron SS is the second fastest car in the entire game in terms of top speed, making it hideously overpowered on speed tracks. Meanwhile, the Ferrari FXX-K has to share a track with this damn thing, and if the track you’re racing on has a straight longer than 0.5 Miles you’re gonna have a bad day. I could go on, but really some cars need to be moved around or even placed in their own class.
Finally, the graphics & sound design. Generally, GRID Legends is a pretty good looking game. It even manages to improve upon its predecessor with improved reflections to make rain look a bit less flat and higher-resolution shadows for some satisfying trackside lighting when racing under the stars. However, the hyperreal visual design starts to hurt your eyes after a little while, with blinding lights that inexplicably cast fog across the track even if it isn’t actually foggy and so much visual noise that it can be hard to decipher what’s going on half the time.
Sounds are also pretty good in most cases: Cars are varied in tone and exhaust note, ranging from ear-piercing shrieks to earth-shaking burbles, the environmental audio is fully reactive (Listen out for those screaming fans when you nail a daring inside pass) and the soundtrack is energetic. However, some cars are a little too quiet and easily get lost in the background if you have the music turned on, and there is an element of sound file recycling for vehicles with exotic engines such as Rotaries.
Overall, GRID Legends takes what Codemasters has learnt from the tepid reception to the series’ 2019 reboot and builds on it, with a more open-ended career structure that encourages experimentation, improved visuals for a more next-gen feel and some physics tweaks to make the game more accessible to newcomers. I wholly recommend buying GRID Legends, at least on offer, especially if you didn’t like its predecessor. The GRID is waiting… and trust me, it’s much healthier this time around.
Reviewed on Jan 19, 2023