GRID Legends

GRID Legends

A change is as good as a rest.

grid legends

The last time we reviewed a Codemasters game they were an independent UK studio putting out some of the finest specialist racing games possible.  Roll forward a few months and their latest release is the first under the new EA ownership (complete with a fancy logo as well), and we’re keen to see what clout one of the biggest software publishers in the world can bring to Southam’s finest.  Being the next entry in their longest running race series, GRID Legends has a pedigree that it’ll be measured against, and an expectation to live up to, so it needs to do more than arrive with a couple of new cars and tracks.  We’ve seen the studio dip its toe in the water of trying to build a coherent single player story mode in last year’s Formula 1 game, but they’ve gone all out here to bring something fresh and interesting to the genre – and make it the USP of the game.  Does it manage to make you feel like an integral part of a multidiscipline racing team, or are you left with a distinct impression of being on the outside looking in?

GRID Legends doesn’t hang around, it throws you into the thick of the action and pushes you into the Driven to Glory story mode from the off.  This isn’t bad thing, it acts as an introduction to the GRID World Series, the main teams and characters, and teaches the basics of how to play the game, including all the different event types.  Done in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style, we’re following the Seneca race team as they build up to the start of a new race campaign and try to deliver on their aspirations of going from lowly privateers to series champions.  They’ve been unfortunate with their second drivers, and needing someone who can partner up with Yume Tanaka and deliver solid results, you’re in the test seat as Driver 22.  Accepting the role, you’ll start a journey across 35+ challenges that will test your driving skills and ability to carve your way through the field as you take the fight up through the ranks to ultimately challenge Ravenwest for the title.  Can you help the team succeed?

What strikes immediately is how engaging it is, and how high the production values are.  Hear the words “live action cutscene” and it might put you in mind of the clunky sections from old Wing Commander games, but this is straight out of Disney’s playbook with actual actors performing on mixed reality stages to give the impression of being in garages and at race tracks.  Adding to the level of believability are the interspersed race highlights which come directly from the game engine, so at no point does anything seem jarring or out of place.  The vignettes are short and manage to strike a balance between getting all the relevant info across and not holding up you actually racing.  Most of this is down to the editing and drip feeding key details when they’re needed for plot reasons rather than spending hours on backstory.  Sure, there are plenty of nods to the series’ past, though GRID Legends doesn’t spend the time looking backwards, it wants you to focus on going forward as fast as you possibly can.

Take the shine of the single player presentation out of the way and what’s left feels like a blend of two other games… in my mind at least.  Combine the cars, tracks and game engine of 2019’s GRID with the wonky front end of 2020’s Project CARS 3 (and remember Slightly Mad Studios were bought by Codemasters before that release), and it feels like that’s what you’ve got here… the good and bad from both studios.  GRID Legends is a typically well delivered racing game where the on track action is great fun with a forgiving handling model that can be customised to whatever difficulty level you desire, the AI actually races hard, and there’s a wealth of vehicles and tracks to get stuck into; yet the front end feels like it’s been in one too many pile-ups and will never be top of the line again.  Taking the game’s prompting and committing to the story until it’s done will mean you don’t actually encounter the clumsy menus until you decide to head into career mode and start your own team from scratch.  Even then you may notice nothing because I’m hoping for a day one patch to clean a lot of it up, but given the game has actually released into EA Play and is available for several days before launch it needs mentioning.

The career mode in GRID Legends is where you’ll spend the lion’s share of your time because despite it only seeming to consist of four ability tiers it’s surprisingly comprehensive.  That’s assuming the default race length is left in, there are options to increase that if you want a longer campaign.  Create a team emblem, drop in the team name, enter your details and pick a sponsor, then you can head into the tier ladder to get cracking on your domination.  Each of the tiers has a set of events under the different vehicle types, and each event consists of several stages which more often than not are mixes of race types.  Entering an event and being successful usually gifts the car being driven so that you can use it elsewhere, and completing the objective is the first criteria to unlock the next stage.  From there it’s about either hitting the given criteria in the next race, or gaining a certain distance on the car to open up more.  Every vehicle class in the tier has at least two different cars to master, which gives a huge number to have driven in anger through the course of the career mode before even getting to The Gauntlet – the pinnacle of the GRID World Series.  There are more cars than that in the game too, this is just assuming you don’t want to buy any and try out the different rides, which given the setup for progression may be the case.

The more time you spend in car, the more distance it clocks up and this lends itself to being able to upgrade a selection of parts.  Engine, bodywork, transmission and brakes are staples for upgrades and it’s simply a case of spending some cash on each area to gain some stat improvements.  There’s also a bonus upgrade that could be an extra flashback, more driver XP or more cash earned, and these cost a little more when investing in them.  As you’re in a team you can also plough cash into your mechanic and second driver to improve their abilities too, all of which make it a better operation with more chance of overall success.  It’s not going to guarantee a win each time, though it’s good to know that your teammate has your back and can maximise the prize money every now and again.  Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of cash going around from the race performances so you’ll have to be prudent with your spending.  That shiny new hyper car might have to take a backseat whilst you grind out the coin to pay for it.  It’s in career where the meagre cash pay outs combine with the requirement to hit certain upgrade levels to open up races that makes GRID Legends start to feel like a grind.  Of course, increase race length and the mileage issues go away, though that then means more time needed to put in to each event, and it doesn’t remove the money worries.  Driver XP is one that I thought was there to grind too, but it actually doesn’t seem to be relevant.  Maybe it’s linked to banner, logo and livery unlocks only because it doesn’t seem to do anything except indicate you’ve played the game for a length of time.  Speaking of liveries, I’m sure I’ve come across the exact same selectable patterns before in several different games…

At least to help with the grind there are enough car and race types to break things up.  Circuit, Drift and Point-to-Point are standard races so don’t really need any introduction, and most will have a mix of vehicles to take part in, from classic super cars to F1 championship winners, but Elimination and Mixed Class events as well as Stadium Trucks and Electric vehicles liven up the field dramatically.  In the first, Elimination, you just need to stay out of the drop zone and not be at the back of the pack when the timer counts down.  It makes for frantic moves and some degree of desperation with the timer constantly ticking.  Mixed Class can have a similar feel to it where you start in a quick car far back from the pack and have to race to catch and overtake.  Think trucks against Mini’s and you’ll get an idea of the carnage this can be.  Then there’s the Stadium Trucks that are big, heavy monsters with oodles of power and springy suspension where someone thought it was a good idea to leave ramps in the middle of the track.  Driving these is a treat for constantly feeling on the edge of flipping over.  Lastly there’s the Electric selection which are actually a bit weird to drive because there’s little noise, but they are fast and have a tonne of grip.  Plus, they have boost zones to pass through which fills a deployment meter to send you hurtling past the rest of the pack.

Given the number of cars, tracks and event types, the Race Creator comes into its own when looking for something new to challenge yourself with.  Everything can be mixed and matched to produce a fairly unique race that gets saved for future use, up to a limit of four events.  Initially I found these handy for grinding out driving distances for upgrade unlocks, but when you start to delve into the options I can see this being much more of a multiplayer focus tool.  It also has the benefit of weather experimentation because there are some extremes to get to grips with in GRID Legends.  Rain, snow and storms can all appear in the story and career races, and as soon as it starts pelting the track you know you’re going to lose grip so the creator becomes a decent practice mode (or a place to select your favourite mode for mayhem).  It’s the same with the AI if you want to try out different difficulties and see where your comfort level is as there are quite marked differences between the options.  With the game being designed around pack racing you want to be in a position where you’re either just ahead or fighting your way through to get the most out of the AI behaviour.  Have it too easy and you’ll breeze past; make it too hard and you’ll never progress.

Because the AI is more aggressive than in previous games you’ll find yourself in a lot of scrapes, and it’s here that the damage system comes into its own.  There’s a full mechanical issues model under the skin rather than it just being cosmetic, so hitting a barrier will impact performance, or write the car off fully.  It’s optional of course, so you can use it as a difficulty lever to promote more careful driving.  Plus, ramming the AI just angers them and sets them as a Nemesis for a couple of events, and when they’re like this they have no problem with deliberately ramming you off the track.  The only downside is that on occasion the AI seems to get narked by you being within 10 feet of them and suddenly they want you deader than cassette tapes.  At least the flashbacks are available to recover from the worst impacts and biggest mistakes, though they are limited use.  A great update to the AI is that they do make mistakes too.  Most of the time they’re incident based – they’ll have been hit or shunted off – but every now and then there’s an unprovoked spin or a barrel roll through the air as they’ve clipped a barrier.  It makes for a great spectacle, and is even better when you manage to duck and dive through the debris.

Having been playing GRID Legends on the PS5, it’s clear that Codemasters are leveraging the additional horsepower to keep up the performance level.  It doesn’t dip in framerate even with all 22 cars smacking into each other off the start line, and I didn’t see any hints of screentear.  It’s bright, colourful and each vehicle detailed as you’d want in a comprehensive racing game.  I’m not 100% sure there’s ray tracing implementation, but the reflections look stunning from the bonnet cam, and racing in the wet is glorious and scary at the same time with the lack of visibility and light bouncing off the road.  It doesn’t sound too bad either, yet it’s not the best because the engine notes always feel a bit muted and there’s no way to emphasise them in the options.  Engineer feedback is largely on point and the announcers are pretty good in the build up to the race with a surprising amount of dialogue recorded specifically for the career mode.  None of this matters if you can’t race though and thankfully the controls are great on the pad or via a wheel.  With subtle use of the DualSense adaptive triggers you can feel the point at which you’ll lock the brakes if you apply more pressure, or get indicators when the traction is slipping away, and the haptic feedback is there for translating the road surface as you bounce over rumble strips.  If you’re on a wheel then the whole experience is much more immersive, though I’ve only played with the G29 and I’ve found that the track surface and collision feedback there is a bit weak, so maybe there’s a bit of room for improvement.

There’s an awful lot of content in GRID Legends, and more is on the way too for Deluxe Edition owners, and there’s loads to enjoy about the racing, from the easy to pick up handling to the event variety on offer.  Driven to Glory stands out as a good story told around you as a player and doesn’t suffer for the bitesize chunks it takes as its style; and the career tacks on nicely from it too with a logical step.  Admittedly, in the early stages I’ve not had any friends to hop in to my events, but I can see how that type of multiplayer would fit with the semi-grindy career mode and make it less of a chore.  It’s fair to say that it is lacking polish on the front end, and fingers crossed when you’re reading this a lot has been consigned to history.  If they’ve not been, ignore the strange persistent “new” notifications; the fact that your team name is always the system default no matter what you change it to; the icons that don’t line up in the upgrades screen (and the sounds that don’t play); that after every event you’re dumped in a root menu that requires navigation through several layers to continue what you were doing, etc… all that’s cosmetic and doesn’t stop the actual on track action being fun.  Is it different enough from the last instalment though?  There is a distinct copy/paste feel to some elements that will rub hardcore fans up the wrong way, and whilst it doesn’t ruin the game, it does tarnish the shiny chrome of the additions that have been made.

A PS5 review copy of GRID Legends was provided by Codemasters’ PR team and the game is available from today on PS4, PS5, XBox One, Series X|S and PC for around £50 depending on platform.

The Verdict


The Good: Customisable handling | Range of racing options | Loads of content

The Bad: A bit grindy for the sake of it | Needs some polish

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Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.

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