At a recent GRID Legends preview we got the chance to see the game in action, get some in-depth info on the design philosophy behind the latest iteration of Codemasters’ all discipline racer, and the chance to ask a few questions too. There’s a lot going on under the hood here, and this isn’t simply shinier bodywork on the 2019 GRID game… the development team are clear on delivering the next step on in the series that traces its roots back to TOCA: Touring Car Championship ten games ago. With several distinct pillars to the structure of the game, separate comprehensive story and career modes, and what sounds like it might be a brilliant addition to multiplayer, this is shaping up to be the best arcade-style racer coming out next year. With the speed it’s coming in at, we won’t have long to wait either.
Getting time to hear from Chris Smith, the creative director of the game at Codemasters, we learned a lot about the design ethos and how lessons learned from the last title are being carried forward. The first innovation is the inclusion of a live action single player campaign called Driven To Glory – think heavy inspiration from the way Netflix’s Drive To Survive is done. It’s a premium cinematic story that will put you in the place of Driver 22, and aims to be accessible to everyone as you play through parts of the protagonists season and follow the events on and off track. Filmed on a mixed reality stage (similar to the way The Mandolorian is produced), it brings recognisable names from the franchise to life, as well as starring some famous faces from TV. It promises to be surprising and engaging throughout, and will be linear in its progression. Currently, the team estimate that it’ll take between 8 and 10 hours to complete the campaign, and there’s definitely more info to come in the early part of 2022 on it, as well as the future promise of DLC.
During the GRID Legends preview we heard enough about Driven To Glory to make us interested in what that had to offer, but it didn’t really feel like the race driver structure we’re used to. That’s where Career mode comes in. Completely separate from the story mode, Career is about running the team and deciding on your own path to success. With 250 events to choose from you’re able to pick your favourites and plot a path to stardom by focusing on them, or become a jack of all trades and dominate everything. The ultimate goal is to rise through the ranks and qualify for The Gauntlet – the GRID series final challenge for the best of the best. Ensuring that no two events in the championship are ever the same is the Choreographer 2.0 system which manages the relationships of the AI drivers across the field. It will register friends and enemies made during events and carry that over for when you next meet up with them, as well as doing its best to provide exciting pack racing. There should be tight battles, visible damage and mechanical failures (like tyres being ripped off) during intense shunts. There isn’t any rubber banding, if you’re good you’ll be able to leave the AI behind, but that will mean you’ll miss out on some of the more visually spectacular upgrades to the damage and physics models.
Each of the 130+ cars that span the 48 different competition classes can be scratched, dented and have strips torn off as you go wheel to wheel on the 22 in game tracks that make up over 140 layouts. The last game had some nuanced and impact sensitive damage, and GRID Legends is aiming for much more. The preview showed off a fair amount of banging about in standard races, yet it looks like it’ll be the Multi-class mode that will really shows this off. Fancy taking a Stadium Truck to the track against Mini’s? Or hyper cars against electrics? It’s this “What if…?” approach that intrigues us as well as it being likely to bring a huge amount of replayability to races. Speaking of electric racing – this emerging class takes a high profile slot in Boost events that look and feel a little like a cross between Formula E and WipEout. To get the best out of the different disciplines and vehicle types, the handling models have been tweaked and improved for existing cars (some based on player feedback), and new cars validated against what makes them fun to drive, whether that’s bouncy suspension in Stadium Trucks, or loose rear-ends in the Drift cars. That’s what the new game is all about, having fun. It might look realistic, but there’s an underlying principle that it shouldn’t be punishingly so, or onerous, or too grindy. That applies to the car progression system where the more you drive one, the more it will add towards the upgrade of it, and this carries across the Career, Race Creator and multiplayer modes.
What the GRID Legends preview showcased on the Race Creator and multiplayer is probably the bit of info that caused us to sit up and take note the most. Online is hop in, at any time, and in any mode except Drive To Glory. That’s right, if you want to race a friend and they’re in the middle of a career event, you can simply hop in and take over an AI car. This makes the whole career section effectively co-op if you can coordinate the timings right (the game won’t give a defacto option for that). That’s not just two player co-op… get the right amount of friends co-ordinated and you can run a 22 player session in a career event and work as sets of teammates. That sounds truly special, and whilst we’ll be the first to admit getting that many together would be a challenge, at least having 2 or 3 people able to join at the drop of a hat makes the hop in option a welcome addition. It also means no waiting in lobbies, or for other events to finish up – just select to join and load it in. To compliment this the multiplayer options will focus around Race Creator which lets the host set ANY combination of options available in the game to build an event, or hit randomise if that’s too daunting. Weather, car classes and event types can be mixed and matched at will.
With so much going on you’d be forgiven for thinking it will be easy to get lost in the details, but this GRID Legends preview went to pains to be clear it’s going to be simple and accessible. There’s no tyre wear or pit stops to worry about, it’s not a strategic or sim racer. It’s about close racing, action and making unscripted memorable moments happen. Focusing on the spectacle, the lighting system has been updated, particle effects are greater and more dynamic, extreme damage can happen to the AI, and snow has been added for the first time in the series. Different weather conditions will affect the grip and the track, though won’t make it impractical to still race at top speed, you just might end up with a new nemesis or two if you don’t adapt to the braking distances. At the very least it’ll mess up whatever lovely colour and sponsor customisation you’ve set to your ride. Should the 40+ hours of single player content not be enough, there’s a plan for the first year of content that will see more get added, including an additional Drive To Glory story, and there will be no microtransactions in any form. What you pay for is what you get, and that sounds like a fair amount so far.
Do we have any concerns after the GRID Legends preview? Well, there’s a nagging one about wheel support given it wasn’t great at launch for either GRID 2019 or DiRT 5, though that’s about it. What we’ve seen and heard makes us quietly confident that there’s an easy to pick up racing game here that will provide hours of thrills, and shouldn’t be like anything else releasing in the first part of next year. Clearly EA and Codemasters think the same as putting it out a week before Gran Turismo 7 is a brave move, so let’s just hope that the message to gamers will land cleanly – this isn’t a hardcore sim that wants you to be an expert racer, it’s about fast cars, close battles and getting into the action with friends to maximise the fun. We’re genuinely excited about this new chapter in the GRID series and will be bringing more thoughts about it when it arrives early next year.
GRID Legends is coming to PlayStation, Xbox and PC on 28th February 2022 from Codemasters and EA.