Grid Legends Review: Fun But Lacking

Grid Legends is a more than capable racer but not quite up to par with Codemasters' previous games.

Codemasters has been on something of a rollercoaster ride the last few years. The British-based developer has had a lot of success with its Formula 1 series and has continued to receive acclaim for the rally franchise Dirt. But it has also released some fairly stale games in the form of 2019’s Grid and the flop that was Onrush in 2018. Grid Legends is the first game from the developer that isn’t a part of the F1 or Dirt properties since the EA takeover in 2021 and the fifth overall installment in the series. 

Rather than take a serious simulator approach, Grid Legends is a more casual take on racing. It features a huge collection of tracks, with everything from established race tracks to famous street circuits and off-road competitions. There’s also a big selection of vehicles — you can drive in traditional touring cars, F1-inspired open-wheel machines, massive trucks, and powerful electric cars. 

It’s this abundance of choice that Codemasters hopes will help Grid Legends stand out from its rivals and hopefully give it an edge against Gran Turismo 7. While the title certainly has its moments, it feels underwhelming compared to many of the developer’s more recent releases.

Grid Legends Review: Fun But Lacking

Perhaps the biggest positive to come out of Grid Legends is that it plays far better than the 2019 reboot, Grid. Although it doesn’t immediately look all that different from its immediate predecessor, there have been some significant changes to the gameplay and handling of the cars. Whereas the vehicles in Grid have a floaty feeling that makes it seem that they lack any real grip, Grid Legends rectifies that problem.

Racing all the cars in Grid Legends is intuitive and satisfying. Vehicles slide around corners but you never feel as if you are out of control, with grip always available. The cars have more weight to them, meaning the slightest touch of the thumbsticks doesn’t translate into spinning out of control. There isn’t the realism you get from racing sims, yet that doesn’t make Grid Legends any less fun to play. In fact, it has some similarities with kart racers such as Mario Kart, and this ensures the action remains enjoyable and fun throughout.

It also offers some interesting gameplay challenges when it comes to racing in different weather conditions and terrains. Expect to brake much earlier on snowy surfaces or when the rain is falling, and putting a wheel on the slippery grass can easily lead to a spin. These mechanics add some extra depth to proceedings, keeping the various races of the career and story modes feeling fresh. 

What is something of a letdown is the damage simulation. Even with the setting turned to its highest setting, cars don’t take any serious damage. Sure, it can look like your vehicle is beat up if you have any crashes, but this appears to be purely cosmetic in nature and doesn’t have any effect on gameplay. It would have added another layer of complexity and some drama if you could be forced to finish races while fighting against a damaged car.

One of the more impressive aspects of Grid Legends is the driver AI. The computer-controlled drivers don’t simply copy each other and stick to the racing line. They genuinely seem to have personalities and take different approaches when racing. Some are late on the brakes while others take wide lines into a corner, so you are never quite sure how they will react when in close quarters.

The nemesis system goes one step further and even gives AI racers the ability to target you, pushing you off the road if they deem you have wronged them in some way by driving too close or making contact. 

A Forgettable Story

EA and Codemasters have been heavily promoting the new story mode included in Grid Legends. Many of EA’s recent sports titles have included a narrative story and Codemasters’ F1 2021 includes a similar story inspired by Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary. What you get in Grid Legends is pretty much along the same lines, although it falls flat in spectacular fashion.

You take on the role of Driver 22, a mysterious rookie who joins a fledgling team hoping to be competitive with the established names in the sport. There are a total of 36 events to get through with full-motion video cutscenes between each event to expand the story and give some background on the characters.

The problem is that the narrative is just entirely too predictable and fails to do anything all that interesting. It’s a classic underdog tale with an arrogant and irritating antagonist spurring you on. Unfortunately, all of the characters are clichéd and shallow, with no development taking place over the entire story mode.

Worse, though, is that the entire underdog premise makes little sense if you are winning races, as nothing you do changes what will happen. The story mode then lacks anything compelling to keep you going to the end.

Thankfully, there are other modes to keep you busy. The career mode is pretty similar to the story mode, without all of the cutscenes and added drama. In terms of multiplayer offerings, Grid Legends supports races of up to 22 players and allows you to join mid-race rather than wait until an event has been completed. This helps to keep lobbies full and races interesting. An upgraded customization tool lets you create your own races, changing the objectives in a race and what vehicles can take part.

Where Grid Legends does excel is in the presentation department. It looks fantastic, with the cars being particularly impressive. When it comes to the circuits themselves, the street races are a visual delight, especially when the rain is falling and the water reflects gloriously on the surface of the road. Playing on the Xbox Series X, there don’t seem to be any major performance issues, with the frame rate remaining stable even in the most intense moments. 

Grid Legends — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Intuitive casual gameplay and great handling.
  • Plenty of choices when it comes to vehicles and race tracks.
  • Superb visuals.
  • A big step up from the last Grid game.

Cons

  • Story mode lacks suspense and meaningful characters.
  • Car damage doesn’t seem significant.

Grid Legends is certainly not a bad racing game and has a lot of redeeming qualities, yet it doesn’t quite live up to the high quality usually associated with Codemasters. Games like Forza Horizon 5 are more fun to play while the likes of F1 2021 and Dirt offer more realistic and challenging gameplay.

The introduction of the unpredictable AI is a welcome step in the right direction, as are the improvements made compared to its predecessor. However, Grid Legends can’t shake a poor story mode that bogs down the action and will disappoint those expecting a cohesive and exciting narrative.

[Note: EA provided the copy of Grid Legends used for this review.]

Our Rating
7
Grid Legends is a more than capable racer but not quite up to par with Codemasters' previous games.
Reviewed On: Series X

Contributor

Published Feb. 28th 2022

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