Well, That Didn't Take Very Long
During the end of my retrospective look back at Grid 2019, I mentioned that it was enjoyable to look at where the series came from following the release of GRID Legends. If 2019 was considered the series 'low point' for a game that wasn't terrible, then the only way it could go from there was 'up.' A solid package on its own, I cited that the lack of motivation for anything I was doing was a cause of concern. It was simply "go here, race this event, rinse and repeat." It was a simple experience, but it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi.
I wasn't expecting to return to the series so suddenly, much less play the latest game after discussing it a mere 24 hours ago. Regardless, I've had the chance to play GRID Legends and I wasn't sure what to expect. Besides following several racing game YouTubers who covered early access content, I only knew it was "different." The engine was certainly "GRID," as was its menus and aesthetics. Several key features make a return, including managing a team and sponsors. Important features that made the first two games in the series the GRID as we know it would also make their return. It looked promising, but the star of Legends was its story mode.
Real Racing Roots '21 In...
The driving force behind GRID Legends is undoubtedly its story. For the first time since R Racing Evolution, racing drama on and off the track prevails in telling a rich story. The game opens with an F1 race featuring various teams all fighting for first place. Due to one racer playing dirty and causing an entire pile-up, most of the racing grid is put out of commission. All except one driver, Driver 22, the protagonist of story mode. You. In most GRID games, dropping the player in the heat of the action has always been a way Codemasters began the game. In this instance, it's far more dramatic as you save the race on behalf of your team, Seneca.
As a fan of the TOCA Race Driver series for its earnest story narratives, I was floored when I saw familiar names like "Ravenwest" and the "McKane family" mentioned. In the original TOCA series, the protagonist, Ryan McKane, would start his own racing team known as Ravenwest in Race Driver: GRID. His son, Nathan McKane, was the series' early antagonist before they axed the narrative from Grid 2 onwards. This is the first time in over a decade that players will have seen this team and its drivers within a narrative context. It was a relief to know Codemasters hadn't forgotten their creative switch.
Every Champion Has A Beginning
After the race, the story jumps back a few months back to the beginning of the season. While Driver 22 was making a name for themselves as an upcoming hotshot, a fan-favorite struggling team was down in the dumps. Enter Team Seneca, a team that has tried its best in the past yet always comes short. When the team manager, Marcus Ado, sees talent in 22, he immediately takes them as their rookie driver. Most of the beginning races show the driver fitting into a group that has all but lost hope.
There are members of the team, including the mechanic Ajeet, who will provide the player with assistance on and off the track. The secondary protagonist, Seneca's ace driver Yume, is a bit colder to the player. For years she has been the star of the show, always being the one the boys depend on when everything goes wrong. Her dreams of becoming the first woman to win the championship trumps everything. Needless to say, she begins to lose patience with the new driver as soon as it's made clear that they will be a potential adversary to her dreams.
GRID Legends' Gameplay Isn't Compromised
It's obvious that Codemasters took a page from their previous attempt at making a story-driven racing game with F1 2021 yet more drama and less realism. This transitions well into its gameplay as it balances arcade-style gameplay and simulation-style track racing. GRID was never advertised as a simulation nor will it ever be one, but it offers enough options for players to define what experience they wish to have. By default, GRID Legends runs on a modified engine from Grid 2019, taking the race-spec vehicles and making them smooth to drive.
Depending on the location, such as the icy roads of Moscow, cars are prone to sliding. Some vehicles like trucks behave far more unpredictably than an open-wheel car. The number of different types of vehicles is impressive, yet driving fundamentals are applied as well. Manual shifting in GRID Legends for example requires the player to lay off the accelerator so as not to lag in between gears. It took me a while to realize this, but the more the player races the more intricacies they will discover.
Its Presentation Blurs The Line Between Reality And Fiction
I've mentioned during my GRID 2019 retrospective that the graphics for that game was well ahead of their time, released before the advent of "next-generation." Comparing the graphics of the PS5 version of GRID Legends, GRID 2019 aged extremely well. That's not to say this game slacks off, as the car reflections and general atmosphere are up to par with other racers at this time. It's no Gran Turismo 7, but it has the Codemasters style to it.
This is also made clear during cutscenes that feature live actors or realistic items, as they are often paired with the in-game's graphic engine. I wasn't aware that the actors were real until a good hard look, which shows how impressive Legends' graphics are. It also keeps the player in a sense of immersion, yet never to the point of reaching "uncanny valley" levels. Other inclusions such as the ability to drop into a player's game via multiplayer is an interesting concept. I couldn't dive too deep as it seems not many players were online at the time.
Overall, GRID Legends is a step in the right direction for a series that has often found itself lost. It combines the narrative from the TOCA Race Driver series, the freedom of choice in Career mode from Race Driver Grid, and the arcade-like physics from GRID 2. I was curious to see if GRID 2019 was a prelude to things to come and GRID Legends proved that was the case. As Codemasters continue to give their prized racing series some love, let's hope it continues what it has going right now.
GRID Legends is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.