Is Grid Legends' 2022's Underdog Of The Year?
After finishing the Story mode in GRID Legends and playing a bit of its Career mode, Codemasters are veterans at telling the "underdog" story both in-game and outside of it. The developers didn't have to change much from GRID 2019 as the winning formula was right there. All that was missing was a main dish to pair with the side dish that they prepared and Grid Legends is definitely a delicious brisket. Unfortunately, Legends is struggling to entice new players to take a bite out of its plate if its player base on Steam is anything to go by. Compared to 2019, its peak isn't even half of what Grid 2019 was able to pull, which quickly plummeted over time thanks to a rocky start.
I could talk numbers all day like I was cutting a Steiner promo, but I mention this to say that Legends is fighting an uphill battle. I mentioned in my Grid 2019 retrospect why this is the case, but Codemasters had a lot of ground to cover. It didn't help that its competitors were planning a comeback of the decade with the release of Gran Turismo 7. A lot has happened in a month since and it has left many fans, like me, at a crossroads. If you are reading this and you fit similar criteria, I'm here to convince you why GRID Legends is more than just an alternative.
Let me get this out of the way early and explain the title, for I'm not saying that Grid Legends is "GOTY." With the above evidence, I'm stating that no one is playing this when more people should. Even if you aren't the biggest fan of racing titles, it's easy to get involved in the game thanks to its Story mode. It has been a long time since I played a story game in a racing game that made me invested in its characters. Skilled drivers can complete the story in around two to three hours, but it's the perfect way to start one's Grid Legends experience.
When A Story Mode Simultaneously Shows What The Game Has To Offer
Story mode helps fills two missing pieces that were absent from Grid 2019, engagement and sampling. While Legends does have a career mode that's similar to 2019's, the Story mode weens the player into the game. It introduces the player to an underdog-style situation, with Team Seneca being the "rags to riches" story. It promotes perseverance amongst the opposition, much like how certain races are lined up against the player. There are races that the player isn't supposed to win, hence why the goals are "Finish 7th" or "Just finish the race."
Codemasters allowed players to enjoy what Grid Legends has to offer without penalizing them for playing the game. As "Driver 22" moves up the ranks, the expectations of the team, as well as their peers, elevates. The player begins in simple cars such as a Ford Mustang and quickly moves up to racing monsters like an Acura NSX and concept cars from Aston Martin and Lotus. What begins as simple Circuit racing evolves into mixed racing pitting Mini Coopers against semi-trucks. Every single race type Grid Legends has to offer is featured, giving players a chance to sample what Codemasters has to offer.
Players who like a little bit of spice and drama will get that while also learning the game at their own pace. It would have been easier and cost-efficient to add a simple "tutorial" mode. For the Story mode to serve as the game's introduction to Legends is a perfect way to reel players in. What gives this away is the ending to Story mode, which will mean I will have to post spoilers for Grid Legends' Story mode. This will also be a follow-up to my initial thoughts on the mode. I'm covering up as many loose ends as I can.
Everywhere You Look He's Right On Time...
The Story mode begins with Team Seneca on the verge of winning a race. Disaster strikes as Ravenwest, the top team in Grid Legends, takes out Seneca's ace driver, Yume Tanaka. The first race serves as a way for the player to get invested in the plot by thrusting them in the middle of it. Shortly after the event, the game dates back over a year before the event.
Sometime in the year 2020, Team Seneca is looking for a new driver after several years of coming up short. The team manager, Marcus, bets it all on "Driver 22," who makes an impression on him in the opening race. As their drivers drop like flies, Driver 22 continues to strive higher. Eventually, they are on par with Yume Tanaka who challenges Driver 21. After seeing that they are the real deal, Yume and 21 become an unstoppable force, earning friendly rivalries with Voltz, and making it to the pro leagues.
After Seneca makes it to the Pro Leagues, the egos become as powerful as the cars everyone drives as Ravenwest is on the hunt. Ravenwest is the team that won the championship for the past five years, led by team owner Ryan and his son Nathan McKane. I mentioned in my original first impressions how these were references to the older Grid and TOCA Race Driver titles. A lot can change in over a decade it seems as they deny Seneca as their competition. Eventually, Ravenwest realizes they can't feign ignorance anymore and decides to take Yume out of the racing competition.
The fate of Seneca now rests on the shoulders of Driver 22 who single-handedly brings Seneca to the Finals known as The Gauntlet. As the months' pass and Yume recovers, with an amputated leg mind you, the duo takes it to the final race and defeats Ravenwest for good. Ravenwest folds as it's revealed the team was cheating thanks to a former teammate and Team Seneca are now the champions. This segues into Grid Legends' career mode as it turns out Seneca had a lot of sponsorship opportunities. So much so, in fact, that the mechanic and Driver 22 had decided to make their own team. This is the team that the player will manage in Career mode.
As if the Easter Eggs and references were over, there's a cheeky post-credits scene involving the new owner of Ravenwest. The man introduces himself as James Randall, who declares he has a "history with the McKanes." Turns out that he was the main antagonist of Codemasters' original TOCA Race Driver, responsible for the death of Ryan McKane's father at the beginning of the game's story. Depending on the context and how Ryan turned out to be an unprofessional team owner, this could be a potential sequel hook. It'd be cool if Randall had a redemption arc.
Codemasters really had fun when developing Legends' story, putting the "Legends" in the title, and including every relevant NPC from the series. Even if players hadn't quite captured every reference like myself, they can appreciate the love Codemasters have for their own product. It's a night and day difference in how Grid 2019 was handled and it can even be seen in its trophy/achievement titles. There are many references to Ridge Racer titles, including Rage Racer and Reiko Nagase. There are also references to other racing games, yes, including Gran Turismo.
Try Your Own Victory After Making Someone Else's
The Career mode is sadly where I may have to dock some points after Story mode left such a good impression on me. I recommended playing Story mode first because of its "sampling" of modes for a reason. Career mode is traditional in its progression approach as events and cars unlock the more the player wins events. This mode is the "meat" of Legends though I can't help but wish that there was more of an incentive for completing Story mode.
Players are expected to have at least 200k in earnings, but cars should at least be unlocked rather than having to play another mode. Feeling like you're on top of the world at the end of Story mode only to start from the bottom feels bad. This is also why I mentioned Story mode first as this "started from the bottom now we're at the bottom" approach only makes sense due to its ending. There's a lot of single-player content to enjoy as players unlock cars, both licensed and unlicensed, to enjoy. Each car controls differently enough as some grip the road while others tend to slide.
Fortunately, Grid Legends is as "arcade" as it can get under arcade-simulation racing. It has been a while since I felt a sense of speed going over 200 mph while also feeling the danger of ending my entire race with a crash. Codemasters made sure the risk-reward system was present in terms of pushing your car to its limits. They also alleviated some of its heavy tinkerings by providing a very simple upgrade system. As players drive their cars, they will unlock upgrades proportional to the amount of mileage they rack up. Players looking to visually tune their ride will have to look elsewhere as the Grid series was never that kind of game.
Grid Legends Is A Solid Gaming Experience
Unfortunately, one of the major selling points was something I experienced once during my playthrough. Codemasters made multiplayer and single-player integration a thing by having online drivers "invade" a session. This means that at any given time, players could race against others without warning. This sounds interesting if people played. It ends up being more of a single-player experience instead. Personally, I didn't mind as racing against others online had always turned into a "demolition derby," but the AI drivers aren't much of a challenge. Even under "Expert" difficulty, the AI was aggressive but too aggressive, costing them and others the race.
It's hard for me to give Grid Legends a rating as this is the most fun I've had with a racing game in a while. However, like most arcade racers, the fun is in quick bursts and what you see is what you get. Games like Gran Turismo are more like an "RPG," building a relationship with your cars and getting better each time. Players who don't want to think about Polyphony Digital's nuances and just want to race fast cars will definitely enjoy what Codemasters is offering. Grid Legends is a step in the right direction and something I hope Codemasters continue in the future when they're not focusing on Dirt games. Kudos to Codemasters for the pleasant surprise and I hope they don't give up on a winning formula.
I give Grid Legends a 8/10. The game is currently available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.