Tensions, Egos, And Tires Are All Burning On The Track
Compared to the barebones "no-frills" experience that its previous endeavor provided, Codemasters' GRID Legends offered so much more to its players. One of the main draws to the game for me was its Story mode, which is a rarity for the series but not for its developers. I mentioned that the TOCA Race Driver series was the start of the racing game narrative in video games. The story of a crestfallen driver who finds motivation to win while dealing with his rivals carried across three titles. Starting with Grid, the focus shifted to racing and gameplay instead. I had also compared to some of Bandai Namco's early titles back when they were still "Namco."
Games like R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 was one of the first to give players an incentive to race. The better, or worse, a player did, the more it would affect the racing team they would join. Each of the four racing teams had a certain predicament and story as they went through a racing season. In R Racing Evolution, Namco's second attempt, the story is more streamlined, following the trials and tribulations of the racer "Driver 76." Looking back at it now, there are quite a few similarities between Legends and R Racing Evolution. I'll touch upon those as well as what I feel about stories in racing games as a whole.
GRID Legends Takes Risks With Live Actors
While long past the heyday of the 90s, the inclusion of live actors is still utilized in video games. Using footage of live actors are commonplace for games that require heavy narration, much as it did for FMV-style games in the 90s. In GRID Legends, it's no different as it sets the tone of realism and drama the game looks towards. If simple voice-overs were used, I don't feel like the cutscenes would be as poignant. Thankfully, Codemasters used one simple trick to avoid things becoming cheesy and that's the "interview" segment. In-universe there's a broadcast known as "Grid TV" that's used to interview drivers, team owners, and its members. Cutscenes are played via driver spotlight, where your team owner, partner driver, mechanic, and rival teams are featured.
Their personalities correlate to how they perform on the track. The best example of this is a rival driver named Manzi. During the semi-pro leagues, he is the "boss" of this part of the story. During interviews and public relations, he's known as a jokester, friendly, and an overall amicable person. That is until his buttons are pushed in which his whole demeanor changes. This translates well to the track as races become more intense, reflecting the driver A.I. Certain races are harder than others as the stakes raise higher, which goes into the gameplay element of Story mode.
You Won't Win Every Race And That's On Purpose
Because GRID Legends is trying to tell a narrative here, it wouldn't make sense for a comeback story to have the player ridicule the AI effortlessly right? Codemasters have the same thought as well, which is why there are some races in the story that you're not "supposed" to win. With perseverance, the player can win any race, of course, but it's not a requirement to pick up the story. It feels more satisfying fulfilling the objectives with a heated pack than it does secure an easy win anyway. Races where it tells you to "make top 8" often mean fighting through aggressive drivers to make it there. Getting to 8th is an achievement in itself but going the distance is extra.
This is why I take back what I mentioned in my first impressions about game difficulty. I increased it to "Expert" difficulty for some races and it intensified the stakes. This is especially true when you're battling rivals as the Grid series always had some fighters as computers. Due to the leniency of the car handling in this game, it makes it an enjoyable if not spicy experience. The only thing I wish was possible in Story mode was the ability to choose my car rather than have everything pre-configurated. I understand why that's the case but even R Racing Evolution and the early TOCA games allowed me to choose my car.
The Need For Speed Is Nothing Without Teamwork
It took me a while to mention this for a reason, but the other somewhat infamous example involving "live actors" and "racing" to my knowledge is Need For Speed 2015. Developed by Ghost Games, the cutscenes in this game were all done by live actors. These range from actual actors, car influencers, and drivers. Comparing the two games is like comparing apples and oranges as Legends is grounded to a team wanting to make it to the pro leagues. Obviously, in Need for Speed, you're having a good time with friends while unraveling their drive and motivation with each race.
I didn't mind the live actors in NFS 2015 as the shift to CGI in Payback turned my attention off completely. It doesn't matter if live actors or in-game graphics are used. All that matters is if the story captures the player and so far GRID Legends is interesting. It's as interesting as watching a Netflix documentary about track racing. As I reach the "pro leagues," being halfway done with GRID Legends' story, I'll provide closing thoughts on the next part of this story review.
GRID Legends is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.