GRID Legends Preview: Can Codemasters put the franchise back on track?

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GRID is one of Codemasters' oldest franchises, tracing its roots all the way back to the amazing and still much-loved TOCA 2.

It's fair to say that GRID's last outing in 2019 wasn't quite the triumph Codemasters hoped for. Solid racing that was let down by a rather listless career mode and inconsistent physics masked some great innovations in AI competitors and amazing visuals.

At E3 2021, their first appearance at the showcase since being acquired, Codemasters unveiled GRID Legends with a lot of fanfare.

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Can it restore the franchise to its heights, or will it be another ok racer?

EDITOR'S PICK: LOGITECH G923 RACING WHEEL

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We got hands-on with an early preview.

Only racing

GRID Legends' announcement came with a trailer that was fully focused on a story mode, pitching racing's biggest villain Nathan McCain against up-and-coming stars from around the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT9lEFH1bRc&ab_channel=RacingGames

With scenes filmed in Extended Reality, which blurs the lines between live-action and CGI, it seems to be a deeper story than what F1 fans got with Braking Point in the Summer.

The preview build for GRID Legends didn't contain any of this story mode, which has an official title of 'Driven to Glory' and according to Game Director Chris Smith has a Drive To Survive feel about it.

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It's clear Codemasters is keeping the piste de resistance of GRID Legends closely guarded.

What we did get to try out though is the racing. A well-written and acted story mode will be a great thing, but if a racing title can't deliver on the track it won't hook fans. So what does GRID Legends feel like to race?

A newbie-friendly experience

As a preview build, what we experienced is far from the finished product, but GRID Legends brings an atmospheric and fairly immersive racing experience.

From lively AI to amazing locations, it's a game that wants to draw you in. Pre-race introductions maintain the feel of GRID (2019), with announcers on the track's tannoy system discussing the upcoming race as you take in the field of competitors.

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When the lights go out and the racing starts, it feels unlike any other game. While there is wheel support for GRID Legends, this is a game that feels built for controller players. That's no bad thing, and will help make the game more accessible to newer and younger players, but it does mean driving slightly differently than you might on another title.

The AI looks like it will be the star of GRID Legend's racing, with the Nemesis Mode making a welcome and upgraded return. Nemesis' (Nemeses?) will carry over from race to race, and if you aren't careful you can quickly find a whole grid of drivers hold a grudge against you. The game's race choreographer also ensures the AI will get their elbows out against one another not just the player. Creating incidents up ahead or behind you and always making sure you stay on your toes.

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Any race you want

Most racing games limit themselves to one or two car classes, but GRID Legends will tackle absolutely anything, and that is to its credit. From hypercars to racing trucks, electric single-seaters to softly-sprung stadium trucks, there is something for everyone in GRID Legends.

The preview built contained a dozen preset races that gave us a taste of all the combinations you could make in the games Race Creator.

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This tool lets you pick a style of race, car class, location, weather, and more to go racing exactly how you want to. Want to throw single-seaters around Bathurst in an Eliminator? Go for it.

The sheer variety of racing, along with Day 1 crossplay and a new "hop-in" feature where players can take over an AI car mid-race in multiplayer lobbies should make this one of the most sociable racing titles around.

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Just a preview

As we have said though, this is just a preview, and only of the racing. GRID Legends' biggest selling point is the story, which has to deliver for this game to be a success.

There is also the question of career mode, which was a rather directionless series of races in GRID 2019. It looks like that will be getting a tune up, with a My Team style vibe where players need to build up a team as well as win individually.

If Codemasters executes those two pieces of GRID Legends well this could easily be a return to glory for the franchise. If not, it will likely join GRID 2019 and Project Cars 3 as just another casual racing title that couldn't find its audience.