GRID Legends Review: A return to glory

When it launched back in 2008, the original Race Driver GRID set the standard for Codemasters arcade racers. But since then, the sequels have struggled to recapture the first game’s magic.

While the racing was enjoyable, 2019’s GRID reboot lacked a distinct identity to stand out from the crowd. It was also let down by its limited content, twitchy car handling, and a dull, barebones, and repetitive career mode.  

The first game in the series released on next-gen consoles and published by EA, GRID Legends is the latest attempt to revitalise Codemasters’ flagging racing franchise that brings some interesting ideas to the established formula.

Review conducted on PS5. Review copy provided by publisher

Racing rivalries

GRID Legends’ headline new feature is Driven to Glory, a story mode told in live-action cut scenes between races. Inspired by Netflix’s Drive to Survive, you play as Driver 22, an anonymous rookie racer looking to make a name for yourself. After proving yourself on the track, you drive for Seneca Racing, a team struggling in the multi-discipline GRID World Series. Effectively, Seneca is GRID’s version of the Williams F1 team.  

As the story progresses, you’ll experience tensions with your teammate Yume Tanaka, work your way up the ranks, and form rivalries with other drivers, including Valentin Manzi played by Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa. Ravenwest Motorsport's most arrogant driver Nathan McKane from past GRID games also makes his live-action debut.

A typical rag to riches tale you’ve seen countless times before, it’s a simple story elevated by its unique execution. Using the same virtual production technology as The Mandalorian that combines real actors with convincing CGI backgrounds, the live-action cut scenes are lavishly produced.

However, the exaggerated personalities and hammy acting result in some awkward performances. Driven to Glory shares similarities with the 2015 Need for Speed reboot’s cringy cut scenes, but the cheesy story isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.

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The slick live-action cut scenes use the same virtual production technology as The Mandalorian

Like in F1 2021’s Braking Point, each chapter has you complete a scenario objective such as beating a rival or finishing in a certain position. It also works as an introduction to the game’s plethora of race types. One chapter has you zipping around in an electric car while activating boost. In another chapter, you tame a stadium truck and jump over ramps littered on the track.  

The problem is that your actions and performance have no influence on the narrative. Whether you win or lose, the outcome never changes. If your objective is to finish in eight or higher, winning the race means the same as placing seventh.

While each character has a distinct personality, the brief cut scenes make the story feel rushed and the clunky dialogue serves as exposition. As a result, there’s not enough time to flesh out the characters. On the upside, this means the story moves along at a breakneck pace, lasting around eight to ten hours.

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With nine race types and 48 car classes, GRID Legends isn't short on content and variety

While some dialogue falls flat and the characters lack nuance, Codemasters has done a commendable job of replicating the candid documentary style of Drive to Survive and deserves praise for trying something new. It contextualises the action and makes the racing more immersive - you feel the stakes of your struggling team.

Careering forward

Outside of Driven to Glory, the traditional career mode is expanded with extra disciplines, car upgrades, and a team management system. With nine race types and 48 car classes, GRID Legends offers a diverse range of disciplines. It’s like gorging on a sumptuous buffet.

With over 120 cars, GRID Legends has the largest vehicle roster yet in a GRID game. Vehicles range from tuners to touring cars, single-seaters to stadium trucks, and muscle cars to electric hypercars like the bonkers Lotus Evija. Last seen in GRID Autosport, Drift and Elimination events also return, adding to the variety.   

With 250 events, the career mode is comprehensive. Structurally, the career is split into Rookie, Semi-Pro, Pro, and Gauntlet categories, each containing events and championships for each race class. Completing a set number of events unlocks the next category, but you can choose which classes to focus on. 

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There is an array of cars to choose from in GRID Legends

You can also create your own race team, with options to change the team’s name and livery. As you progress, you earn XP called Racecraft. Money earned in races can also be used to buy new cars or upgrades to improve aspects like acceleration, top speed, and braking. Vehicle, teammate, and mechanic upgrades add a layer of depth while giving a better sense of progression. As a result, it's a more engaging experience than 2019 GRID’s underdeveloped career mode. 

Racecraft is earned in races for clean driving, following the racing line, or overtaking, so your driving skills are always rewarded. Earning Racecraft increases your driver level, which unlocks more cars and events, as well as teammate and mechanic upgrades that can be purchased. These range from increasing your teammate’s ability to block Nemesis drivers to reducing repair costs. Completing sponsor objectives also unlocks unique rewards and races. 

There’s an element of grinding: some events can only be unlocked by upgrading your car or driving a certain number of miles in a car class, but the variety of cars, tracks, and game modes prevent the career from becoming too samey.

Rubbing is racing

GRID Legends successfully captures the intensity of racing with the return of the AI Nemesis system. Slam into another driver, and they’ll remember the incident. Drivers marked as your Nemesis aggressively block you and ram into you if you try and overtake. Unlike the last game, AI grudges in GRID Legends carry over multiple races, giving the drivers a stronger sense of personality.

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Races are action-packed thanks to the aggressive Nemesis AI system

The system isn’t always fair, however. Drivers get marked as your Nemesis after being rammed into you during a pileup, even if it wasn’t your fault.

During races, the AI drivers have their own battles, defend their positions, and make mistakes. They’ll also encounter mechanical issues such as engine or tyre blowouts that send them spinning out of control into your path.

Combined with a tremendous sense of speed achieved by subtle camera movements, this unpredictability makes for some gritty, thrilling, and action-packed racing. That said, the inconsistent AI difficulty needs some finetuning. The slow pace of the AI opponents in the medium difficulty seems better suited to easy difficulty. A more precise AI difficulty slider like in the F1 games would be a better option.

Carelessly ram into too many rival cars, and the damage affects your car’s performance. If your car is heavily damaged, you’ll feel the engine struggling and the gearbox skipping gears. Cars get scratched and dented in crashes and panels fall off, but the damage modelling isn’t as extensive as the original Race Driver GRID released nearly 15 years ago.

In the last GRID game, the slippery car handling was like driving on ice. Compared to the 2019 reboot, cars in GRID Legends have more grip, a greater sense of weight, and are more intuitive to drive. Thankfully, they also no longer spin out instantly when contacting kerbs.  

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GRID Legends is an accessible arcade racer, but the driving still has depth. On default settings with assists on, the cars feel too stiff, but they are surprisingly challenging to drive if you switch the assists off. Enter or exit a corner too fast, and you will spin out. Handling characteristics in each class is also more defined than the last game and learning the nuances of each one is rewarding.

GT cars feel planted and can be chucked into corners at high speed, while the bouncy stadium trucks can tip over without careful throttle control thanks to their comically high suspension. In the trucks, you can feel the suspension shifting under braking and steering. There’s a finesse to the driving you rarely see in modern arcade racers. It’s a shame, though, that the PS5 controller’s DualSense technology is underused, offering minimal haptic feedback for grip levels and surface changes.

In a thoughtful touch, GRID Legends has three cockpit cameras, with options to remove the steering wheel and adjust the field of view. More racing games need these options. Codemasters’ controversial decision to remove the cockpit camera in GRID 2 now feels like a distant memory.

Track mania

GRID Legends’ new Race Creator is wonderfully versatile, allowing you to create unique events. This is no ordinary quick race mode. The Race Creator lets you change everything from the race mode, weather, time of day, and track layout, as well as add ramps and boost gates.

It encourages experimentation, allowing for some crazy combinations that give GRID Legends a stronger identity than the anaemic 2019 reboot. If you want to try your luck in a Mini Cooper against a field of imposing racing trucks, you can.

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Drift events return in GRID Legends for the first time since GRID Autosport

Alternatively, you can recreate classic BTCC races featuring classic Renault Laguna, Audi A4, and Volvo 850 Estate touring cars with period-correct 1990s racing liveries. Or you can go mad and create a no-rules multi-class race, with slower cars getting a head start to make the event fair. Custom races can also be shared online, but you can only save up to five events.

While the last game’s track selection was too slim, GRID Legends features 22 locations compared to GRID’s 13 and 130 layouts, with a mix of real and fictional circuits.

Old fan favourites missing in the 2019 game make a triumphant return. Drift fans will be pleased to see the return of Yokohama Docks, last seen in the original Race Driver GRID, while Paris and Mount Panorama. GRID Legends also introduces new city circuits set in London and Moscow that evoke memories of Project Gotham Racing. Each track is packed with dense crowds and flashy pyrotechnics, creating an exciting atmosphere.

Silverstone is strangely absent, however, despite featuring in the 2019 GRID game. Let’s hope the iconic British circuit gets added in a future update. Visually, GRID Legends looks stunning, maintaining a 4K and a fluid 60fps on PlayStation 5 even in 22-car races with heavy rain.

Speaking of rain, GRID Legends has the best weather effects in a racing game since DriveClub. Spray from other cars can blind you and water gathers on the windscreen realistically in the cockpit camera.

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You don't need to wait in lobbies - the hop-in multiplayer lets you jump straight into the action

Every event type is playable online with up to 22 players. In a smart move, GRID Legends supports cross-play across, allowing players to race together across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. This should keep the servers active and increase the game’s longevity.

Then there’s the convenient hop-in feature. When you join an online lobby in most racing games, you have to wait until the race is over before you can join.  In GRID Legends, you can take over an AI driver mid-race. It works seamlessly, putting you straight into the action without forcing you to wait in lobbies. This could be a game-changer as it makes online multiplayer racing more immediate and accessible.

With up to 22 players fighting for position, online races are a lot of fun but can get chaotic, often descending into a demolition derby. This can be fun when you’re in the mood for some mindless racing action, but an option to enable ghost cars or add penalties to discourage aggressive driving would be useful for players who want to race cleanly. Unfortunately, there are no ranked races that pit you against similarly skilled players.

With nearly double the number of cars and tracks, more game modes, and refined handling, GRID Legends is the game the 2019 reboot should have been. It improves on its predecessor in every way. The story mode is cheesy but captures the drama of motorsport, the racing is exhilarating thanks to the Nemesis AI, and the rich roster of racing disciplines is unmatched on current-gen consoles.

The best game in the series since the original Race Driver GRID, GRID Legends is a glorious return to form, delivering fun, fast-paced arcade racing thrills. An early contender for 2022’s best racing game.

RacingGamesGG Rating: 8/10

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