Earlier this year, Electronics Arts finalized its acquisition of fellow publisher Codemasters. The deal included EA taking over Codemasters’ storied racing franchises, including F1 and Dirt. The first release under this new deal was F1 2021 earlier this summer. Now EA is preparing its second release of a Codemasters-produced project, GRID Legends. I got an opportunity to see the game up close on my own PC to get an idea of what race fans will have in store when the game officially arrives this coming February.
Reviving a legend
The first game in the GRID series made its debut back in 2008 under the name Race Driver: GRID. It was part of Codemasters’ TOCA series and was released to generally favorable reviews. I first saw the game via its PC demo and immediately became enamored with its strong graphical presentation (mid-2000s yellow tint withstanding), best-in-class destruction technology, and its addictive career mode. Truly a gem of its console generation, Race Driver: GRID married realistic driving physics with white-knuckle action in the way that only the best arcade racers can.
GRID 2 arrived five years later but it was missing some of the magic of the first title and many fans were unhappy about the omission of cockpit cameras for first-person driving. GRID Autosport showed up a few years after that, pushing the series more towards traditional organized motorsports. While its on-track feel was solid, it lacked the fun of the original’s career mode and the toned-down destruction was decidedly less cool. The series lie dormant until 2019’s soft reboot that was met with fair to positive reviews. GRID Legends is nearly ready for its time in the lights, and the development team is hoping to recapture some of the original magic.
Legends sees the return of the focus on your driver’s career and the rivalries that are established during the climb to the top of the motorsports mountain. During the trip, players will get full-blown cutscenes with real actors to try and boost the drama. It appears that GRID Legends will attempt to follow the path of the Netflix series Drive to Survive as a source for dramatic inspiration. We saw this once already this year in F2 2021 and its Braking Point story mode. Hopefully, GRID is able to successfully weave its narrative into something more compelling than Codamasters managed in its Formula One title.
The preview build of the game I got to play didn’t have access to any of the narrative or main career mode but did offer a wide variety of races prepared for the preview build in Legends’ Race Creator mode. Each of these events featured a unique discipline and accompanying vehicle, designed to show off the variety planned for the February release.
The driving feel is very similar to that of 2019’s GRID and in each of the events I drove in, the focus was on frantic pack racing, a staple of the series. Fans of the first couple of GRID games may struggle to adapt to this more wacky style of driving, though it does seem a bit more forgiving than its 2019 predecessor once you disable the gameplay assists. Getting a grip on how the game handles traction and the weight of the cars can be figured out after a few laps, though you may be better off just driving like a psycho and ramming the competition. They certainly won’t have any reservations about treating you similarly.
The rival driver system from the previous game makes a return. When you make too much contact with an AI driver during one of the events, they will become your rival and their UI indicator will turn red. In theory, this means that they will act more aggressively when racing close together. In practice, it seemed to mean that I would get dive-bombed or t-boned in an apex by a road rager that only has eyes for me. You’ll see AI drivers wipe out and flip their cars, but the destruction seems much more reserved than in the original game.
New players may also find the third-person driving cameras difficult to adjust to initially. These cameras are by far the most active I’ve encountered in a driving game. Any time a car gets near your bumper, the field of view will expand and constrict very rapidly. As you lose grip in a tough turn, the camera will swing wildly to the sides, making it tough to tell what is going on when you are in a tight pack. With the way the AI drivers move, you will find yourself in these packs the majority of the time. It’s a lot to process at the moment, but we’ll have to see how it plays out in the final build and across several game modes.
Visually, things very much resemble the previous game. Everything on-screen looks sharp and detailed, even if the overall presentation has a bit of a cartoon look to it. I saw solid performance on my test PC, even when multiple cars are in view. The AI driver count has been boosted from 16 to 22 participants and when all of them are producing smoke clouds and debris, the frame rate could topple, but only at native 4K with all settings maxed out.
The road ahead
There are still a few months between now and when GRID Legends drives onto console and PC in February. The on-track action seems to be in a solid place and the graphical presentation is likely to be a winner for owners of Xbox Series X and PS5. The challenge will be for EA and Codemasters to pull off their narrative and cutscenes so that the career mode can be as compelling as possible. In 2008, the GRID series rewrote the book on what it meant to be a top-shelf simcade racer. In 2022, the trophy is there for the taking should the EA and Codemasters pairing work out as planned.
This preview was based on an early PC build. The game key was provided by the publisher for coverage consideration.