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Grid Legends is driving the series to glory with its new story mode

Wheely good fun

Codemasters’ Grid series continues its resurgence after 2019’s decent-but-slightly-neutered reboot. This time, it’s going right back to Codemasters' TOCA Race Driver roots and adding in a full-fat story mode, complete with real actors. No Scotty, mind, but we suppose they have to save something for the sequel. It’s this story mode we’ve been given early access to, so let’s jump in.

Straight off, the game looks and feels very similar to that 2019 Grid reboot. Handling is a pleasing mix of realism and arcade accessibility, only now there’s less feeling of the engine bogging down on the exit of corners and the cars are less finicky when turning, so it’s more satisfying to play. Racing is close as you trade paint through city streets, nudge supercars into piles of shipping containers at the docklands or leap over ramps by the Eiffel Tower in the ridiculous, leaning stadium trucks. There are multiple viewpoints, but all of them are playable and the game is easy to pick up without feeling simplistic.

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Grid Legends also has a Kudos system of sorts, rewarding you with XP for performing drifts, drafts and maintaining the ideal racing line. But while your XP rises, your bank balance fluctuates depending on your team’s performance, with costs deducted against winnings after each event. It’s by no means a management sim, at least not in the six events of story mode that were available for us to play. In fact, in my preview build there was no option to spend any of that hard-earned (or just ‘earned’ if you use the rewind option all the time) cash just yet. Instead, the focus was all about the story.

Dubbed ‘Driven to Glory’, this story mode does feel surprisingly like Codemasters' TOCA Race Driver 2’s career mode. However, since that's getting on for two decades since it came out, a more modern comparison would be to imagine F1 2021 with its pit scenes and drivers at different stages of their careers, but with the added facet of your team owner’s personality. In real motorsport, team principals are getting almost as much air time as the drivers these days, and that looks to be reflected here in Grid Legends, which is cool. What is particularly nice for long-time fans is the promise of seeing the face of Ravenwest driver Nathan McKane for the first time. He’s been a staple of the Grid series, and finally seeing the person behind the name did make a difference to my emotional investment in the game.

A white race car drives through a port after eliminating Yume Tanaka from the race in GRID Legends

The story begins with a serious crash, before rewinding 16 months to give you the lead-up to that incident. You play the part of a driver who’s called in at the last minute – referred to simply as ‘Number 22’ - to stand in for a team-mate who quit just before the start of the season because... well, he was rubbish. Nobody’s expecting you to shine, but all eyes are on your team to see whether it’ll implode or prevail. So you’ll see the team principal, Marcus Ado, your engineer Ajeet Singh, and your star team-mate, Yume Tanaka, conversing with each other and giving interviews in the access-all-areas documentary about the team that’s being filmed. It works well and sets it up for a promising journey.

Race cars jostle for position in front of the Eiffel Tower in GRID Legends
Sparks can really fly when the AI gets aggressive.

Rivalry is certainly the focus here, as backed up by the returning ‘Nemesis’ system. Use a rival’s car as a brake or barge through where there’s no room and their track map dot will turn red. It isn’t limited to one car, either, so if you’re a bit lunge-happy (which you’ll need to be in the short, five-minute races), you’ll soon have half the field out for your blood. They really do barge into you, too, sometimes preceded by a little wiggle so you know it’s coming. Sure, it’s channelling Wacky Races rather than real life in these moments, but it’s fun so it doesn’t matter too much.

The races are full of incidental events too, which keeps things interesting. Cars’ engines blow causing them billow smoke that obscures your view. Opponents spin, crash and even flip reasonably frequently. The tyre walls are also more evident in this outing, placed cannily on the exit of corners, so if you run too wide you get a pleasing explosion of physics objects. Steering can be bent and engines damaged as before, but as with the last game, it’s currently harder to damage your car than it was in the 2008 game, again making this more accessible. After all, it isn’t fun to cripple your car on the first corner and spend the rest of the race watching everyone else disappear into the distance.

The interior of a race car driving through a snowy city at night in GRID Legends

While it’s too early to examine graphical performance in detail, it’s already a beautiful game. I had no issues running it at 1080p on an Nvidia RTX 2070 graphics card with everything on Ultra. Confetti fills the air at the startline, shadows filter through smoke, and the game already holds together well, even when hurtling along at breakneck speed.

The full game will feature online multiplayer with crossplay, allowing PC owners to go head-to-head with console gamers, although this is optional if you prefer to keep your races a strictly PC affair. We’ve also been promised over 250 career events, meaning the Driven To Glory story mode I've talked about here isn’t the only single-player mode you'll be getting your teeth into come launch day, as well as 130 routes through old and new Grid locations, and over 100 cars.

Five real-life actors look glum in the racing pit of a cutscene in GRID Legends
GRID gets real actors for its Driven To Glory story mode, including Ncuti Gatwa, who played Eric Effiong in Netflix's Sex Education.

Some previously-shunned game modes are returning as well, such as Drift and Elimination. Grid Legends will also allow you to mix disciplines at will in Race Creator, which is a very new idea, creating fantasy matchups between trucks and single-seaters, with an appropriate headstart for the slower rides, as well as the option to place boost gates to grant a turbo boost to drivers who deviate from the racing line and pass through them.

It’s all looking good for the game’s release on February 25th, though whether the game will finally completely recapture the original’s sense of raw dynamism remains to be seen. The potential’s there, certainly, with a comprehensive damage system, mechanical frailties and fallible AI – it’s now just down to how Codemasters choose to balance it all for the final release. Fingers crossed it takes off the safety catches for a welcome change.

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Grid Legends

PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC

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Justin Towell