Most of the buzz around Grid Legends, due out Feb. 25, has been focused around its Driven To Glory story mode. While Driven To Glory will likely entertain those who reveled in every tense exchange between Formula 1 team bosses in Drive To Survive, for me it’s Grid Legends’ multiplayer that’s secretly the star of the show.
Earlier today I had the chance to hop online with Codemasters devs and other media folk for an hour of wheel-banging racing. It was a fun time, in part because the game looks and runs well and drives suitably for a pick-up-and-play arcade racer. Mainly though, it was fun because Grid Legends’ multiplayer is extremely versatile and seems to check every box it needs to.
Grid Legends encompasses a vast range of motorsport disciplines, from touring cars, to trophy trucks, to the game’s fictionalized version of Formula E. Had enough of a particular category or car-and-track combo? It’s effortless to cleanse your palette with something different. You can run in free-for-alls or pair up in teams, arrange multi-class races and even take on the game’s career mode in co-op fashion if you like.
I especially enjoyed the new Drift Battle mode, which is addictive enough offline but really takes off with a group of friends. All players are ghosted in this mode, so you can’t torpedo another driver and ruin their run. Still, things get so tense in the final corners as everyone banks the combos they’ve been racking up for the last few laps, and you see scores shoot up 50 fold at the top of the leaderboard.
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Seamless drop-in is another ace component of the multiplayer suite. In any other game, you’d find the ideal lobby only to have to wait for a race to wrap up before you can join in on the fun. That sucks. In Grid Legends, there is no waiting. If there are AI cars in the lobby you’ve joined, you can simply drop in and takeover their vehicle on the fly, at any point in the race.
In these scenarios, you have no idea what car you’ll be driving or where you’ll start in the running order. There are some kinks that need to be worked out — for example, one time the game placed me a lap down from everyone else when I hopped into a session, even though I was in the thick of the action. But the immediacy, the elimination of friction to just get to the track, is fantastic. Is it fair? Hell no. But that’s the charm of a racer like this — one about having fun and delighting in the chaos, not pinpoint precision.
I also generally much preferred racing a pack of real people compared to Grid’s AI, which I found a touch diabolical in my earlier preview. Stacking 22 cars on one of the game’s many tight street circuits combined with the computer’s bloodlust can make some races a bit grating, particularly on higher difficulty settings. The pack doesn’t always gap out naturally and that makes traffic jams a frequent occurrence. Of course, your racing experience online is always going to depend on the quality of your competitors. But if you find a respectable group, you’ll probably have a blast.
Which brings me to what I feel is Grid Legends’ real secret weapon: true cross-platform multiplayer. This game is releasing on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One and PC, and any player can share a lobby with any other player no matter their hardware of choice. That’s absolutely huge, because while crossplay has been welcomed by practically every other genre — and blockbusters like Fortnite can owe much of their success to it — racing games have historically dropped the ball.
Sure, Forza Horizon 5 unites Xbox and PC players, and Gran Turismo 7 won’t discriminate between PlayStation gamers who have and have not been able to summon a PS5 yet. But those titles are first-party giants big enough to survive on their own platforms. For pretty much everything else, crossplay is a must. When segments of a player base can’t race together, they inevitably stop racing at all. Ask anyone who tried Dirt 5 online on PC before crossplay was patched in months after release. The multiplayer experience can make or break any game nowadays, and it might just make Grid Legends.