When Codemasters’ Grid returned to us after five years away in 2019, reception was mixed. The game was billed as a reboot — that much was clear from the minimalist title, plus the return of some beloved locales from the original game, like San Francisco and the fictional Okutama road course. But something was missing. The racing felt passable, but the limited content and barebones career resulted in a lot of repetition. And Drift mode, one of Grid ’08's most addictive aspects, was nowhere to be found.
Grid Legends sets out to right its predecessor’s wrongs, while adding a dramatic, faux-documentary story mode titled Driven To Glory, in the vein of Formula 1: Drive To Survive, to give players a little something extra to chew on. The game releases February 25 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC, via Steam and Origin. Last week, I had the chance to get behind the wheel.
I should start by saying that Driven To Glory — a narrative filmed with real actors in front of computer-generated backgrounds, Mandalorian-style, was not a part of the preview build I played. Nor was any chunk of the Career Mode, which is actually separate from the story portion and comprises more than 250 events.
In other words, if you found Grid 2019 to be too light, the Codemasters Southam team definitely heard you. Legends totals more than 100 cars, divided amongst nine disciplines — Touring, Drift, Trucks, Specials, Electric, Open Wheel, Tuner, Track Day and GT (which includes LMP-style prototypes). Teammates return, whom you can once again coach on track in real time to run defense or overtake more aggressively. Just as before, you’re free to hire and fire them as team owner, but they can also be “upgraded” so to speak, just like the cars in your garage. On paper, Legends seems to compensate for Grid 2019's lack of depth in a variety of ways.
Right now, paper is all we have to go on though, as I couldn’t see any of that for myself during this preview phase. However, I was fortunate enough to sample a handful of events combining various disciplines and tracks. At least I can speak to the on-track product.
Generally, it’ll feel familiar to anyone who played the last game. Legends is clearly built atop the framework of Grid 2019. That’s by no means a poor place to start, but the previous installment left something to be desired in the car handling department.
Grid’s never been an especially punishing racer. Each entry in the series to date, including the relatively realistic Grid Autosport, has rewarded generally inadvisable behavior like steering while braking, or braking way later to make a corner than would be possible in even Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. But Grid 2019 was somewhat inconsistent with its approach to physics, because it’d lull you into a false sense of forgiveness for idiotic driving before making you spin wildly out of control if you dared to graze a curb.
The strangely punishing nature of curbs has been tamped down somewhat in Grid Legends, and the cars feel a bit more natural and predictable to drive. That’s important, because the ruthless pack racing that’s always been this franchise’s calling card — cars on track are now increased to 22 in this installment, up from 16 in the last game — makes precision extremely important, especially on the various tight city courses included in the roster. It’s rather effortless to slice up the pack when the difficulty is set to Normal, but ratchet it up to Hard and you’ll be sweating through proper fights for position.
The Nemesis system introduced in the last Grid returns here as well. Get too familiar with a rival’s bumpers and they’ll race you back equally hard, indicated by a red icon above their car. The AI in Grid Legends is a little overaggressive on the whole and predisposed to make unforced, catastrophic mistakes — it’s still being tuned in development, mind, so this may change. But the Nemeses are positively vengeful, sometimes snaking about the full width of the track to keep you behind them, and never afraid to get their elbows out when you press them for space. Fair enough, I suppose.
Different drivers also behave differently, I’m told — though that’s the kind of statement that’s ultimately hard to gauge in single races, when you can’t really get to know any names over the course of an in-game season. We’ll see if that claim is more noticeable upon the final release.
If Grid Legends has one ace in the hole that’s clear to me so far, it’s the tracks. Fun, engaging closed circuit design is something of a lost art in this genre, what with the never-ending obsession with open worlds. I like taking an impromptu detour to barrel through a rainforest creek in Forza Horizon 5 as much as anyone, but there’s something to be said for a well thought-out linear path and the rich detail it allows. Legends takes this virtue to its extreme, with epically long street courses like one set in Moscow, as well as the Driveclub-evocative vistas of Strada Alpina.
The breadth of car classes also helps Grid Legends keep you on your toes from race to race. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed driving the game’s Super E cars — basically an unlicensed stand-in for Formula E. Like in Formula E, these races place attack zones on the track, whereby you can move off the racing line in a designated section to gain a brief but very useful boost of energy.
This is an element exclusive to Electric-class races, and it adds a novel bit of strategy to them. It’s also ironic: Boost gates have been a core mechanic of futuristic racers dating back before the days of F-Zero and Wipeout. Technology has advanced to the point where such an idea can be realized in real-life motorsport, and that motorsport has consequently inspired a video game.
On the flip side, having a variety of disciplines on offer ensures there will be one or two you’re certain not to enjoy. At the moment that appears to be the Stadium Trucks, which felt awkward and frustrating to steer with any sort of regularity in the build I played. I hope their handling can be massaged, if not before release then in a post-launch update, much like the sprint cars in Dirt 5.
Overall, Grid Legends is looking and running well at this juncture. All the images in this story were captured from my PC, equipped with an RTX 3070 GPU and Ryzen 7 2700X CPU. It had little issue keeping a steady 60 frames per second at 1440p and a relatively high mix of settings — encouraging for any game some 10 weeks ahead of release.
Grid Legends is in a tough spot, as it’s scheduled to launch just a week before Gran Turismo 7. While GT7 is likely to capture most racing game fans’ attention based on brand and scale alone, Legends is going for a flavor of motorsports that’s less clinical and more visceral — with a Netflix-inspired cherry on top, of course. Hopefully, that’ll be enough to make it stand out when it releases at the end of February. Look forward to our full review then.