Review: Grid Legends fails to rise above Codemasters’ other racing gems
A brief story mode isn’t enough to make it more than a perfectly perfunctory title
- Game director
- Christopher Smith
- Key Credits
- Steve Bennett (Technical director), John Lewis (Art director)
In a sense, Grid Legends is a victim of Codemasters’ own success.
The studio has been consistently delivering a steady stream of high quality racing titles for decades now, and while for any other developer something like Legends would be considered an accomplishment, here it feels a little by the numbers.
Certainly, compared to the two brilliant racing titles Codemasters has already released this generation – Dirt 5 and F1 2021 – Grid Legends feels somewhat more underwhelming, even though it doesn’t do anything particularly awful.
The game’s main selling point is its Story mode, which offers a series of set chapters interspersed with live-action cutscenes.
The player takes control of Driver 22, a young rookie racer who signs up for Seneca, a small racing team with ambitions of taking on the best.
The story is your typical ‘little guy comes good’ yarn that you’ll have seen a million times before, and the twist that happens halfway through is similarly textbook.
Much has been made by EA and Codemasters about the fact that the game’s cutscenes use the same ‘virtual studio’ technology as The Mandalorian, but in reality the two productions are about as similar as Jackass and Dune.
What it essentially means is that the cutscenes were shot in front of a large video wall, rather than a greenscreen, which in the case of The Mandalorian gave the cast a greater sense of presence as they actually got to see their surroundings.
Here, though, the same technique just results in a lot of ineffective scenes where the actors stand in front of very soft-focused CG racing environments.
It’s not that it looks fake, it’s just such a superfluous effect and the fact the backgrounds are always out of focus anyway makes us wonder what it accomplishes that a simple greenscreen wouldn’t have.
This aside, our main issue with the story is that you have no real control over it. Each chapter gives you a set goal to reach, which almost always involves finishing each race at least somewhere in the middle of the pack.
This is designed to match the narrative as your driver gets better and begins to make a name for themselves as they start slowly making their way up the rankings, but if you’re a decent enough player and regularly finish in first place this sort of messes up the plan.
Or at least it would if the game paid a blind bit of notice to the fact you’d overachieved. Instead, the story blissfully ignores the fact you’re turning in podium finishes left, right and centre, and continues the narrative that you’re still fighting for recognition.
Even the introduction of the aforementioned twist, which seems partly thrown in to help explain why Driver 22 isn’t top of the rankings based on their performances alone, left us feeling a bit empty, and the whole thing ultimately felt like a box-ticking exercise as we worked our way through its few hours of races.
“The story blissfully ignores the fact you’re turning in podium finishes left, right and centre, and continues the narrative that you’re still fighting for recognition.”
Once this brief Story mode is finished, there’s no real reason to ever go back to it, meaning the main meat of the game that remains is the Career mode.
This consists of a series of multi-race events where it’s pretty much business as usual – pick a car, do the races, earn prize money, use that money to upgrade or buy new cars, rinse and repeat.
The thing is, nothing about Grid Legends is particularly offensive, and nothing – the underwhelming story included – is really bad enough to make anyone point a finger at it and say “what a load of rubbish”.
Codemasters always lives up to its studio’s name – it’s completely mastered the art of delivering a solid racing game by this point, but by doing so has cursed itself a little too. Without a strong hook to differentiate it from other racing games, the familiarity is starting to breed the tiniest hint of contempt.
All the cars handle perfectly well, the visuals are always strong, and the option to play in 120fps in new-gen systems is always welcome. There’s a healthy selection of tracks (around 130 set across 22 locations) and cars (again, around 130).
Nothing stands out as being negative. It’s just that nothing stands out in any way at all.
With Forza Horizon 5 still wowing Xbox and PC players, and Gran Turismo 7 about to dominate the screens of PlayStation-owning racing fans, it’s difficult to see what Grid Legends offers to grab anyone’s attention.
It’s essentially competing with other Codemasters games as well, of course. Dirt 5 may be more than a year old now but it’s still a fantastic racing game with a wild and well-supported track creator mode, and sports a story – told purely through audio interviews between races – that’s still more engaging than the one presented here.
“Nothing stands out as being negative. It’s just that nothing stands out in any way at all.”
F1 2021, meanwhile, delivers more engaging circuit racing, and what it loses to Legends in car and track variety it gains in spades in authenticity.
Ultimately, Grid Legends is a thoroughly harmless, completely acceptable and utterly by-the-numbers entry from Codemasters.
Anyone seeking a burst of enjoyable racing will absolutely find it here, but there are numerous other games – even from the same studio – that offer either the same or, more often, better.
Grid Legends doesn't do anything particularly wrong, but doesn't do anything particularly interesting either. Its racing gameplay is typically solid, as is the Codemasters way, but this studio has pushed the limits of the genre far higher in the past than it does with this relatively safe offering.
- Solid racing action as ever from Codemasters
- A good selection of tracks and cars
- Looks good, and 120fps mode is smooth as silk
- Story mode is too short and too cliché-riddled
- Career mode is underwhelmingly generic