STAFF REVIEW of GRID Legends (Xbox One)

Thursday, March 10, 2022.
by Chad Goodmurphy

GRID Legends Box art Over the years, the Xbox community has been spoiled by great racing games, be it any of the Forza Horizon titles or the mainline, and more sim-like Forza Motorsport franchise. Regardless of which type of racing you prefer, Microsoft, Turn 10 and Playground Games have had you covered. Of course, this comment simply pertains to first party releases, and doesn’t take third party or multiplatform games into account. We can’t forget those, either, because while they’re generally not as good or as polished, some stand out for good reasons.

In the past, there were the Project Gotham Racing and DiRT titles, along with regular Need for Speed releases. Then, in 2008, Codemasters rebranded and rebooted its TOCA: Race Driver series as Race Driver: Grid, or Grid for short. That spawned a new sub-franchise, which is still going to this day, thanks to yet another reboot (in 2019) and a newly released follow-up called Grid: Legends. It’s that latter, and most recent, title that we’ll be focusing on here.

If you played the 2019 reboot, or followed Grid: Legends’ development somewhat closely, you’ll likely know what to expect. That is, a racing experience that combines elements of both the simulation and arcade varieties, and is thus best described as being a ‘simcade.’ The end result is a game that can appeal to both audiences, although those who prefer very true-to-life racing should probably still steer clear. After all, despite trying to sit in the middle and please everyone, this is an experience that still leans towards arcade more than anything.

Earlier in this review, I referenced Legends as a follow-up, because it is in a lot of ways. Although it changes some things, most of those alterations are minor, and the majority of the game builds on its most recent predecessor’s groundwork. As such, the competitive racing still incorporates the nemesis system, wherein aggressive driving (or plot based rivalries) turn other drivers into the player’s nemeses. How often this happens generally depends on one’s play style, but it all boils down to the same thing: pissing a computer-controlled opponent off so much that they start to be aggressive in return, be it by trying to push you off the track or by simply trying to block your advances.

I’ll admit: As someone who tends to be quite aggressive in arcade racers and isn’t afraid to trade paint within the corners, this happened to me pretty often. Hell, there were a couple of other drivers who were perpetual nemeses of mine. That said, it was sometimes difficult to tell how much of this carried over. Sometimes drivers would remain my nemeses from one race to another, but not always.

The biggest change comes in the form of ‘Story Mode,’ which introduces a full motion video-based narrative. Is this a good thing? Yes and no. Things pick up as a documentary crew begins to film the boss, lead engineer and ‘star’ racer of the struggling Seneca Racing team. Without the financial security of their higher ranking peers, or a true number one driver, they find themselves wondering if their doors will be forced to close. Then Driver #22 enters the fray as a new hire, although his or her origins are not exactly chronicled.

You’ve likely guessed, but we, the players, are Driver #22. For this reason, the character is not shown outside of their racing suit and helmet, and even then it’s rare to see them on camera. The developers wanted to increase immersion as much as possible, and obviously hoped that the player would see his or herself as embodying the promising rookie. Thus, their face, gender, nationality, skin colour and voice are never shown.

This honestly led to a bit of a disconnect for me, because I never felt like I got to know Driver #22, or really felt like part of the team. Granted, that was also likely due to the mediocre and forgettable nature of the narrative, itself.

Although we get to know Marcus Ado, the son of Nigerian immigrants who acts as Seneca’s team principal or owner, Ajeet Singh (their lead engineer, and the best part of this campaign), and number one driver, Yume Tanaka, they don’t really feel like real people. This FMV-based storyline is so scripted, cheesy and uninspired that it never truly clicks, feels immersive or makes you care. Well, that was my experience at least.

It doesn’t help that the villains – your evil rival, Nathan McKane, and his unlikeable boss – feel so caricatured that it’s hard to take them seriously. McKane’s one-on-one interviews are so over-the-top, and stress that he’s the bad guy so very much, that it feels like he’s some sort of stereotype. He’s the big bad racer who doesn’t care about anyone, and would steal your kid’s candy if he could.

I completed all thirty-six chapters of this ‘Driven to Glory’ storyline, but never truly identified with its typical underdog tale, nor did I feel like I was a superstar racer. Part of this was because of what I mentioned above, but another part was due to how everything was structured in terms of the actual racing events.

After watching a short video, featuring behind-the-scenes footage, one-on-one interviews or Nathan McKane being mean to his teammate, the player gets to jump into one or several different events. These usually start at the beginning, but some – like the first race, which picks up after a terrible crash – begin in progress. Your goal isn’t to win them all, though, and is actually to keep improving your placements from one race to the next. For example, one may ask you to come in tenth or better, while the next one says to get eighth. This is all easily said on paper, but Grid: Legends is an easy game and coming in first isn’t too difficult. I ended up placing first in almost every race.

You’d think that there’d be mention of such a great accomplishment, or that the game would adjust to how you place, but there’s nothing of that sort. This is, for all intents and purposes, a very stilted and structured FMV game. It’s impossible for the script to change, so even though I was getting first in every race, the story continued as if I was slowly improving.

Another thing that I found odd was that, upon starting Grid: Legends, it asked me if I wanted to play the previous season or start a new one. I only saw this once, so I wasn’t able to go back and investigate what each option would present. Of course, I went with the previous season, because I got the impression that this would be a story told over more than one season, and it is. Your first year is in the amateur ranks, and your second one is in the big leagues. It’s there where you meet McKane.

What’s nice about GRID Legends, though, is that it has more than one single player ‘campaign,’ for lack of a better term. There’s the story mode, and then there’s the career mode, which is presented in tiers like your typical racing game from the twenty-five to thirty years. There, you start as a rookie, complete enough miscellaneous events to progress, and then move up the ranks. In total, there’s something like 260 different races to pick and choose from, but you won’t have to finish them all to complete things. In fact, only the second last tier needs to be completed in full in order to unlock the final tier. That’s a good thing, because the amount of events is honestly overwhelming. Even the rookie tier has eight different types, and each one has numerous different events inside.

I can’t wholeheartedly praise the progression system at work here, though, because it’s not all great. Yes, it’s nice that you don’t have to complete every event to move on, but unlocking events can be a pain in the ass.

Instead of using a typical progression system, wherein completing one event of a particular type unlocks the next one, and so forth, Grid Legends does something different. You may get to pick from a couple of events, but once you complete them the third will be unlocked. Why? Well, progression within the disciplines (or car types, if you prefer, as there are sports cars, electric vehicles, stadium trucks, drift events and special vehicles like VW Beetles) is often based on kilometers and upgrades.

How does this work? Well, the general idea behind it all is that vehicles upgrade independently, and they do so by being driven. There’s a meter that tells you how much you’ve driven a specific car, and you see it increase towards unlocking different tiers of upgrades. This is annoying, because it artificially lengthens the game in a poor way. Instead of being able to complete two events and then jump into the third, the game blocks you from doing so by saying that you haven’t driven that car enough to unlock the upgrade tier needed for that race, and it keeps doing it.

Then there’s the fact that the menus are abysmal, with upgrades and the car shop being hidden behind multiple button presses. Legends gives you a hint of what you need to do, but it doesn’t come out and tell you or make things accessible. Instead, you’re left to fend for yourself and figure out that you have to go to a specific menu, then press a face button and spend money on upgrades.

I should also note here that it’s possible to upgrade two different things: your individual cars and the imaginary race team that you can create for the career mode. The latter upgrades don’t deal with speed, braking, traction or anything like that. Instead, they offer extra race winnings, cheaper car repairs, less pricey upgrades and cheaper car purchases.

You also need to reach certain driver levels to unlock the second and third tiers of your team upgrades menu, and if you’re like me, you’ll also notice that creating a team feels somewhat pointless. Sure, there are lots of liveries to choose from and unlock, but I didn’t see my team logo appear on my car, and didn’t see how to do so although I could’ve missed an option or button press. Furthermore, the team’s name doesn’t appear often, and your customized driver name only seems to appear in the standings. Once I changed my name, it also overwrote ‘Driver #22’ in the story mode standings, and event positioning lists, but they still always referred to me by my suit number.

The other modes include custom races, where you can create your own event by choosing the city, track configuration, number of laps, amount of drivers, weather, time of day and car type, as well as online play. When I jumped online, I got into a match with only one other human driver, with the rest being bots. It was seamless, and there were no issues.

That said, I’m not somebody who looks forward to, or enjoys, playing racing games online. I find that there’s always the one or two guys who are so good, or so fast, that they’re a mile ahead of everyone. Then, there are the people who try to crash into others for fun, and do so every race because they want to cause chaos. It’s never been much fun to me, outside of race instances, but this isn’t a slight against Grid Legends, itself. It’s just my opinion and personal observation.

For the most part, the driving is fast, frenetic, fun and engaging. I got pretty immersed into some races, but also found myself getting a bit bored when I played for hours on end. Things were just a bit too similar, through and through, despite the different types of vehicles and events. The racing is quite arcadey at heart, but it’s possible to change the settings so that damage is a major issue. With this toggled on, your car can become so destroyed that it simply won’t work anymore. I didn’t find this of interest, though, and favoured the regular setting and their three helpful rewinds.

The thing is that Grid Legends looks more like a sim than it is. It has a lot of closed in tracks, including ovals and city courses based all around the world. On top of that, it has fast sports cars, races featuring twenty-two different vehicles and penalties for going off course. However, the racing is fast, occasionally violent and it doesn’t penalize you much for trading paint, outside of docking a bit off of your score. That is, the score you earn for doing good things, like slingshotting, passing other cars, following the driving line and stuff like that. It is then deposited into your player profile and increases your driver level.

It’s all very forgiving, though, and the rewinds help even if they’re limited. It also favours arcade over simulation, with some less lifelike mechanics. For instance, truck races have jumps spread throughout their courses, while electric vehicle events have two different gates that fill your boost gauge when you go through them. This is the only event that seems to have any sort of boost, though.

Given that this is an Xbox centric website, I don’t need to specify which console ecosystem we reviewed Legends on. However, I must state that I did review it using my Xbox Series S review unit. For the most part, everything ran smoothly and was impressive. I’m sure it’d have all looked better on an Xbox Series X and a swanky 4KTV, but I was generally pretty impressed with how things looked. That said, Grid Legends is far from being the type of looker that Forza Horizon is, and expectations must be tempered some. It does look nice, but it doesn’t have the same type of pop or wow factor that other arcade racers sometimes do, despite an overuse of fireworks, balloons, confetti and sun flare. The weather does look pretty nice, though, and so do the tracks, with one specific outlier.

Near the end of the story mode, I started noticing quite a bit of pop-in. It was most noticeable on one track, but appeared in at least a couple. Usually, it was minor and would only involve trees on the outskirts of the track. However, this one particular Chinese course – which featured mountains, tunnel(s) and more arcade style trappings – was really bad with its pop-in. The mountains would change as I drove by, as would the shadows. I’d see trees’ shadows covering the road ahead of me, but when I got closer those shadows would change dramatically. It was odd and really marred the visual experience on that track.

Another issue I had with story mode was how compressed the racing footage was. By that, I mean the ‘replay’ footage they showed during the FMV scenes. These replays were often from past races, but some were also from events that Driver #22 wasn’t allowed to partake in, at least not physically. Near the end, there were some final events that were essentially simmed, and I only got to race and compete in select parts of the streamlined final series.

On the sound side of things, there’s little to really complain about, but there’s also little to truly celebrate. Like the rest of the game, Grid Legends’ soundscape is fine and solid, but far from spectacular. The acting isn’t very good, the writing is poor to mediocre, and the sound simply isn’t great. There’s also only music during story mode races, but most of it leaves a lot to be desired, and some of the basic instrumental songs even had me considering pressing the mute button. At least the cars, and the general racing mechanics, all sound pretty good.

With all that having been said, I must admit that Grid Legends wasn’t the great racing game I’d hoped it would be when I named it one of my ten most anticipated games of 2022. Despite this, it’s an above-average experience, and one that is worth checking out if you’re a fan of arcade racers. The driving is fast, frenetic and fun, and there’s quite a bit of content to be found within. It also attempts to build on every aspect of the 2019 reboot, though I admittedly got into and enjoyed that game more.

**GRID Legends was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series S**

Overall: 7.4 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.9 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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