As I approach my 20th year writing reviews for Game Chronicles, it is only fitting that I find myself reviewing yet another great racing game from veteran publisher/developer, Codemasters. Some of my early racing reviews were Codemaster games including TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator, and while I didn’t actually review the original GRID back in the summer of 2008, I certainly played the hell out of it. GRID was the natural evolution of the TOCA franchise, and this game would spawn a decade of future hits in both the GRID and DIRT lineage. Not many current games can trace their roots back to 1997, but GRID Legends is here to put some next-gen polish on a much beloved racing series.
Currently available on current and last-gen consoles as well as PC, I had the pleasure of reviewing the PS5 version of the game, and yes, your powerful PC can most certainly outperform Sony’s new hardware, but you’ll need a video card that costs twice as much as a new console to do so. Out of the box, GRID Legends is a stunner from menus and UI to presentation, game content, and certainly technical proficiency. Play this game on a giant TV with a racing wheel and pedals in surround sound and you basically have a multi-faceted racing simulator.
After a few logos you are greeted by the grid-like menu system with a Home screen offering up curated challenges and special timed events that offer their own unique reward. While Career mode is still the heart of the content the new “Driven to Glory” Story mode is the game’s soul. This brilliantly designed component features an immersive story filmed with real actors on real sets telling the story of an up and coming race team, Seneca, trying to make their mark in the world. The dramatic story bounces around from your own teammates to an egomaniacal opponent and rival team suspected of cheating to an injured teammate that we all end up rooting for in the end. These FMV HD cinematics are part reality-show, part sit-down interviews mixed with the standard creepy cameraman lurking behind a bush filming a semi-private conversation. It’s all quite convincing.
Naturally, you’ll be playing the voiceless Racer 22, newly discovered in part one of the story after winning the first of many races. There are 36 chapters in the story, each with 1-3 race events and a few minutes of FMV story between to advance the narrative. Obviously, since this is a scripted story you’ll have to finish within the required standings of each event to advance, but coming in first place is only required in the game’s epic final race. All other times you have some fairly attainable goals. Even podium finishes aren’t required until the final few events. Of course in the spirit of Ricky Bobby, those who accept nothing less than a first-place can replay any story event with no penalty or change in the script, and if you fail to meet the required objective you will be forced to replay the race. Expect a good 5-8 hours to finish the Story mode depending on your skills and chosen difficulty level.
Moving on to the Career mode you have four tiers of events ranging from Rookie to Semi-Pro and Pro and each with a varying number of Classes per tier totaling 64 Class events. Tiers and Classes within those tiers are unlocked through progression through unlocked portions of the career; for example, the first Rookie tier opens up to 8 Classes, several of which are locked until you complete enough events from other accessible content. Classes will have a percentage completion based on the events won, so if you go to Rookie then Electric class you’ll find three events (only two of which are unlocked) you’ll need to finish for 100% completion, which is only 1/8th of the total Rookie tier completion. It’s kind of crazy how this is all laid out and how things are slowly unlocked, but it does keep you hopping around so you don’t get bored or stuck on one class type or event series.
The Social blade offers up Quick Races with random players or you can search for your ideal race situation or even create your own session, and now that EA has acquired Codemasters you also have easy access to your EA Friends list for private matches. The Race Creator panel gives you complete control to create and customize every element of your event from classes of vehicles or even just one type as well as modifiers, disciplines, location, day and weather conditions, laps, and more. You can then save these to any of four slots for easy recall.
Next up is the Garage where you can buy new cars from any of the ones you have unlocked through gameplay. Cars have their own set of stats, and each car even has its own odometer which tracks how much you drive it, which in turn unlocks three sets of upgrades based on mileage, almost like a loyalty bonus. The Team options let you customize settings like team name, driver name, as well as a team logo and banner. Anyone who played last year’s DIRT 5 will know exactly what to expect here; hundreds of unlockable graphics you can choose to personalize your profile.
An important part of the team settings is choosing a Sponsor from a growing list of companies that will give you various milestone challenges in exchange for cash rewards. Some of these challenges are passively easy like finishing five nighttime races, while others will require driving certain car classes or performing certain actions like drafting or handbrake turns. Once you have completed all the sponsor goals you can pick another, but there is actually some strategy involved in choosing the appropriate sponsor for what you plan to be doing in the game. If you are about to go through the Touring car events then you might want to find the sponsor that rewards for driving Touring cars, etc.
Also in the Team menu are Mechanic Development upgrades; basically a three-level skill tree where you spend race earning to buy perks like car discounts, cheaper parts and repairs, or bonus earnings or even access to more sponsors. Similar to this tech tree is the Teammate Development screen that offers another three-tier set of unlocks that will help you customize your Seneca teammate. While your teammate plays a critical part in the Story mode you can also use your teammate during races by issuing commands with the D-pad; things like blocking or pushing an opponent. The settings in this tech tree enhance those abilities as well as other passive skills like driving better on wet pavement or even just getting out of your way if you are coming up behind them.
There is a staggering amount of content buried in GRID Legends, and this review only covers the major stuff. There is a whole screen of Progression Stats that track XP earned in each driving class as well as event completion. There is a whole currency system in place that rewards you with winnings while deducting expenses such as car repairs and general overhead fees, most of which can be lessened by those Skill Tree perks. Early on you might win 10,000 credits and pay out 5,000 in fees, which makes earning credits slow at first, but once you have purchased all the developmental skills there is nothing left to buy but cars; over 100 cars at launch and more on the way.
So now that we’ve covered the content how about that presentation? GRID Legends looks incredible, even if it is slightly constrained by being a cross-generation title. Everything about the game from the menus to the story presentation is clean and efficient. Jumping into the game you get a flawless 60fps experience regardless of the track or how many cars are on it. The locations are stunning, many of which have appeared in other racing games, so some might seem familiar but have never looked better. The level of detail is off the charts with confetti and colored spotlights, and fireworks that are dangerously distracting. The draw distance is to the horizon with no pop-up, no visual texture detail shifts based on range, and no shadow fluctuations.
You have multiple camera options ranging from near and far chase cams to bumper, hood, windshield, and dash with and without a wheel. Interior views offer functioning rearview mirrors and working instrument clusters and the ability to free-look with the right stick. This is without a doubt one of the most realistic driving experiences from a cockpit perspective I’ve ever played, with ultra-realistic lighting effects that create glare and reflections just like in real-life. I suffer from photic sneeze reflex and there were certain events that had me driving into the sun, and the HDR was so bright it was triggering sneezing. I literally had to wear sunglasses on some events based on the time of day. It’s also worth mention that the rain races are some of the best I’ve ever driven, with reflective streets, droplets on the hood and lens of external cameras and realistic rain and wiper effects from inside the car.
The audio package was outstanding with a typical assortment of “race music”, great sound effects for engines, scrapes and crashes that are realistically muffled based on camera choice. Rumble strips from the cockpit are much different than the hood or bumper cam as are the engine sounds. And we can’t overlook the awesome voice acting for the Story mode actors; some of which were so convincing I thought they had managed to get a real mechanic to act. One thing that puzzled me was all of the in-race commentary taking place while you are driving. I’m not sure if it’s a bug or a super-realistic attention to detail but the sportscasters can only be heard over the trackside PA system once the race starts, so if you are driving from inside the car you can’t hear any of the commentary, but it is subtitled if you dare to look down and read it while going 150mph. Even driving from an outside camera view you can only hear this commentary when passing PA speaker poles. Admittedly, this is totally realistic, but from a gaming perspective I wish there was a way to change this because the bits I did manage to read were pretty accurate play-by-plays of what was happening on the track.
Controls are also excellent with the DualSense providing some superior control and a minor amount of rumble; certainly nothing as robust as the feedback in DIRT 5 which actually popped a spring in my controller. There’s no use of the controller speaker for radio conversation or even a clutch noise. I only used the DualSense for a few races before sliding behind my G923 racing wheel and pedals, and the game came alive in new ways, offering the ultimate immersive experience. As with previous Codemasters racing games, there is a nice assortment of driving options and assists to tailor the experience to your liking.
EA managed to smartly get this game launched a week ahead of Gran Turismo 7, so everyone who wanted had a full week to experience this fantastic racing game. While I am also playing Gran Turismo 7 (not for review) I find both experiences drastically different, and for all but the most diehard sim-purist I would have to tip the scale in favor of GRID Legends; especially when it comes to mass appeal. The engaging Story mode, massive Career mode, along with the robust skill trees, and online racing makes this one of the best Codemasters racing games to date. Plus, as an added bonus there are no micro-transactions or constant online connection required for single player. There will be paid DLC coming in four drops over the next year for those who want to enhance their core game experience. I look forward to when the GRID franchise is no longer constrained by last-gen support. I’ve been a fan for almost 15 years and can’t wait to see what they do next. Until then, I’ll see you in my rearview mirror…
If you’d like to see GRID Legends in action you can check out our First Look video with commentary.