GRID Legends feels like Codemasters creating a situation where it can have some fun at work.
Codemasters is one of the world’s premier racing game developers. It specialises in games that perfectly recreate specific racing disciplines. Its F1 series aims to create a digital simulation of the pinnacle of motorsport, with all its delicate technicalities. Dirt faithfully recreates the rally driving experience, muddy, messy, and always on the limit. Project CARS filled the simulation gap in Codies’ roster when it acquired Slightly Mad Studios in 2019.
Beyond the odd foray into branded content like Fast & Furious Crossroads, that just leaves arcade racing, and into that space steps GRID.
GRID Legends is a multi-disciplinary racing game, covering stock car races, electric racing, touring car racing, and truck races. Each discipline has a style and feel of its own, which helps keep each individual race and series feeling fresh.
GT races are fast and fluid. Truck races are harder to control, with slow acceleration and high speeds. Electric racing is slower overall but includes Mario Kart style boosts that sit off the racing line. Stock car racing is exactly what it sounds like: put your foot on the gas and lose the brake pedal’s number.
The concession GRID Legends makes to get its multifaceted racing over the line is that it ditches any desire to be a pure racing sim. Though the game can be calibrated for greater realism, GRID Legends is at its best when blending moments of realism with nakedly arcade racing.
Bouncing off a wall doesn’t cost you much in time or momentum. Dive bombing into a corner and striking an opponent already turning in, or taking a suboptimal line through a turn also won’t cost you. The AI aren’t exactly masters of racecraft either. If you’re sending it up the inside through a turn, and have the right to your line through that turn, the AI won’t back out. They’ll just turn in on you like you aren’t even there.
The inference is clear: GRID Legends doesn’t take things too seriously, and neither should you. You’re not punished for mistakes the way you would be in a hard simulation. If a single one of these incidents occurred in F1 2021, it would be the end of your race. Striking a wall at pace would tear a wheel off. Making contact with a rival would (if it didn’t instantly and irreparably damage your car, drastically reducing its pace) result in a harsh time penalty.
In GRID Legends, these incidents happen multiple times a lap, and are of almost no consequence whatsoever. And you forgive it because the racing feels so good. Strong track design combined with tight controls and excellent gamefeel make every race an exciting experience. All the things that feel good about a core racing game – overtakes, drafts, slingshots, holding the perfect line through a turn and getting on the power early – all still feel great.
GRID Legends also continues Codies’ current interest in campaign modes that resemble Netflix’s pop-doc Formula One: Drive to Survive. Where F1 2021 focused on the in-world drama between two fictional drivers with a documentary happening around them, GRID Legends goes all-in on the faux-documentary angle.
Characters in the story are played by real actors in live-action FMV cutscenes. The performances are a mixed bag, but it successfully conveys the feeling of a team on the edge of insolvency. All they need to keep the dream alive is a driver who can succeed. Not even win, just keep them in the points and out of the wall. That’s where you come in.
Like everything else, no part of the campaign feels like it takes itself very seriously. It’s full of caricatures over characters, and every line of dialogue becomes a ham banquet in the mouths of its eager but inexperienced cast. My immediate desire is to skip it and get started on the next race.
Speaking of skipping things, you can also skip the race day preamble and go straight to lights-out. Doing so interrupts the race day announcers at the track who respond with polite variations on “Ok, fuck me for trying, I guess.” I skipped it on every race, and it never failed to make me laugh.
I feel like that encapsulates the spirit of the game in the best way. Codies doesn’t mind that you want to skip straight to the good stuff, and you know that because they planned for it. It’s not a serious racer, and it’s not trying to be. GRID Legends is a pleasure to play, and you can feel Codies smiling behind the curtain the whole time.