Throughout GRID’s now 5-game history, it’s often been regarded as one of the tentpole franchises for the “sim-cade” space; meaning it hangs on to enough of the approachable qualities of the arcade racing genre to feel welcoming, while never losing its grip on the challenge and depth that makes more simulation-focused racers so valuable. GRID Legends walks that fine line about as well as the series ever has, while managing to pack in notably more content than its 2019 predecessor.
With over 130 different routes to race on, and almost just as many options for vehicles at 120, GRID Legends does decidedly give you plenty of content to sift through in its several modes. A story-driven main campaign, a career mode, a race creator, as well as surprisingly flexible online functionality all make this a solid package for a modern racing game. But the real depth shows up under the hood, where you can tinker with several fundamental functions of the game like whether or not damage affects how you drive, turning terminal damage on or off, opponent AI difficulty, flashback functionality, traction and stability controls, or specifically tune any one car you’ve picked outside of races and right before they start. This tuning encompasses the length of the gear ratio, softness or firmness of the springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars, as well as where you want the brake bias located if you want one at all.
"GRID Legends walks that fine line between arcade racing and simulation about as well as the series ever has, while managing to pack in notably more content than its 2019 predecessor."
Overall, it’s a great amount of customization to see in a game that isn’t a full-on simulation, but it might come at the cost of some of GRID’s identity. Unlike previous games, GRID Legends’ powerful customization options can sometimes make it feel like more of an empty vessel for you to create your own racing game within than any particular type of racing game itself. That may or may not bother you depending on how much you value customization, but suffice it to say, you can absolutely make GRID Legends play like an entirely different racing game if you so choose. I tend to like the default settings best, with occasionally turning up the opponent AI when I’m feeling frisky. As upgrades for your vehicles and mechanics unlock, the potential to really tweak things in your favor expands even more.
GRID Legends chooses a “behind the scenes” mock-umentary style series of full-motion videos to illustrate its narrative-focused story mode. Generically titled “Driven to Glory”, it basically puts you in the driver’s seat of 35 different racing events and uses filmed sequences featuring different characters being interviewed as the connective tissue between them. It shows a little bit of what they’re like before and after the interview cameras are rolling, which gives you some insight to their personalities, but that never adds up to much narratively speaking, and the cast is mostly populated by conventional versions of cliche’ racing game characters you’ve seen many times before.
It’s a neat idea though, and the scenes are certainly shot and edited well, and also probably saved the development team from spending a lot of time creating convincing character models that they could then use on actual racing stuff. But, these sequences rarely do any favors to the game outside of that and the novelty of them being FMVs falls off pretty fast. That said, what matters most are the races themselves, which are varied and a lot of fun. Driven to Glory is a great way to start the game, as it gives you a nice sampling of the different tracks, vehicles, and weather effects that you’ll encounter in the far more in-depth career mode, and long-term online.
"Driven to Glory is a great way to start the game, as it gives you a nice sampling of the different tracks, vehicles, and weather effects that you’ll encounter in the far more in-depth career mode, and long-term online."
It also helps you earn some cash and get your bearings – more so if you challenge yourself with less forgiving AI and functional damage. Damage itself does come at a literal cost in GRID Legends as you will lose some of your winnings for each race based on how much damage you incur. It’s rare, but you can even end up with a net loss of money after finishing an event if enough of the wrong circumstances line-up. This can further slow down an already somewhat leisurely progression system, so the game really encourages you to learn from your mistakes as fast as you can.
If the Story mode was the appetizer, then the career mode is the entre’. Here you’ll see a healthy selection of 4 careers, each unlockable after completing the prior one, and each including 8 categories with several events in each of those. Here you can use your unlocked vehicles, your various upgrades, and customizations to your advantage and really get into the meat of the game. In fact, if you can’t afford a certain vehicle yet, you can get it loaned to you early in exchange for a chunk of your winnings as long as it’s been unlocked. As you get more familiar with how different settings feel and different upgrades change your experience, the core of GRID Legends reveals itself as a satisfying, sensitive, and above all – rewarding racing game. Feeling different tires regain traction after overshooting a drift, outsmarting an aggressive opponent after they’ve blocked your previous passing attempts, and ultimately sailing into first place once you’ve truly mastered any given track all supply the exact right amount of dopamine that make you feel like you earned it while simultaneously challenging you to do better next time.
The flashback function can also help in a pinch to rewind certain mistakes, but I recommend using that sparingly as the satisfaction of recovering from an error will always feel better than pretending it didn’t happen. Some races in the career mode can get a little long in the tooth, especially the ones that are longer than 3 laps given that, while the tracks themselves are nicely varied from one another, there isn’t much variety within any given track. Career events are playable offline or in a public or private online match with cross-play which is a nice touch, and ensures that you can play them any way you want. On top of that is a rather flexible race creator that doesn’t quite get to Dirt 5 levels of depth, but it does come close. Any track, any time of day, sunshine, rain, snow, ramps, and boost gates can all be mixed and matched to your heart’s content and saved as a preset that you can revisit later.
"If the Story mode was the appetizer, then the career mode is the entre’. "
Across all modes, GRID’s nemesis system also makes a return where you can create enemies after one too many instances of contact who will then make more of an effort to bash into you throughout the race. In theory, this should introduce another level of tension into the races, but in my experience, nemesis rarely added up to much more than a minor nuisance regardless of difficulty settings. But it’s a good idea nonetheless, and does add a little bit of flavor – as do the ramps and boost gates that are present in some events, and the grittier, worn in presentation of the vehicles that actually make them look like the seasoned purveyors of speed and danger that they should.
Something that also colors GRID Legends a bit is the excellent soundtrack. The tracklist is populated with a handful of absolutely epic tracks that combine sweeping orchestral melodies with some tightly-produced drums and electric guitar underneath, and makes races feel like scenes from high-budget hollywood action movies. Dare I say, it even gave me Split/Second vibes much of the time. Bafflingly though, the soundtrack is seemingly missing from the custom races and the career mode, so it only seems to exist in the story mode. This is a massive shame considering that most of GRID’s core audience will undoubtedly be spending the majority of their time with the game outside of that mode. It also doesn’t help the little bit of monotony that can set in during some of the longer career events when they inexplicably lack any sort of background music. A way to turn the music on outside of story mode is a no-brainer for any upcoming patches, I think.
Speaking of things that need to be implemented, I was also puzzled to find the 120hz mode disabled and grayed out for me despite the same function working just fine for me on other games with the same PS5 and same TV. Performance of the game is generally good on PS5 though. HDR colors and sharp textures across the board come together in a pleasing way for objects you whiz by on the tracks, as well as the vehicles themselves which look and sound great all around. With that, and no major frame-dips or crashes to report, I’d say the graphics and performance of the game is an above average package overall that will be made even better if they manage to sort out the 120 frames performance mode issue.
"omething that also colors GRID Legends a bit is the excellent soundtrack. Bafflingly though, the soundtrack is seemingly missing from the custom races and the career mode, so it only seems to exist in the story mode."
GRID Legends will almost certainly bring a smile to the face of any fan of the series as it mostly feels like an improvement over the already great game from 2019. The sheer amount of tracks, vehicle types with their own handling to master, and customization options are enough to make it a worthy successor to its predecessor. But the bonuses of the nemesis system returning, the outstanding soundtrack, and the flexible cross-play online functionality make it a great racing game in a more macro sense, too. While it misses an opportunity to really connect with a more original story mode and fails to fully leverage some of its more unique characteristics, it still provides a rewarding and adaptable racing game that burns up the track in the areas that matter most.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Plenty of content; Lots of customization; Good performance; Fun racing.
An underutilized soundtrack; Near-pointless story; Somewhat slow progression.