With Forza Horizon 5 and Gran Turismo 7 representing the best that racing games have to offer these days, you’d think every other racing game would pale in comparison. Or at least not put out a new installment just a few weeks later. But GRID Legends (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC) manages to hold its own, more or less, by having equally solid controls, good places to test them, and a nice variety of ways to do so.
In GRID Legends,
you get to go for a spin on the closed streets of London, Chicago, Moscow, Dubai, and other big cities. And as with basically every racing game these days, you do so in a wide variety of motor vehicles (including street legals, muscle cars, trucks, and Formula one machines) from an equally wide variety of real-world companies (Lotus, Porsche, Ford, Nissan…), while the events are, yeah, also varied, and include multi-lap circuits, point-to-point events, elimination races, and time trials. There’s even truck races with little jumps that you have to hit just right, or not at all, lest you might flip over.
GRID Legends also, like every other recent racing game, has options to adjust your ride’s automatic braking system, traction, and stability. Which, as usual, means GRID Legends can be as realistic or as forgiving as you prefer. It also, not surprisingly, has a suggested driving line, and the ability to rewind when you screw up.
In other words, GRID Legends is a pretty typical racing game.
But while GRID Legends doesn’t offer anything truly new or substantially different from every other racing game we’ve played the last few years, it still manages to be really engaging, far more than other recent racing games that were equally generic. Not only are the tracks challenging, but so is the competition, while the game’s single-player modes offer a good mix of different vehicles, conditions (weather, time of day), and event types. Which, all together, make for a rather solid racing experience.
Well, assuming — like me — you play this with all of the assists on, the damage being just cosmetic, and the competition’s skills set at a reasonable level. When played like this, GRID Legends‘ controls feel as fluid and intuitive as Forza Horizon 5‘s or DiRT 5‘s or any other really good racing game in recent memory.
Played as a sim?
No idea. I have a driver’s licence; I don’t need a game to make me feel like I’m driving a real car…even if my Camry never gets to go 120MPH on the streets of Los Angeles.
That said, GRID Legends isn’t completely generic; it does have a couple things you don’t find in every other game…though not all of them are good.
For one thing, GRID Legends has variety when it comes to the length of the events. In many racing games, the number of laps works in conjunction with the length of the tracks to make every race about the same length. You may run five laps on a short track or three on a long one. But not here; in this game, the length of the track and the number of laps are different enough from event to event that it gives them rather varied lengths.
GRID Legends also does something interesting where its single-player modes are concerned. While most racing games have a career progression or a story mode, this has both. More importantly, both are full modes, not half-size portions.
In the “Story” mode, you watch a documentary about how Marcus Ado rebuilt his Seneca Racing’s team for the 2020 season, but with you running all of the races they mention. And while it is a linear progression, after sinking so many hours into Forza Horizon 5 a few weeks ago, I actually welcomed not having to drive twenty minutes to the next race, and another five to the one after that.
On its own,
the “Story” mode gives you plenty of things to do (thirty-six to be exact). But as they used to say in infomercials, “But wait…there’s more.” As I mentioned, GRID Legends also has a separate “Career” mode, one that’s just as varied, just slightly less linear. Instead of beating one race to unlock the next, you start with the “Rookie” races, in which there are eight car-based categories, with multiple events in each. Which is why your first choice in this mode is deciding whether to race an electric car, an old school-looking race car, or a souped up vintage Volkswagen bug that looks like it was decorated by a little kid.
Now, you do, of course, have to beat events in a category to unlock other ones, and beat a bunch in one skill level’s collection to unlock the next level of difficulty. But you also have to beat certain events within a difficulty to unlock some of the other car categories.
Suffice it to say, GRID Legends‘ “Career” provides the same level of variety and challenge as the “Story” one, just with more choice and less, well, story. And no choice of difficulty; you can’t finish this mode by just playing the “Rookie” races, no more than you just jump ahead and only play the “Pro” ones.
Having two full single-player modes isn’t the only thing slightly different about GRID Legends, though. There are some small things that, well, don’t make it unique, but they are worth mentioning. Most notably, they don’t clean the track regularly. If a competitor’s car breaks down, or if you knock over a bunch of the tires they’ve set up to be a barrier, you’ll find they’re still there, blocking the road, when you come back around. Which adds a little more challenge to those later laps.
some of the atypical stuff works about as well as the lazy cleaning crew. For starters, the game tells you when another driver becomes your nemesis. Y’know, like when you slam into them and send them careening into a wall or something. But while your teammate will say, “Don’t be surprised if they’re gunning for you now,” they never do. Whether it was during the “Story” or “Career,” not once did anyone ever intentionally bump into me, or try to run me off the road, or call my mom to tell her what a bad driver I am, even when I drove so recklessly that I had multiple mortal enemies in the same race. Seems like a wasted opportunity.
Similarly, GRID Legends will, on rare occasions, set up transparent yellow walls on the track you can drive through to recharge a nitro-like speed boost. But this happens so infrequently — in so few races as well as within those rare races — that they might as well just have left this mechanic out.
There’s also an issue with GRID Legends‘s “Story” mode, though it’s not much of one: The story is boring. Told through live action videos, this mode is a fake documentary about how you, an up-and-coming driver, helped saved a professional racing team from having a bad season, with you playing every event they mention. But both this story, and the way it’s told, are — say it with me — generic.
Thankfully, the videos are easily skipped, and doing so doesn’t detract from the actual racing. If anything, it actually makes this mode better since the movies are so dull that they kill the feeling of momentum you gain from beating a race.
All of these issues,
and its generic general nature, would ordinarily spell certain doom for GRID Legends. And yet, it manages to rise above thanks to its fluid controls, twisted tracks, and variety when it comes to the kind of races you run and the types of vehicles you run them in. Which doesn’t put this on par with Forza Horizon 5 or DiRT 5 (or, from what other people have said about it, Gran Turismo 7), but it’s more than enough to make for a fun run.