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Grid Legends preview: Despite Codemasters’ best efforts, the series is only just staying on-track

Grid Legends tries to make things interesting, but ends up just feeling like another entry in a slowly dying segment.

It’s a particularly tough time for racing games that aren’t Forza or Gran Turismo. The old style of closed-circuit racing with a lot of recycled content, static progression, some light customisation, and standard multiplayer feels lost and outdated in today’s world.

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I’ve always worried that this mid-tier of racing games will one day vanish, and Grid Legends certainly isn’t helping me let go of that notion.

Grid Legends is Codemasters’ latest attempt to try and find a place for this style of game in a world where Forza Horizon is dragging the genre into the mainstream. Traditionally, Grid games have operated under moderate budgets – enough for satisfying handling mechanics and the usual assortment of content across mostly-known circuits. Beyond that, you couldn’t really expect much from it.

Grid Legends is in a similar vein, with the main event this time around being an FMV story that encompasses a new career mode. You’ll still find traditional and custom events – though our preview build had those turned off – but the main draw here is the Driven to Glory story mode.

The story is presented as a faux documentary that follows Seneca Racing, an up-and-coming team on a tight budget hoping to make some headway in the fictional Grid championship. You are its unproven rookie driver, picked to help the team get there.

Codemasters made a big deal about using the famed volume filming tech – as seen on The Mandalorian and other Disney+ shows – to produce believable environments for actors to perform around. It does the job here, and gives the game this ultra-glossy look you expect from an expensive TV show (though without the writing to back it up).

The other disappointing aspect is that the story is one set series of events, and does not reflect your successes or failures in any way. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been handily winning every race you’re given – no, if the narrative is about you almost scraping by and getting into the points, that’s what’s going to happen. I get that it would have been much harder to create a flowing narrative that reacts to your performance, but this disconnect makes it easy to not care about either the on-track action or the story taking shape in those scenes.

You can tell it’s mostly designed as a way to onboard new players, too, with many of those objectives being in the realm of ‘finish fifth or higher’ and other ultra-doable targets. That’s fine, of course, but the gameplay never makes you feel like the underdog the story loves to paint you as.

These sequences also can’t quite impress on their own terms. They’re not silly enough to be FMV-calibre campy, and not dramatic enough to be Drive to Survive. The rivalry teased in trailers gave me the feeling that it’ll lean into the former, but I have yet to reach that point in the story or see that reflected in what I’ve seen so far.

The on-track action remains largely the same. Legends looks about as good as 2019’s Grid reboot, which is to say: nowhere near as impressive or detailed as Forza or Gran Turismo. You’ll still see puddles with standard reflections and minimal interaction with the car body, lightly interactive physics with tyre barriers and so on. It’s still fun to run into a corner at speed and watch bits fly off, even if car damage is many steps removed from the original 2008 Grid.

The upshot of what’s fair to call outdated visuals is that you can get a really high framerate with absolutely everything maxed out. On my i7 9700K and 3080 Ti PC, it went at as high as 120fps at 4K and as low as 80.

Handling, while still retaining its slippery origins, is noticeably grippy now – almost in a nod to Forza. This makes it much easier to drive cars around a track but removes a lot of the challenge past games relied on to make them stand out from the racing pack. The campaign moves you through a series of varied tracks and racing disciplines, but it all felt samey to me.

The Nemesis system from the 2019 game returns, too, but it’s been somehow made less relevant; your nemesis will often play rough, just like they did in that game, but that’s about it. You can ask your engineer for updates on your teammate’s and rival’s position, but that was rarely useful.

I struggle to get excited about Grid Legends, even if it seems Codemasters is genuinely trying to make it interesting. But without the budget and production values of Forza, it needs more than FMV and simplified handling to attract casual players.

Grid Legends is out February 25 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

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