After brief pit stops with a pair of F1 and Dirt 5 games, developer Codemasters returns to one of their greatest feats with Grid Legends.
The first entry in the series since Grid in 2019, Legends takes the stage of an industry dominated by Forza and Gran Turismo in hopes of grabbing attention with a deep, narrative story mode and some innovative features to go along with the fun races. .
It’s no easy task, but Legends offers enough for solo players and others at the top to control their own niche and stand out from the pack.
While the series has oscillated between simulation and otherwise in the past, Legends leans into the arcade feel like its predecessor.
The result is arcade-style sliding action, albeit a bit stickier than Grid. But getting off a track isn’t always a major ordeal, and contact with other riders is almost encouraged, as it can help you get around a tough turn.
It offers a fun and responsive time on a variety of tracks with very different vehicles. There’s the typical Forza-style guideline for assisting with braking (editable in menus alongside many other assists), but also the understanding that experimentation and risk is the key to victory. The game rewards drifting, drawing, and the usual arcade-style moves.
It would seem smart for Legends to go the arcade route as well, because some of the ideas it allows are awesome. The best example is boost gates. If players can match a few, they get a boost. But they’re way off the necessary path, so that’s a big gamble. Knock on doors and make a profit, but things could quickly spiral out of control if you fail.
Grid (2019) has also worked hard to implement a sense of randomness. The AI pilots are not simply elements accompanying the player to the finish line. They each have their own personality and behavior that is responsive to other drivers, the chief player among them.
The Nemesis system returns, and while it doesn’t seem to have changed much since 2019, it’s still fun. By slamming into an AI driver, that opponent will be looking to swap paint again, whether it’s downright slamming, slamming on the brakes in front, or otherwise.
This type of rivalry, while not necessarily sparked by more nuanced maneuvers besides noticeable contact, can span multiple runs, not just one. Seems a bit dated now that it’s been done before, but it’s better than nothing.
Different classes of vehicles do indeed feel particularly distinct. Still, within these classifications everything feels a bit the same, although it’s hard to complain too much with the game featuring 48 different car classes.
Written another way, Legends slots meet expectations in most areas of gameplay. That’s not a bad thing, but it relies on its surrounding features to really stand out.
Graphics and presentation
It’s a similar story for the immersive elements that come with the gameplay. Legends looks good standing still or in motion, and the sound design is top-notch, whether it’s voiceovers or distinct sounds of engines, squealing tires or banging impacts between vehicles.
The greatest expected hits are here. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the juggernaut in a list of remarkable and colorful places.
The San Francisco street tracks especially emphasize that this is a next-gen racer. Spectators dot the sidelines, and the roar of crowds and speakers comes and goes depending on a player’s position on the track. Beautiful views also paint the backdrop for most locations, such as the towering landmarks of Paris or London.
A notable turning point for the game’s visuals, and in particular the lighting scheme, is a night track in which drivers run through consistent pale ovals from the lights above.
While Legends doesn’t look bad at all, it’s starting to pale in comparison to some of its contemporaries. Every game, whether Forza or otherwise, has evolved towards the level of vehicle damage that players seem to be looking for these days, for example. Legends does some of that, but it’s the favorite of days gone by.
Still, Legends vehicles look good. The real visual treat are the events of the tracks themselves and the dynamic weather. Storms look good, but so does trying to battle colorful lens flare on a sunny day, which realistically disappears behind buildings or passing under bridges.
Perhaps the highlight is how beautiful everything is in the rain, with slippery pavement or, leaning over in first-person mode, the raindrops hitting the windshields. Speaking of which perspective, the cockpit itself is, as expected, a treat to take in that adds to the immersion.
Driven to Glory, Esports and more
Driven to Glory is the biggest talking point around Legends.
Inspired by the Netflix documentary Formula 1: drive to survivethe narrative-driven story focuses on Seneca Racing and the rise of the team.
It hits on the expected tropes, but kudos to the creators for really leaning into the documentary style. Even the opening cutscene blends into post-event interview segments with multiple riders getting their thoughts on what happened. Then it moves to the track itself, where players take control following these events to continue.
There is sometimes a bit of a lag between telling the story and getting results on track. No matter how a player seems to finish, even if it’s a win, the driver and team are still positioned as the underdogs. It’s also hard to accept that underdog status when a race goal might just be to finish in the top three.
But the mix of presentation styles, heartfelt performances, and a fun overarching narrative over the course of a lengthy campaign are worth a look. It may not have the endless checklist of things to do like some open-world racers, but it’s unique enough to warrant a review. And honestly, the documentary style with real actors is something annual sports games might want to learn for their story modes.
Like most racers, Legends has a range of other modes and options. There’s a traditional, multiplayer career mode with functional lobbies, as well as garage and team sections. The former is exactly what gamers have come to expect from racing games, while the latter is a renewal of Grid’s must-have feature.
As in 2019, getting into the thick of it to tweak an entire team (not just vehicles, for once), is a little RPG-lite mechanic that only deepens the immersion. Players can upgrade their teammates and garage mechanics above things like managing team sponsorships. Even though the mechanical skill tree breaks down into things as simple as “upgrades are x percent cheaper” or “prices are increased by x percent”, it’s a nice system to have for those who want to dive deeper.
One particular mode that stands out again is Elimination, which is exactly what it sounds like. Trying to stay ahead of the cutoff point, and not just ride around hoping for a checkered flag, creates tension throughout the race that other modes typically don’t match.
Creating races allows players to control the weather, time of day, and even boost gates and jumps. Given the wealth of vehicle classes and customization options, it should be interesting to see which most popular modes and races end up making it online.
Elsewhere on the multiplayer front, it’s nice to have the option to join a friend’s live event through a skip feature. Players can take control of an AI in the race instead of just waiting in a lobby.
Overall progression uses a standard credit system. Earn them, unlock more cars. That, or use a lending system to borrow cars for an online match at potentially reduced reward rates. Anyway, the progression system, like many things, seems fair.
On the esports front, Legends likely won’t be the main home for sim-only gamers. There’s enough in gameplay and core features like server browsers and matchmaking to make it work.
But Legends will make its way onto the esports front with a more diverse crowd of all skill sets to match its gameplay. That could easily mean a lot of parentheses, tournaments, and long-term broadcast resistance despite fierce competition from the usual suspects. Crossplay will also be a major factor.
Nowadays, even after the arrival of the next generation, it seems that there are very few things guaranteed in the game.
Codemasters making a superb runner is always one of them.
As expected, Legends is a brilliant mix of arcade and simulation that should appeal to as wide an audience as possible. While other racers have made open worlds or shameless simulation experiences their thing, Legends excels at everything the player wants it to be, which may be the highest praise of all.
While running or presenting will seem like well-honed ground at this point for some players, it’s done so well that it’s hard to complain, and Lead to glory is a feat that sports games should seek to emulate, and quickly.