Seneca? I hardly know her!
It only feels like a hot minute since Grid reinvented itself, and the series is already back again. This time, however, it is doing something different. Or at least it’s attempting to.
Grid Legends opens midway through the Grid World Series. Cars snake through tight corners when a questionable manoeuvre by Nathan McKane, the antagonist from racing team Ravenwest Motorsport, causes Yume Tanaka, Seneca Racing’s top driver, to spin out. You take the wheel of the partner Seneca Racing car amid the action. Driving through smoke and debris, you reach the finish line where you’re presented with a choice; continue the story or start your own.
By continuing the story, you’ll be cast back 16 months before the accident and begin Grid Legends’ new story mode — Driven to Glory. If you instead choose to make your own story, you’re directed to the more standard career mode.
Driven to Glory
Driven to Glory is the main focus of Grid Legends. It’s an FMV-driven story mode that follows Seneca Racing Team and their last-ditch effort at becoming Grid World Series champions. Yes, I did say FMVs. These live-action cutscenes present a documentary following Seneca Racing, complete with shaky-cam footage, interviews, and wry looks to the camera. If that sounds a bit like The Office, that’s because it’s very much like The Office, without the intentional comedy.
The story itself is about as predictable as you’d expect. Marcus Ado, the Seneca Racing team boss, asks you, Driver 22, to join the team as an outlier; a gamble to help them to victory. Seneca Racing hasn’t had much luck with their past drivers so your team takes a little time to warm to you. Throw in a cheeky bit of corruption with a sprinkling of twists that you can see from a mile off and you’ve got yourself the story.
36 events make up the story mode’s gameplay, each giving you a taste of what Grid Legends has to offer. These events tend to follow, and relate to, a previous cutscene but there’s a feeling of disconnect throughout. The story mode is nothing more than a series of standard race events tethered together by cutscenes. Some races even play out over short snippets of pre-recorded gameplay. This is to ensure that the story hits certain beats but it would be much more impactful if a scripted event mid-race caused you to crash rather than a cop-out bit of audio and gameplay saying “by the way, you crashed in this race”.
That’s not to say the story mode is an outright disaster. I appreciate the extra incentive to complete races, and there are some great performances throughout. But it feels incohesive and never quite manages to distance itself from the B movie feel that’s synonymous with video game FMVs. The writing, at times, is toe-curlingly cringey.
What else you got?
Aside from the story mode, Grid Legends also includes a more traditional career mode. The career mode features a variety of events categorised by difficulty and type. There’s a certain amount of openness to tackling the career, with a handful of events available from the get-go. But as you progress, you’ll need to unlock later events by meeting certain criteria, be it completing a previous event or levelling up a vehicle. Levelling up vehicles is simply tied to the number of miles you’ve spent driving them.
The racing events themselves are your typical affair too. There’s circuit racing, point to point, drifting, and elimination. Joining these is a ‘Multiclass’ event type, where different classes of vehicles all race together. To even the playing field a little, vehicles have staggered starting times. That means, if you’re rocking up to a race in a Mustang, you’ll have to sit and wait before you can go at it against a fleet of Minis. Fortunately, you aren’t subjected to the entire waiting period and instead roll in mid-race.
Whilst career mode is pretty much as you’d expect, the downside is that it’s laid out in a somewhat annoying way. The events are spread across various submenus so you need to keep backing in and out of them to jump between races. It’s a minor complaint but when the previous game had much better access to all the events on one screen, it does feel like a step back.
I wasn’t able to test Grid Legends online for this review but it’s reported to support up to 22 players across all the mentioned events. The hyped-up Race Creator also feeds into online play, but that’s not quite as exciting as it sounds. It’s merely a set of options to create custom racing events such as setting the number of laps, weather, vehicle class, tracks, etc. It’s nice to have, but it’s not akin to Dirt 5’s playground mode.
Behind the wheel
Grid Legends doesn’t fully commit to being a simulation racer, but instead dips its toe in, and, in turn, distances itself from being an arcade one too. Instead, Grid Legends sits within this strange middle ground. That’s not to say the racing gameplay is bad; it isn’t. But if you’re approaching the game with preconceived notions of how the vehicles will handle, it may take a little while to adjust. They generally feel a little too responsive and light on their wheels, even when tinkering with the variety of gameplay options.
Traction control, ABS, and stability control all have a 5-level slider to adjust their strength. Setting this to 0 will disable the assist entirely. You can set vehicle damage to full, or visual-only and racer AI is changeable too. Racing lines are adjustable too. Although, while playing with corners only applied, I noticed on quite a few occasions that corners didn’t have any line whatsoever. Dials, player markers, mini-maps, and… well everything within the on-screen display can be toggled on or off too. There’s a wealth of options here which is great to see.
The graphics in Grid echo that neither ‘here nor there’ state from the gameplay. When it shines, it shines, and this is, ironically, during any race where the sun’s gone to bed and it’s raining. Lights reflect in puddles, rain splashes on the camera. When racing in cockpit view it conjures up those feelings of playing Project Gotham Racing 4 for the first time. But some tracks, in certain lighting conditions, feel flat; in particular, the environments in which you’re racing – there was a moment early on when reviewing that I had to double-check I’d not downloaded the PS4 version by accident. It’s not a showcase for modern hardware, sure, but it’s far from bad-looking. The trade-off is that it runs with a silky-smooth framerate, a trade-off that benefits this type of game.
When all said and done, Grid Legends is a perfectly fine racer. If I was to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘inoffensive’. The story mode isn’t quite the success I’d hoped it would be and the rest of the game doesn’t particularly do anything noteworthy but it’s fine. At any other time, this might have been enough, but on the eve of Gran Turismo 7’s launch, I can’t help but feel that Grid Legends will be massively overshadowed and ultimately forgotten about in a couple of month’s time.