Codemasters tends to fly under the racing radar these days, especially when compared to the big boys of the genre. The team has pumped out consistent if unremarkable racers in recent years, with the F1 games probably being the best of that bunch. GRID sits somewhere in there, and the 2019 series reboot provided a decent platform for the team to build on. However, GRID Legends falls a little bit flat, mostly because it does very little to improve 2019's solid foundations.
What Legends does add is a story mode, which does a decent job at contextualizing races. Sure, the FMV acting ain't gonna win any prizes, but I actually enjoyed the addition of story mode. It essentially pits you, a rookie driver, onto a new racing team, with the aim to work your way up and take down the biggest team in town.
Between races you'll hear about team plans, grid rivalries and even racer injuries and how they'll affect the season. None of it has much of an impact on the track mind, but it does keep you plugging away, race after race, until you complete the story.
Speaking of on the track, GRID is quick to throw you in the action. If you do opt for story mode first, you don't have to worry about your garage, as each event will provide you a suitable vehicle. Most of these are road cars modified for track use, although you'll occasionally take the wheel of Formula E cars and whack off trucks.
If you played GRID's 2019 reboot, the racing here is pretty much identical. If you didn't, this is an arcade racer through and through. We recommend toning down the assists a little (we knocked things like traction and stability control down from 5 to 3), but even then, this is a forgiving racer. You'll be able to chuck pretty much any vehicle round a corner at high speeds, and as long as you don't mash the accelerator while on the apex, you'll handle things just fine.
If you move over from story mode to 'career' mode, this plays out like the bulk of 2019's single player. There's a list of events, from rookie level to The Gauntlet, that use a variety of different vehicles across the game's mostly-city locations. It kind of works like a free-play mode but the game decides certain racing parameters, and there isn't too much incentive to keep going here. It adds 'the grind' if you just want to keep on trucking, but it's all pretty repetitive.
Talking of locations, GRID Legends does build out the 2019 reboot's paltry levels of track variety. There are a bunch of new locations this time out, with Dubai and London the standouts for new cities. We'd still like even more variety, but this is a massive improvement over the last game, and it makes longer play sessions a lot more enjoyable.
Sadly, event variety isn't quite as good. There are a few standouts, particularly elimination modes and some events that throw in speed boosts and ramps, but most of GRID Legends feels like the same circuit race over and over. We'd have loved to see the likes of speed boosts and ramps feature more, particularly in the story mode, but they're relegated to just a few events throughout the campaign.
There is a new 'Race Creator' mode featured too, but it's little more than your standard free play racing mode. The only real difference is you can pin four custom race setups to your main menu, ready to quick boot at any time. What's frustrating here is speed boosts are a Race Creator option, but you can only use them with electric vehicle events. That's a real missed opportunity to be able to create more 'fun' race setups with NOS-like boosts.
One thing we have to touch on, is difficulty. We played through the story mode on normal, and even though we toned down some of the driving assists, it was incredibly easy. You get a bit of fightback if you're aggressive enough to turn a fellow racer into your 'nemesis', but otherwise, the AI is happy to let you blitz past. There are higher difficulty modes which we dabbled with after finishing the story and they do provide a bit more challenge, so if you're a big racing game player, maybe opt for hard from the get-go.
If you do opt for a harder difficulty, you might want to check out the 'Team' tab on the main menu. Here, alongside visual customisation, there are a few skill tree-like options to give your team in-race bonuses, like better wet weather grip, extra speed boost duration and more. It's a bit hidden away, and not really necessary on normal difficulty, but the bonuses are a help nonetheless.
Multiplayer might also provide a bit more challenge, but pre-launch, the servers were obviously quiet. We'd expect that to pick up once the game is out in the wild though, and with an audience, MP could be good fun. GRID Legends features just the right amount of arcadey action that would lend itself really well to group online sessions with your mates, or randoms of course.
Performance wise, the Xbox Series X version is really solid. It's one of those titles that defaults to 120hz mode if you have that as your main display setting, so we played the game with that extra fluidity. We did revert things to 60hz as a test, but we could tell no real difference visually, so 120 it is. If you are running at 60, there's very little to tell Legends apart from its predecessor, and we do think it's about time Codemasters upgraded its engine for a new generation.
Overall, GRID Legends feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Its on-track racing is really good fun, and with the right AI and event tweaks, and a little more content, it'd be a really solid sequel to GRID 2019. As it stands, it feels very safe and lacks the personality to really stand on its own amongst the competition. It gets real close to mimicking what PGR did so well all those years ago, but something's missing. Sparks often fly out on the track, but Legends doesn't quite have the spark to make its arcade action stick.