Grid Legends is an accessible, multi-discipline, arcade racer with the briefest of nods toward realism in terms of physics and car handling. The game goes out of its way to ensure a smooth, easy race, even with all the driver assists switched off. While it is possible to lose control of the back end coming out of a turn, you really have to try to make it happen. All too often this means that advancing to the head of the pack will be accomplished by the end of the first or second lap (depending on the AI difficulty) leaving you to race the last few laps in peace, with the AI happily rubber-banding along behind you.
The AI drivers have been tuned to defend their racing lines quite aggressively, and will jostle, nudge, and outright slam into you to do so. Especially if you have earned their undying hatred by becoming their nemesis. Contact or overly aggressive driving on your behalf results in the AI ramping up their efforts to impede your progress, and will persist into future events long past the one race where the transgression occurs. Perhaps to balance out the strong AI, in almost every race event one or more opponents will suddenly lose control and spin out, hit a barricade, or even lose a tire. These incidents occur entirely too frequently to be believable, but it works, in an amusing way. So much so I found myself placing bets as to who might wipe out, and how.
Owing to the aforementioned lack of physics, a large number of vehicles feel rather 'floaty' and without any real sense of weight or presence on the track, aside from the exceedingly bouncy and strangely-annoying-yet-fun-to-drive stadium trucks. As such, the majority of vehicles lack the ability to transfer weight prior to cornering. This isn't entirely surprising, given the amount of leeway (and subsequent lack of punishment) given when entering a corner hard under brakes, or applying full throttle at the apex of said corner.
The AI drivers have been tuned to defend their racing lines quite aggressively, and will jostle, nudge, and outright slam into you to do so.
Opening a vehicle's tuning screen in, say, Forza (Motorsport or Horizon) for the first time, you might feel somewhat overwhelmed by the technicality and sheer quantity of adjustable aspects of your vehicle. Not to worry here though. Grid Legends presents a tuning system that's been drastically simplified. In the garage, and prior to a race, you're able to adjust the suspension, brake bias, and the gearing, via some sliders. Outside of a race, vehicle upgrades (unlocked and purchased by driving said vehicle) can boost power, acceleration, braking, and handling. Oh, and extra bonuses like increased currency.
Grid Legends contains a great selection of tracks. This wasn't obvious at first, as most of the initial racing season was spent on small, tight and generally unmemorable urban tracks. No Circuit de Monaco or Long Beach here. After reaching a certain point in the story the tracks really open up and become immensely more enjoyable, with vast sweeping turns, technical chicanes, and even some challenging mountainside switchbacks. Not every track is a winner of course, but there's sufficient variety to keep you coming back, if only to definitively conquer the mountain at Bathurst's Mount Panorama. Fantastic inclusion right there.
Netflix's Drive to Survive series is quite obviously the primary inspiration for the story mode in Grid Legends, and has been lovingly cloned with a mix of driver and crew interviews, and fly-on-the-wall 'candid' exposition scenes spread across 36
chapters. Unlike Netflix's excellent production, Grid Legends' documentary fails to engage the viewer in any meaningful way, mostly due to the ersatz racing teams and their entirely unknown owners and drivers. The hyperbolic, factitious 'drama' between the superficial characters certainly doesn't help. And thanks to the less than stellar writing, by the end of the story I didn't care who these aggressively one-dimensional people were, or the shallow motivations behind their actions.
Most annoying of all, the scripted story is completely static, and fails to reflect, highlight, or even directly reference your driving or race performance. "Team Seneca is in real trouble here". Did you not see me winning every single race? "Team Seneca is in danger of falling out of the leaderboards". I'm coming first in all my races! "Seneca is failing..." Shut the fuck up, I am awesome, Team Seneca would be screwed without me.
Not every track is a winner of course, but there's sufficient variety to keep you coming back, if only to definitively conquer the mountain at Bathurst's Mount Panorama. Fantastic inclusion right there.
Access to the various game modes is available from the start, but playing through the story does serve to grant insights into the varied disciplines and racing modes Grid Legends has to offer, albeit in a strictly structured way. The game opens up considerably afterwards. The core post-story gameplay consists of the drop-in multiplayer with around 20 AI or human opponents, some random challenges, and the robust and lengthy (compared to the story mode) career mode. This sees you advancing through ranked tiers across a large variety of vehicles and race events including time attack eliminations and point to point. It is however extremely long, and can become a chore to complete in its entirety.
The graphics are crisp and the vehicles are well rendered, and aside from the occasional pop-in on some tracks and frame-rate issues when too many cars are crowding the screen, the game runs very smoothly. There are some great lighting effects, but as pretty as the weather is, it has no bearing on your car's handling. The superb damage modeling showcases bits and pieces flying from the car during collisions, but much like the weather, the loss of body parts bears no impact on the vehicle's performance, unless you enable Terminal Damage. This is probably a good thing, because even careful driving can see you unexpectedly slamming into a line of cars failing to make a sharp turn in a timely manner, or an unavoidable collision from a nemesis that removes your rear wing.
With its mashup of career, story, multiplayer and challenge modes, Grid Legends finds itself in an ambiguous position on the shelf of racing games. It's certainly no great racing sim, and nor does it pretend to embody those hallmarks displayed by such greats as Project CARS and Assetto Corsa. The drop-in multiplayer, while seamless, doesn't afford the same thrill as racing with a convoy in the open world Forza Horizon. Nor does the career mode and admittedly large variety of tracks and locations come close to the racing perfection of Horizon's big brother Forza Motorsport.
And if it's racing with a story that you're after, The Crew and Need for Speed franchisers have you well covered with their mix of outlandish, goofy storytelling and arcade style racing. Perhaps if Legends cut the story entirely, pared down the overly long career mode, and simply focused on being a multidisciplinary arcade racing game, it might find that niche it once occupied on the shelf, back when it was simply known as TOCA.