GRID Legends Driven to Glory Story Preview
If the last few years of Formula 1 has taught us anything, it’s that the off-track antics, the rivalries, the politics, and scandals can provide just as much entertainment as the racing on the track. Captured brilliantly by Netflix’s Drive to Survive series (albeit with a few dramatic embellishments), it makes you wonder, why don’t more racing games have stories?
Codemasters is trying to capture that magic, creating story modes like the Breaking Point narrative found in F1 2021 last year, and now Driven to Glory in GRID Legends. It’s a great idea, giving newcomers something to play as they get used to racing games, while old hands might like to break up the typical grind of completing championship after championship in a career mode.
What really stands out for Driven to Glory is that Codemasters is putting real actors in front of real cameras for documentary-style interviews that mimic Netflix’s Drive to Survive series. It’s not just putting a good cast of actors into interview booths, but also integrates faux-candid moments from a season of the fictional GRID World Series championship, with shots on the pit wall, in the garage, pit lane, and so on. These are cooked up using the same virtual production methods as were pioneered in The Mandalorian, with huge digital screens around the set projecting 3D rendered backgrounds, instead of leaning on green screens and post-production to build out the environments.
The acting and scripting are a million miles away from famously cheesy Red Alert FMV cutscenes, and the overall effect works rather well. It’s certainly a step down from what The Mandalorian is able to achieve, and it’s quite jarring to jump from real actors staring at screens on a pit wall to in-engine cars spinning around and crashing.
So what of the story? Driven to Glory starts with a great big crash. A huge incident that wipes out half the field of LMP prototype cars and drops you into a damaged car that has a real shot to sprint to the finish and win the race. It’s a sensational incident that would see the race red-flagged in the real world (then again, it’s the final lap of a championship decider, so maybe not) and has you racing through an equally sensational road circuit that weaves its way through serene mountains.
Rewind to the start of the season and Seneca is in real trouble. While they have one steady hand on the wheel in the veteran racer NAME, the second seat is suffering with too much inconsistent driving, putting real pressure on team principle NAME. So… time to draft a new rookie driver out of seemingly nowhere. Enter Driver 22, a faceless rookie that gets to prove themselves in a couple of races in lower tiers and then step up to the World Series.
As for the racing itself? It’s as action-packed as it was in the 2019 series reboot, if not more so. Just as in that game, Codemasters is trying to capture the kinds of racing incidents and fallibility of real racers, condensing it into the short 5-10 minute races that work best for racing games. As you scrap and scrape your way up the pecking order, bumping into an opponent can stir them up into becoming your Nemesis for the rest of that race. That AI will go further out of their way to give you a hard time, pushing you deep on a corner if you try to overtake around the outside, willing to risk contact themselves, instead of being more compliant like the rest of the AI. It basically turns them into Max Verstappen for a bit.
AI drivers can also suffer from random incidents, making mistakes that see them spinning out through corners, getting involved in crashes that can force you to dodge through them as you pass the wrecks, and suffering from damage that causes them to retire. As in the last game, it can feel a bit forced at times but adds to the Hollywood atmosphere.
The locations that you race through are just as full of spectacle… sometimes. The opening six races of Driven to Glory have you sprinting through the streets of London and Moscow – two new locations for the series – but then there’s a race through an industrial zone. None of the tracks here would make the grade in an FIA-sanctioned racing series. There’s spectators cheering from behind low barricades, there’s sections that weave through exposed HGV trailers, there’s even piles of cardboard boxes on the apexes of some corners! GRID pitches this as the pinnacle of motorsport, but outside of the vehicles you’re racing, it often feels more like illegal underground street racing.
It’s fun, daft excess that’s taken even further by the new additions and returning elements from previous games. Elimination racing makes its return, with the last-placed racer knocked out at set intervals, forcing you to scramble for position if you find yourself about to be removed from the race. There’s also new Stadium Trucks, vehicles with some of the longest suspension travel I can imagine. Their events even add ramps to circuits.
Personally, I’ve yet to get to grips with these trucks, their handling constantly throwing the vehicle’s weight to the extremes in a way that I struggle with. There’s an arcade-y bent to the racing throughout, but as I dialled up the difficulty settings and the driving assists were removed, the more typical racing vehicles and categories felt much better to handle. Still quite happy to drift, but a more enjoyable racing experience for me. Combined with popping the AI difficulty up to Legends, the on-track action and challenge better matched my narrative status as a rookie.
Maybe more racing games should have stories? Sure, Driven to Glory leans on a few racing tropes, follows the all-too-familiar underdog story of an upstart team and a rookie thrown into the spotlight, but it’s a great way of bringing players into the game, showcasing the spectacle-filled racing and the many different categories that GRID Legends offers.