Whilst we don’t know many details about the upcoming latest addition to the GRID franchise, GRID Legends, one thing that has been made clear by the initial trailer is that the newest entry will have a much greater focus on storytelling than the previous games in the series.
A number of professional actors, including Ncuti Gatwa from the Netflix show Sex Education, will play the parts of the rival drivers you’ll face over the course of the game. It also means that Nathan McKane, who’s been a staple driver throughout the GRID series, will be seen and heard from for the first time.
EA and Codemasters opted to include a story mode in F1 2021 with Braking Point which was a really left-field idea for the F1 games before it had been first hinted at in F1 2019. On the surface, it would seem like it’s just as radical to make GRID much more narrative-focused, but the games have always done very subtle storytelling and in quite a natural way.
The predecessor to the GRID games was the TOCA Race Driver games and the first two in that series had a full story with cutscenes and multiple named characters. Whilst TOCA Race Driver 3 didn’t go to those lengths it did still have the CG cutscenes with the Scottish engineer Rick briefly talking about the championship you were about to race in or the car you were going to drive.
Race Driver: GRID went a step further by having no cutscenes at all but what it started off is a franchise defining rivalry with the fictional team Ravenwest.
Almost no information is given about the team or their two drivers, Nathan McKane and Rick Scott, they never appear in any cutscenes or exchange any words. Despite that, they are firmly established as the team to beat and as fearsome competitors and that’s done almost solely through increased difficulty and movie techniques.
Throughout Race Driver: GRID you compete in a variety of different championships differing in car selection and event format. At any point though you could enter an event and find that Ravenwest has shown up without any warning beforehand.
So what should be a simple championship becomes incredibly difficult to win with Ravenwest on the grid since they can lap literally several seconds faster than the rest of the competition. That makes even something even as basic as a championship with old American muscle cars turn into an epic battle since beating them without lowering the difficulty is tough to do.
It’s not uncommon for those random championships to be repeated by players since, assuming they don’t run on too easy a difficulty level, a lot of people will finish third in the standings and then they’ll redo it to win when Ravenwest aren’t there.
Outside of the random times it shows up to normal championships, there are special head to head events including the final race in the career which is a three lap race at Le Mans, one on one against Nathan McKane.
During those head to head events one of the game’s many pieces of composed music kicks in. All of those songs are high tempo, electronic, dramatic and feel like they’ve been lifted straight from a Hollywood film. Their prominence in the races with Ravenwest raises the tension massively and it makes the event much more exciting than a few lap long race against only one other competitor would normally be.
Carrying on with that movie theme is the fact that Ravenwest is very clearly designed to be the bad guys. All of its cars are painted black and grey, using the film cliche of the villains being dressed in dark colours.
Ravenwest has been a recurring part of the GRID series with even the latest game in the franchise still centring the final events in each season around them.
In GRID Autosport though the rivalry with Ravenwest was diminished slightly because it was always present in every championship, rather than a special, infrequent challenge.
It also meant they didn’t have a huge advantage over the rest of the pack although if you raced for them, which is something you can earn the right to do in GRID Autosport, then you’ll see it has more adjustability in car setups than a lot of the other teams.
What GRID Autosport tried to do though was make every team and driver into a credible opponent and one that you had a genuine rivalry with. In doing so it lost all the drama that made the first game so much more than a bog-standard racing game, but the trailer for GRID Legends is clearly trying to inject that drama back into the series and with a whole grid full of racers.
On paper that would make GRID Legends appear to be a combination of Race Driver: GRID and GRID Autosport. In very simplistic terms that’s true but neither of those games went down the route of having a pre-planned and overtly told story with professional actors involved.
Arguably even Ravenwest was superfluous to the tone of Race Driver: GRID since the in-game 24 Hours of Le Mans doesn’t feature them but is still presented in the same cinematic way.
Even in the context of the game, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the biggest events that takes place and it too has its own piece of music that starts playing in the final few minutes and is specifically designed to end at the exact same moment the race does.
So a battle for the overall win against the licensed Audi Sport team and its two drivers, Tom Kristensen and Emanuele Pirro, has as much drama as a Ravenwest battle does. The only difference is that Ravenwest clearly have a horsepower advantage over everyone whilst all of the other teams are programmed much more fairly.
We’ll have to wait until next year to see how well GRID Legends carries off its story and if it’s able to create the same level of drama and tension that the original game had.
Certainly, one thing that will help is that since GRID Legends is based around an entirely fictional championship with fictional teams and drivers, it gives the writers and developers much more freedom than a story mode in a licensed sports game would have.
Importantly though, GRID Legends is the second reboot for the franchise in as many games and it’s a bold move to make the game so narrative focused when it’s in a genre that usually doesn’t have expansive plots.
Whilst people’s opinions on most of the GRID games are generally quite mixed, the original is still much admired to this day for a number of reasons. Partly that’s because of how effectively it created a rivalry with Ravenwest despite minimal actual storytelling, so GRID Legends has got a lot to live up to.