Grid Legends' Nemesis system is giving me big Burnout 3: Takedown vibes

Big in 2022 Grid Legends
(Image credit: EA)

The first time I was taken out of a race by an AI driver in Grid Legends, I was livid. Admittedly, it was a situation created by my inclination towards driving dangerously, but how was I supposed to know there would be consequences for my own actions? Let's be honest, racing games have become fairly passive in the two decades since Burnout turned twisted metal into a central mechanic, a cathartic series for those who prefer to use other vehicles as braking guide rather than follow cleanly-cut racing lines

Forza Horizon has its Drivatar tech – which supposedly trains the artificial intelligence to mimic the driving tendencies of the wider Forza community – but rarely does it reflect how hazardously players typically race online. And as much as I love them, Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport actively penalise you for subverting the rules of the road. But in Grid Legends, driving erratically organically generates unique motorsport stories. It's as infuriating as it is awesome. 

AI gets real

Grid Legends

(Image credit: EA)
Key Info

Grid Legends

(Image credit: EA)

Game Grid Legends
Publisher EA
Platforms PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Release February 25, 2022

"We want to blur the line between AI and human drivers," says Chris Smith, creative director of Grid Legends. "So each AI driver has a unique personality tuning. We also have our choreographer, which adds human randomness to our AI; this allows them to make mistakes, crash, or experience mechanical failures. We want all races to feel unique."

Jump behind the wheel of one of Grid Legends' 130 vehicles (split across nine categories) and it doesn't take long for aggression to rear-end on-track professionalism. Developer Codemasters is encouraging pack racing in Grid Legends, propelling drivers out of single-file lines and into messy wars of attrition through corners. It isn't all that surprising to see cars colliding with one another into chokepoints, or vehicles riding bumper-to-bumper through straights at absurd speeds. 

You'd expect this type of behaviour online, but seeing it offline is kind of fun too. You never know what's going to happen, particularly as you begin ramping up the difficulty and removing the guides. Seeing nuances in the AI patterns between races – each driver is equipped with their own name and allegiances, allowing you to track them persistently between events – is particularly enjoyable, especially once the carnage begins. "Because each AI is tuned differently," Smith continues, "the drivers will be better in some car classes than they are in others; they won't be consistent across all races." 

What is consistent, however, is the AI's ability to hold a grudge. 2019's Grid may not have landed Codemasters the podium finish it was expecting, owing to its inconsistent physics system and rather mundane career mode, but its first pass at the Nemesis system was a genuine delight. It's been expanded for Grid Legends, and it could be the component that helps this racing game compete in the face of such stiff competition in the scale of Forza Horizon 5 and the upcoming spectacle of Gran Turismo 7

"Players can create on-track relationships as friends, rivals, nemeses," says Smith, who explains that these will now persist between offline and online races. "We track multiple social connections with each player, which are tagged in races so that you can continue these rivalries." As for how the Nemesis system works? It's a simple-sounding concept with a big material impact on the cadence of races. "If you tend to use other cars as braking devices to get around corners, eventually other drivers will get fed up with you… and this changes the AI's behavior."

Get wrecked

Grid Legends

(Image credit: EA)

Now we can lap back around to my story. I was racing on one of the 22 tracks that are expected to launch alongside Grid Legends (with more to come, thanks to the live service structure behind it all) and began racing aggressively. The handling model has been revised for Grid Legends, giving you more nuanced control over vehicles, and was soon put to good use swerving around a congested pack of cars trading paint chips, and drifting around corners onto a straight. Overconfidence in acceleration soon leads me into the path of a couple of AI racers, two of whom bear the brunt of me treating supercars like dodgems.  

The UI pings a warning: the AI is pissed off. With a few more corners under my belt and a few more sideswipes for good measure, the UI pings again: now the AI is really pissed off. The mini-map indicates how close marked friendlies and rivals are to catching you and, as it should happen, it's an incredibly useful metric. Drivers you have wronged will essentially accelerate aggression gradually. It might start by tweaking your bumper while you're moving at 200mph, jolting the handling beneath your fingertips, or taking a corner so closely that it gives you very little room for error. 

Or it will straight up run you off the road. I'd aggrieved one AI racer so much that they didn't attempt to force me wide on a corner, but instead decided to essentially take me out of the race entirely – a T-bone 'accident' that sent my crumpled chassis into a spin that ended with a concrete collision. I was so shocked that I didn't even attempt to reverse out of it, instead taking a moment to curse out the driver and survey the twisted wreckage of my vehicle. A beautiful mess.

Grid Legends doesn't feature Burnout 3-style Impact Time, but I certainly witnessed this takedown in slow motion. Truth be told, had EA allowed Burnout to survive past Paradise you have to wonder whether Criterion Games would have landed on a similar system. By the time the next race rolled around, I could see that many of the AI were still angry with me. You could almost hear it in the ferocity of their engines revving at the starting block. I'd like to say that the next event went a little better for me, that I had learnt some kind of lesson, but the second I spotted the driver that wrecked me in the last race I couldn't help but give it back as good as I got it. Grid Legends is set to launch on February 25, 2022, look out for me – I'll be the player making an enemy of everyone around me. 

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Josh West
UK Managing Editor, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the UK Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. He has over 10 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.