One of my biggest video game pet peeves is when A.I. is smarter than me. I’m a fallible human being who is bound to make mistakes any time I play a game. Bots, on the other hand, are computer-controlled players that quite literally understand a game inside and out. Whenever I see one easily pull off a move that I’m struggling with, it feels like there’s an unfair advantage. How can I compete with a machine?
That’s one reason why I’m excited about Grid Legends. I went hands-on with Codemasters’ upcoming racing game and came away most impressed with the game’s approach to A.I. The computer-controlled drivers don’t feel like mindless machines; they’re some of the most human bots I’ve ever seen.
For the demo, Codemasters put together 12 curated racing events that showed off the game’s car classes and modes. I tried a few basic circuits with a variety of cars, blew past semitrucks in multiclass races, and handily lost a few rounds of Elimination (so much time spent playing Forza Horizon 5 and I still can’t drive). Races were as fast and tense as you would expect from Codemasters, with 22 cars roaring around tracks.
But what made those races so special was my A.I. competitors. Codemasters has put a lot of effort into making sure its robotic drivers feel real. That meant infusing them with the gift (or curse, really) of human error. Grid Legends’ newly tweaked A.I. choreographer makes it feel like I’m battling real players online. My opponents don’t handle every turn perfectly, making it impossible for me to catch up. They screw up, almost as much as me (almost).
In one race, I’m near the head of the pack tailing a driver who’s been in first the entire race. Suddenly, they take a turn too hard and totally spin out, whizzing past me sideways as I race ahead. In another standout moment, I don’t quite notice that an A.I. driver has gotten turned around on the track. They’re sitting in the middle of the road pointed in the wrong direction. I swerved to avoid the car, sending me in a tailspin. But I’m not the only one. A few competitors have the same instinct, and now I’m in the center of a four car pileup.
It’s not just driver behavior that makes races feel more human. Bots can also run into unfortunate car troubles. In one race, I notice a giant plume of smoke ahead of me. As I get closer, I realize one of my opponents has lost a wheel and is now skidding down the road on a rim. Bum luck!
Those changes to the choreographer work hand in hand with Codemasters’ excellent Rivals system, which returns here. Like the previous Grid game, players can make enemies during a race by getting too aggressive with A.I. drivers. In my first race, I slam into another driver while trying to drift by them. The game informs me that they’ve become my rival and suddenly they are hell-bent on making sure I don’t win. The driver gets more aggressive with me, trying to box me out on turns or slam into me so I spin out of control.
Because I’m an absolute jerk, nearly half of my competitors hate me by the time I hit event five (rivalries carry over between races, cooling down after a few events). I was in a nightmare race of my own design as cars seemingly worked together to send me flying off the track. I was being trolled by bots and I loved it.
That grudge-holding experience is one I’m familiar with in online games with players. If someone picks on me too many times in a game, I’m not above throwing an entire round so I can get back at them. I’ll happily lose a round of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout if it means eliminating a player who keeps grabbing me. Grid Legends gives its drivers that same vindictive edge.
For better or worse, I can see myself in Grid Legends’ bots. I see them mess up in ways that I do. I watch them get into accidents that would probably have me swearing up a storm. And they give me a taste of my own medicine when I push them too far. I didn’t quite get the hang of driving by the end of my time with Grid Legends, but my opponents hadn’t either. For once, I feel like I’m on equal footing with my virtual opponents (OK, I’m still worse).
Grid Legends launches on February 25 for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
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