Gran Turismo 4
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-6 iLink
Words By:

Amazingly enough it’s four years since Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec arrived on PS2 and almost single-handedly gave Sony’s console a true reason for being after a disappointing start to its life. The years have passed and we’ve been offered GTitbits (in the form of GT Concept and GT4 Prologue) to keep our appetites from chewing away our insides, but at long last here’s a proper, all-dancing, all-singing full-fat sequel.

Now for a start, we loved GT4 Prologue and thought it was great. Not a major progression from GT3 sure enough, but it was good solid game (remarkable for the budget price), and to be honest "more of the same" was perfectly fine with us anyway. Now if you played Prologue and weren’t impressed with the look or the handling then worry not, as the handling is now much tighter and feels more realistic to us (not so much understeer), the all-important sense of speed is also much greater, and the entire game feels a lot more solid and polished.

And so quickly to the track. Under advice from an obsessed colleague my first outing on GT4 was in the Arcade Mode; Calsonic R34 on the Nurburgring. How does it feel? Well basically, it’s quite simply the hairiest drive in a video game I have ever taken! The car is screaming along through the narrow super-fast twists and turns of the famous track, and it’s reacting to the undulating tarmac like you wouldn't believe. In in-car of course, and its juddering, bobbing up and down, braking is hard as you're losing traction and watching the nose dip realistically because your car isn’t glued to the ground - its amazing. Go into chase view and you can see the car moving around as the hard suspension knocks the car around as it jitters over bumps and through dips. Many of you will have experienced the Nurburgring in PGR2 on Xbox but honestly, GT4’s recreation really, really, honestly makes it look and feel like Mario Kart. Half way round the track I am having nightmares what a Le Mans car would and will be like around the circuit, and I can’t wait to find out… A quick scan of what other circuits there are to enjoy reveals some real surprises (thanks to a self-enforced GT4 details embargo); the return of some old favourites and even different versions of the same circuit from different decades. Incredible. Anyway, not sure if anyone here knows or cares, but GT4 has the full Le Mans 24hr circuit in it - here's a full list:

City Courses
1. Seoul Central
2. Tokyo Route 246
3. Hong Kong
4. Clubman Stage Route 5
5. Special Stage Route 5
6. New York
7. Seattle Circuit
8. Cote d'Azur (Monaco GP circuit)
9. Opera Paris
10. George V Paris
11. Citta di Aria
12. Costa Di Almafi

World Circuits
13. Tsukuba
14. Fuji Speedway
15. Fuji Speedway '80s
16. Fuji Speedway '90s
17. Infineon Raceway
18. Laguna Seca Raceway
19. Twin Ring Motegi Road Course
20. Twin Ring Motegi Super Speedway
21. Twin Ring Motegi West - Short Course
22. Twin Ring Motegi East - Short Course
23. Suzuka Circuit
24. Suzuka Circuit East Course
25. Suzuka Circuit West Course
26. Fuji Speedway 2005
27. Fuji Speedway 2005 GT
28. Tsukuba Circuit Wet
29. Nürburgring Nordschleife
30. Circuit de la Sarthe 1 (Le Mans 24hr Circuit)

Dirt & Snow
31. Cathedral Rocks Trail 2
32. Cathedral Rocks Trail 1
33. Tahiti Maze
34. Grand Canyon
35. Ice Arena
36. Chamonix
37. Swiss Alps

Original Circuits
38. High Speed Ring
39. MidField Raceway
40. Grand Valley East Section
41. Grand Valley Speedway
42. Deep Forest Raceway
43. Trial Mountain
44. El Capitan
45. Autumn Ring Mini
46. Autumn Ring
47. Apricot Hill

Driving Park
48. Test course
49. Gymkhana course
50. Kashiwa
51. Beginner

Power & Speed
52. Las Vegas Drag Strip

On to the proper Gran Turismo mode, and a lengthy tour around the huge number of manufacturers show me that the cars are as gorgeous as ever (5,000+ polygons per vehicle), and in some events open-topped cars and convertibles now have an animated driver, who really looks like he’s driving the car. The tracks and scenery are epic and varied; from the streets of New York & Hong Kong to beautiful backdrops like the Grand Canyon or El Capitan that seem to go on for ever into the distance, they're drawn crisply and clearly and with masses of detail – some of the textures are incredible, and look like they could only be done on Xbox - far too detailed for this ageing machine, Polyphony really have wrung every last drop of processing power from the PS2. No other driving game has provided such convincing or appealing places to race, and as ever, the race replays are possibly the highlight of the game, with perfectly placed cameras that capture all the eye candy and make sure you get to see it all (you can fast forward replays to the bit you want to see now too).

Manufacturer’s List
You have to be kidding – I’m not typing that lot out – safe to say that just about the only desirables not in the game are still Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis, although a selection of modded Porches again sneak in under the RUF brand name.

On the downside, yep, the racing is still a bit "on rails". The AI sucks (as it always has done in GT games) and fails to convince you that you’re actually racing against anything other than a dumb drone that has to be somewhere at a certain point in time – they barge you out of the way, rarely try to pass each other and do nothing to avoid collisions. When racing though, as mentioned previously, the sensation of speed is much better than before (even in “shopping” cars), the slightly superior speed of the game/frame rate has really helped this, the game seems more enjoyable from the off than GT3, and the roof-cam gives an excellent raised view with which to learn new circuits, even for first-person sticklers like me.

Gameplay-wise there isn't a lot in the way of innovation going on here from previous incarnations. But this is car role play at it's finest, with no real difference to the stats of Strength, Intelligence, Stamina, Mana and other gobbledegook found in all RPGs. But few RPG's ever look or sound this consistently good. And you feel more like a real character sitting in one of these cars flying at 200 mph than you ever will having endless conversations with “Torvik Ironshite of Dormor”...

Lovers of the license tests will be in heaven here – there are 80! (each with Bronze, Silver & Gold rankings) and a “Mission Mode” that plays just like a whole load more tests. So plenty of meat for the GTHead (and we count ourselves amongst them) to get tucked into, but honestly, couldn’t they have thought of something new or more varied? - we just can’t see the point of them at all – they just seem to be a way of making the game seem bigger and harder - the Kudos challenges of PGR2 worked much better and were at least enjoyable, but - 10 minutes to get a bronze on the Nurburgring? – A fair enough challenge maybe, but one little mistake at 9minutes 55 seconds sees you failing and having to go back again... And that’s not fun in anyone’s book - unnecessary torture of dedicated fans is what it is. So unless you’re of a certain mindset, the licenses are a tad on the boring side, but do actually teach you the racing lines and how to take certain types of corner perfectly.

The racing is definitely more technical than say TOCA Race Driver 2 or PGR2, but the races themselves also never feel as much fun, and apart from a few obvious exceptions the driving never feels as fast or as edge of the seat as some of the best competition. Some driving errors are heavily punished with sand traps that bog you down more than before or time penalties that cut the power to your engine, and then at other points arcade-style "wall-riding" is a positive advantage - it all boils down to GT still being a strange mixture of sim and arcade. Yes, the handling is improved but collisions with other cars still don’t feel right, and there’s still no indication of body damage (heavy impacts are accompanied by a nice jarring effect though). So at its best GT4 looks and feels like the best driving game ever, at its worst the whole thing feels a turbocharged version of Gran Turismo that’s no more than a repetitive chase to gain cash to improve your car to gain more cash to by another car to gain more cash to increase the car's power… etc. etc. etc.

GT4 is the only one that genuinely does it this way - the race isn't actually all that important, your car is. The winnings that mean you can buy the myriad tune up parts for the car to make it better are what matters – or sod tuning up your old heap, go buy another new baby and love that one till the next one comes along. Your knowledge and automotive management, buying and selling is your strength. Your anal knowledge of the twists and turns of the countless tracks is your edge. Bizarrely enough for a driving game, at times the driving is secondary. The race doesn't matter. If you have bought the right car or spent your money wisely enough in the garage you will win – much like real motorsport, if the car is good enough, even an idiot can win in it - chucking every engine/gearbox/drive train upgrade on and tearing up the opposition is fun, but if you want close overtaking you just add a few upgrades at a time – if you want close races you often have to govern your spending in GT4, the same way you always have in the GT series. Do this and you’ll have some very exciting races, battling off cars on the last turn and winning by a bumper’s length…

Some really neat new additions are the Photo Mode and Photo Travel. The Photo Mode is kind of incredible when you think about it: You can take any car you’ve unlocked for a drive on any unlocked track and then pause a replay at any point, panning, scrolling, zooming and focusing the viewfinder anywhere you want. Photo Travel allows you to pose your car like a supermodel in various pretty or spectacular locations around the world. The results are incredible to look at - they can be rendered out at 1200x960 which is perfect for desktops - take a pic in the game, save it to USB pen drive, connect to PC… And heyho! - And to think that certain recent racers couldn't even manage a replay mode...

Another addition is the B-Spec team manager mode. This allows you to watch your car race from the pit lane, issue orders on how to race (up the pace, overtake etc.). This is great for the endurance races (that often saw me fall asleep or even use a rubber band to hold the throttle down in GT3), and you can even take turns with the B-Spec mode and change over at pit stops, or watch the race from a map view and even speed the proceedings up to x3. B-Spec rarely works in shorter races though, unless your car is a complete monster that totally outclasses the opposition – the problem here being that commands rarely seem to have an immediate effect, and the car is governed by the same dopey AI routines as the opposition, and so consequently doesn’t run half as well as it does when you're driving it. It's almost like PD realized no one but the most dedicated nutters would be bothered to do all the Endurance races and so included a mode which basically makes the game play itself for you...

Happily we found that to make up for the PS2 not having the Xbox’s custom soundtrack option they shoved a helluva lot of music on the playlist (100 rock/techno & classical choonz from the likes of Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, Papa Roach, Franz Ferdinand, Jimmy Eat World, Snow Patrol, The Bravery and Queens of the Stone Age) so you can pick and choose (or turn the lot off and listen to the mostly improved engine noises.

The GT games have always been a bit like a car-lovers version of a virtual train set, and GT4 is a Hornby Deluxe super glossy all weather anorak with sexy toggles on rails. Understand? Unless you love exhaust fumes and washing your car thrice weekly probably not.

And that's why to so many people it's a truly great game whilst to others it isn't even a game at all. Sometimes the repetitiveness of it all will numb your brain, and then you’ll come sliding out of a fast bend, opposite lock on, feathering the throttle under perfect control and you’ll be back in love. GT4 shows its ageing roots because of the lack of body damage, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen years ago - Polyphony are running out of excuses on this one. The time penalties for cowboy driving are a neat, if slightly flawed idea that at least try to make you drive with care. But after all talk, how many racers do you leave behind after a week of play? Loads. GT4 smells of gorgeous leather interior daily, weekly, monthly, and probably will do until GT5 on PS3 – and what a truly amazing prospect that is.

Best Bits

- 720!? Cars….
- Always looks gorgeous.
- Improved handling.
- Those replays.
- The photo mode.
Worst Bits

- It’s more a CarPG or PokeLeMans than a real racer, and fails to hide the fact very well.
- Dumb AI acts just like the Playstation original, and the lack of grip with bog standard tyres is ridiculously low.
- The quest for Golds in the tests could drive you mental.
- No online racing.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2005