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GTR: The Ultimate Racing Game

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Atari / THQ
Developer: SimBin

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PC Preview - 'GTR: The Ultimate Racing Game'

by Paul Reith on Dec. 16, 2004 @ 1:56 a.m. PST

The game is based on the FIA GT Championship racing series and GTR includes all of the cars and drivers from the season of 2003 as well as the prestigious 24 Hours of Spa race. Developed and tested by the FIA GT drivers utilizing actual racing telemetry data from the featured teams, GTR will deliver the most realistic driving experience the world has seen to date.

Genre: Racing
Publisher: TBA
Developer: SimBin
Release Date: TBA

GTR is on its way. In case you haven't noticed, those pesky Europeans are invading the U.S. again. Before you read yet another rant about a driving game and how great or terrible it is, just take a moment to explore this scenario.

Picture it: you just won the lottery and you want to do something really cool with the remaining $1.2 million your friends and family forgot to beg off you. As you corner hard in your new Dodge Viper, barely missing the guard rail separating you and a mountain cliff, you wonder what to spend the money on. Suddenly, the idea strikes you in a blinding flash of the obvious – someone is going to create a driving game for you! Without all the constraints of a normal video game company, who would you hire to develop a driving game? How about a real professional driver?

Save your cash and look for the release of GTR. That's right; Swedish championship driver Henrik Roos is the CEO of SimBin. This developer, with the help of some true enthusiasts at Producer 10tacle Studios, strive to set the standard for realism in racing on the PC. GTR makes this claim, but we have seen some other "realistic" driving games in the past, only to find that you win by playing bumper pool with invulnerable cars down a mountain course. To those games, we've said sorry, Charlie, but pretty isn't real, and a Honda Civic can't always be tricked out to beat every other car. With all past bitterness aside, how does GTR respond?

Beginning with track layout, replication of the true environment is an evident priority. From the far-off fences to the dirt and rough grass near the track, any deviances from the real track are difficult to notice. Tracks carefully studied and recreated in high detail are common in racing games today, but quality dynamic surfaces are woefully lacking. To clarify, this goes beyond a track that just shows skid marks when you can't handle the car. Quality dynamics would include the presence of dirt, rubber, and the debris left over from the six-car crash in lap 26. GTR uses Live Track technology to achieve this, evolving the track over the course of a race to mimic real response to racing pressure. With the track environment dynamic, a welcome addition would be inclusion of dynamic tires into the game. Real tires need to be at the right temperature, exactly the reason you see the pros weaving side-to-side during a yellow flag to keep the tires warm. Can GTR handle this? Yes, but we'll get into the exact how's and why's later.

We don't really need to touch much more on the overall environment, except to say that even the weather cycles during races to change track temperature and the whole driving experience. If you want to see how good GTR is, just take a look at the screenshots of the game and let them speak for themselves.

With a top-notch environment, the cars had better look spectacular, and GTR really tries to impress. With over 70 cars, GTR counts 27 licensed GT cars and 33 licensed NGT cars to present a field of competitors that are able to look and definitely react like the real thing. These cars aren't just modeled for their paint job because GTR cars are programmed to handle like the real machine, not how some programmer feels a certain car should operate. GTR is a European-developed game, so we are pleased to find a lineup of cars dominated by European automakers, bringing a respite from the recent proliferation of games dominated by Asian models.

The cars are detailed beyond expectation, both inside and out. Damage shows up fairly accurately, but the real view is from inside the cockpit. Slide inside one of GTR's machine, and you will find a realistic environment surrounding you just like a car on the circuit might, and if the female driver who got out left the seat too far forward, go ahead and adjust it to your liking. We're not kidding – these cars really do have adjustable seats to let you get comfortable.

Adjustable seats are pretty cool, but without more interaction, they are pretty worthless. GTR introduces a camera angle that responds to your movements, looking left when you look left, etc. Achieved through integration with the TrackIR system, the electronic eye monitors your head movements through a reflective strip stuck on your hat – but you could always just stick it on your forehead and give friends a chance to laugh at you. The responsiveness really is uncanny at first, but overcompensation subsides within your first three-hour race.

A three-hour race! Come on, get real. No kidding, GTR is designed to mimic real life right down to the duration of the race. But don't worry if you are driving in one of these races or the FIA GT Spa race that lasts 24 hours, as your AI racing buddy will take over when you have to use the restroom. The AI assistant is no replacement for human skills, as we thought the stand-in didn't pay much attention to the gauges. True performance of a driver is measured by many things, but one of the most important parts of the race is just keeping the car running to make it to the finish line. The GTR dashboard displays a great deal of information, from oil pressure to tire temperature, where you can see the results of weaving under a yellow flag to keep the rubber warm. GTR uses MOTEC analysis software to track your driving performance and calculate the correct response. In a field test, we severely spun the tires to see if the gauges really mattered, and it was almost impossible to keep them stuck to the track afterward.

The competition can get a bit rough in GTR and a bit crowded, as up to 56 cars can be on a track at once. Resembling true races, competition is fierce and tight in the beginning of the event until the field stretches out. Here is where your driving wheel is essential. The game is playable without the TrackIR (although it is a major "wow" factor to amaze your pals) but without a driving wheel, GTR is just too responsive to work well. Face it, the keyboard is dead for driving games, and thumbsticks are lame. Using a real driving wheel in GTR, adjusting the seat, and turning your head to check the mirrors with the TrackIR makes for a truly amazing driving experience.

All of this seems realistic, and it sounds realistic too. SimBin even took audio samples from the actual cars represented in the game to ensure that you were immersed in the experience, so get out your subwoofer. But how does it feel? GTR feels real, and it is even "too real" for some long-time gamers we know to handle in simulation mode. The cars actually do feel real, and SimBin went so far as to get actual FIA GT drivers to play the game and verify the handling of their simulated cars. Indeed, mastering a car in simulation mode will take many hours, much like the real thing.

Before anyone gets afraid of their own driving skills, relax with the knowledge that there is also a semi-pro and various arcade modes to let you get used to the game. In arcade mode, a driver can be competitive within the first few minutes, so GTR is still a game your friends can stop by to play, and it still challenges the driving skills of anyone new to the game.

GTR has already been released in Germany, and it has been among the most popular PC gaming titles this fall/winter. The game may be very successful in North America too; if all the talk of realism doesn't scare gamers into thinking that it is too difficult. Who knows, maybe some of us will give up on six months of fantasy baseball in 2005 to create our own fantasy racing franchise instead. GTR's online performance looks to support the endeavor, and they just might offer online racing circuit options to match real life race schedules. In any event, it is already a great driving simulation, and we look forward to seeing the final adaptation for North America early in 2005.

All in all, GTR looks to have what it takes to meet claims as the most accurate racing simulation technically possible, and with full online functionality including championship modes, it has some real addictive potential. Are you ready for the 24-hour race at Circuit de Spa Franco champs?


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