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Gran Turismo 4

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Racing
Publisher: SCEA


PS2 Review - 'Gran Turismo 4'

by Kris Graft on March 30, 2005 @ 12:33 a.m. PST

Genre: Racing
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Release Date: February 22, 2005

Buy 'GRAN TURISMO 4': PlayStation 2

It’s easy to see why the Gran Turismo series is so popular. It has the cars, the tracks, the cars, the control, the cars, and not to mention, the look … and the cars. This latest iteration has over 650 cars ranging from "horseless carriages" to the most advanced, specialized racecars of our time. There are dozens of tracks that beg you to learn their nuances. The control is as tight and unforgiving as you've come to expect, and let's not forget the visuals, which are some of the best you'll see in a racing game, or any game for that matter. However, the core gameplay is nearly identical to its predecessors, with only a few fringe updates and additions. Online support and car damage are also missing. Nevertheless, Gran Turismo 4 continues the franchise's trend of evolution over revolution, with excellent results overall.

You know that there is a lot of content to a video game when your progress is measured in tenths of a percent. The two primary modes are the arcade mode and the Gran Turismo simulation mode; the arcade mode is a standard pick-up-and-play mode that allows you to choose a course and a car for a single race, time trial, split screen, or six-player LAN action. Right off the bat, you have dozens of cars to choose from, and more tracks become available as you complete the deeper Gran Turismo mode.

The Gran Turismo simulation mode boasts a revamped presentation, but it functions basically the same as in GT3. If you have GT3 save data, the game will allow you to transfer a limited amount of credits to your bank. Depending on how much money you transfer, you can eliminate the GT routine of starting out with a slower car, and upgrading as you earn money. Some of your licenses also transfer from the previous game, but you may want to test your skills in the new license challenges anyway.

On the world map, you’ll see that you still have a "home" that houses your garage, status information, options, and the all-new photo lab, where you can view your artistic endeavors. If you save a replay, you can snap photos of the race in the replay theater or after taking what's called a photo drive. Sega GT 2002 gave you the option of taking photos of a race, but GT4 takes it a few steps further, allowing you to adjust a myriad of image options such as camera tilt, height, and direction, saturation, and white balance.

If you really want total control of your photo, you can select the "Photo Travel" location on your world map, which lets you place the car virtually anywhere you want on a racetrack and position the camera wherever you'd like.

Not only can you save your images to a memory card, but you can also save them to a USB drive, or print them directly to a compatible printer. That's right, you can take a snapshot of your overpowered Civic and plaster images all over your cubicle. Although the whole photography aspect is pretty unique, you have to wonder if time would have been better spent working out an online mode or developing a system that is more than buy, race, upgrade, race, buy, and repeat.

Speaking of buying, there are plenty of ways to spend money. On the world map, there are several icons that look like cars, and each represents a country and its respective makes. At these locations, you can buy new models or classic models, and after you buy your car, you have to go back to the country and dealership to buy upgrades for it as you earn money. Pretty much all of the upgrades are internal, so you can't really pimp your ride like you can in the Need for Speed Underground series. New wheels are available to spice up your appearance, and you can now buy from a small selection of rear spoilers, which seems like a somewhat weak attempt at exterior customization. Full-on, functional exterior customization would be appreciated next time (but leave the neon and other boy-racer add-ons to NFSU). Don't forget to check out the new pre-modified models in Tuner Village and other tuning areas.

Now for the cars: there are many, many cars. Fans of trucks, SUVs, and American muscle will be pleased to see how GT4 has expanded far beyond its typical car roster, and while this game may not contain every single car ever made, you'll find pretty much every kind. You can even drive an '86 Mercedes-Benz … an 1886 Mercedes Benz, that is. Sure, its wagon wheels and lack of aerodynamic paneling hinder its times on Trial Mountain, but the inclusion of vehicles like this show how this game's appeal caters to casuals and fanatics alike. Unfortunately, supercar manufacturers Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Porsche (although you do get RUF modified Porsches) are missing. It would've been nice to have them, but it's doubtful that you'll dwell on the omission, considering the wide range of choices you are given.

The used car selection makes a return in GT4, and it's quite extensive. As you win events, more cars are added to the selection, and many of the cars give you great bang-for-the-buck. There are three used car showrooms: two of them house cars from the ‘90s, and another one, loosely billed the "historic" show room, houses cars from the '80s and earlier.

As in previous GTs, your main source of cash comes from winning races and selling off prize cars. When you finish first place in all of a series' races, a new car is added to your garage; sometimes the prize car is a stunning auto, and other times it is an expendable jalopy that is better off sold. Hopefully, the methods you use to earn money will be extended in future installments. How cool would it be to be able to sell photos at prices based on their composition, or place bets on CPU- or player-controlled races?

If you ever wondered how a manager's mode would translate to a racing game, GT4’s new B-Spec mode gives you an idea. If you don’t feel like actually driving the car, you can have limited control over the vehicle from the sideline. This mode is selectable right before you begin your race, allowing you to view the race from a third-person view, and you can command the driver to keep a steady pace, drive fast, take a pit stop, or overtake opponents. Pressing R1 will switch to what's called the race monitor, where you can view an overhead outline of the track, driver positions, fuel levels, and tire wear. This option comes in especially handy if you're not up to the lengthy endurance races.

A-Spec mode, the actual driving mode, is where you’ll probably want to log most of your miles. Once you've bought your car, you can select from a variety of racing events, located across the globe. Japanese, American, and European events are very specific about allowing only native models to participate, whereas professional, beginner, and extreme events are more lenient but still require cars to meet certain criteria, such as size, drivetrain configuration, and engine type. At dealerships, you can participate in new one-make races; if you want to race against only "Z" cars, you can participate in "Club Z" races in the Nissan dealership. For the brave ones without attention-deficit disorder, there are also endurance events that can last for well over an hour per race.

Of course, all of the modes, races, cars, and tracks in the world mean nothing without solid control. As expected, GT4 delivers in spades. With the proper upgrades, you’ll be able to tweak your car to fit your own driving style. Tweaking variables such as downforce, gear ratios, ride height, and brake balance will work wonders for your car's control, and ultimately your lap times. Each type of car has a distinct feel: old muscle cars are powerful and relatively floaty, mid-engine cars feel like they turn on an axis, front drive cars tend to understeer, and rear drive cars oversteer more easily. Using the Logitech Driving Force Pro steering wheel gives you a much better feel for the characteristics of the vehicles, but the standard DualShock controller still translates vehicle behavior very well.

Challenging rally courses are once again included and are unforgiving as ever. Overall, they are very well done, but have a couple shortcomings; there are invisible walls that prevent your car from plummeting off of cliffs or straying too far off of the beaten path, which takes away some of the realism from this "real driving simulator." In addition, all of the rally courses are circuits, and none are point-to-point.

Everyone knows by now that there has never been car damage in the GT series, and GT4 is no different. Considering how the franchise has set the standard in its genre, the lack of damage seems backwards. As it exists now, you are still able to use opponents as deflective shields to lazily point your car in the right direction. If you’ve been playing GT games like that, you’re missing the point. Regardless, you should be penalized for smashing into other cars by acquiring damage because players would be much more careful about running into other cars if the repair money had to come out of their own bank.

Perhaps the reason for the lack of damage is because everything looks so damn pretty. If you have a high-definition TV and component cables, you can run GT4 in 1080i. While the game looks excellent with the regular A/V cables, you will see a noticeable jump in sharpness with higher-end hookups. The car models are still the best, most accurately proportioned that you'll see in a racing game, and the tracks have made an even bigger leap visually. City tracks in particular look stunning, but you’ll see some surprisingly good visuals on virtually every track. The game clips along at 60 frames per second, and the replays look as good as ever, with effective use of blur and heat wave effects adding even more realism to the replays. When making pit stops, you'll notice that an actual pit crew is changing your tires, and they don't look half bad. There is still a fair share of cardboard cutout fans along the side of the tracks, but now some actually move onto the track during rally races or pump their arms in excitement.

Some thoughtful additions have been made to the on-screen display. It has been modified to indicate exactly how much gas or brake you are applying, and there is also a number that flashes above your gear indicator that suggests what gear you should be in at certain points on a course. It's not always correct, but it sometimes helps as a reference if you don't know a track by heart.

The sounds are almost as amazing as the visuals. Engine sounds vary from car to car, and the sound of the revs are effective indicators of when you should switch gears. Tires squeal as you begin to lose grip, hinting that you need to watch your speed in a corner. Another thoughtful effect occurs when you're in the silent slipstream of the car in front of you, and when you move out of the vacuum, you hear wind rushing around your car.

On the downside, the soundtrack is somewhat lacking. Van Halen fans will probably love how the introduction uses "Panama" to get you fired up, but if you're not a fan, you’ll at least cock an eyebrow. There are around 60 songs in the library, and you can select which ones you want to hear using the jukebox feature, but not many of the tunes really fit the pedal-to-the-metal context of a racing game. Then again, if you can imagine yourself cranking up a remix of James Brown's "(Call Me) Super Bad" while doing 150 mph in downtown Hong Kong, you may love the soundtrack.

Multiplayer is a shallow experience. Two-player split screen is enjoyable, but just imagining what could have been an amazing online experience is a bummer. There isn’t even a scoreboard where you can upload your best times. You have the option of hooking up a LAN race for up to six players, but obviously that takes quite a bit more work than logging onto an online race. It's just a shame.

GT4 may not be the huge upgrade that you may have been hoping for. The basic "buy, race, upgrade, race, buy, and repeat" routine is still there, there is no damage, no online mode, and the soundtrack is questionable. However, everything else so close to perfect, it's hard to resent these shortcomings. If you never liked the GT series, this game probably won't turn you onto it, but if you even remotely enjoyed any of the past iterations, or have just been waiting for a comprehensive simulation racing game to come along, GT4 is here, waiting. A certain purity exudes from GT4, and despite its faults, it's still a first class, one-of-a-kind racer.

Score: 9.0/10

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