Publisher: 10Tacle Studios
Release Date: May 3, 2005
Buy 'GTR: FIA GT Racing Game': PC
The FIA has been known by racing fans around the world since the 1950s, and there have been many racing games to tribute the European federation. However, the FIA GT circuit, being relatively new, has always been overshadowed by its older and more popular brother, Formula One racing. Unlike Formula One, GT racing has always been about real cars, the type that folks like Joe Businessman would buy to flaunt his financial status. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Corvettes, and other street-legal cars are modified into racing rigs, set on courses all around Europe, and left to race until time is up. However, F1 cars have always been more popular to the youth, and only with the increasing maturity of the gaming audience do we finally get a game based off of the GT championships.
In some ways, like a good wine, the wait was necessary. Had SimBin tried to make GTR: FIA GT 10, five, or even two years ago, this game would have seen dismal failure. Only with Swedish developer SimBin's knowledge – nay, the knowledge of the gaming world in general – regarding racing simulators that has been gleaned from games like Forza Motorsport and Live for Speed would a game such as this be possible. No, this isn't your friendly neighborhood racer like Ridge Racer or Project Gotham Racing. This isn't even a racing simulator like Gran Turismo. This is the ultimate gearhead game, a game for mechanics and people who truly know their cars and know how to use them.
There is an arcade racing mode, yes, but it was clearly added in as an afterthought to sell more copies of the game. Driving in general during the arcade mode during any difficulty is looser, more forgiving, and kinder, allowing the uninitiated to dip their feet in the proverbial kiddie pool. However, there's absolutely no way to toggle the settings of the difficulty levels, so if you want to race more than four cars at once but not have to deal with body damage and pit stops, you're out of luck.
The simulation mode is truly where this game shines. Every single car from 2003's GT championship is available, flawlessly reproduced and ripe for the customization. Everything from tire grip to gear shifting to power differential can be tweaked, twiddled, and twitched into perfection on any of the multitudes of cars available. Now, I'm not a big racing fan – I can't even drive a stick shift on a normal car – so most of what these do was totally lost on me. With the help of a friend, however, I too was tweaking my torque and adjusting my axles. The cars actually drive like real cars, and every last adjustment changes how your ride handles in some way.
GTR also features a technique referred to as "Live Track," a further nudge in the realism. Racing tires are fragile, while the roads are harsh. On the most-traveled parts of a track, the rubber from a tire will have rubbed off, leaving the road sticky and giving better traction. Outside this ideal line, however, will typically lie the crumbled remains of the tire, which will impede your progress slightly and make it much easier to slip gears, like trying to drive on ball bearings.
Like any racing game worth its money nowadays, the true draw is taking your perfected vehicle and seeing how well it will hold up against those worked out by people on the internet. I must say, the multiplayer experience is, after applying the needed patches, nearly flawless. Lag is short and almost nonexistent, and races run smooth and intense. In many ways, it is the game's best feature, but on the other hand, it also brings up the game's first negative.
Single player lacks in comparison, if for no other reason than the race AI is dorky at best and entirely boneheaded at worst. Racers can be given one of five levels of aggression ranging from "timid" to "psychotic," which, really, is the separation between "will wait for you to get back on the track if you careen out of bounds" to "will team up with other AI racers to kamikaze attack you like some bad motor-vehicle kung-fu movie." There really isn't too much that makes the AI drivers race like, you know, actual people, which gives the experience a dark spot.
Controls are troublesome as well. It's obvious that the game was made for someone with a racing wheel controller, complete with pedals, and as such, trying to control the game with a keyboard or controller is frustrating, especially if you're used to holding one direction to turn like in the more arcade-y racers. Many a time did I find my car completely ignoring the track, plowing straight into the wall in front of it. Ironically, that was when I noticed that the game didn't realize I'd flipped over, allowing me to drive on my back for a good half the race. Granted, this was with damage turned off, but even with it on, GTR takes a while to figure out that you've flipped over before rendering you unable to operate.
In addition, graphics and sound are a mixed bag. The cars and track look fantastic, with insane attention to detail. However, if you peek for the slightest moment at the background, you'll spot that trees and bushes are nothing but cardboard cutouts, and the people appear to be much the same, except viewed through the eyes of a nearsighted, colorblind monkey. Similarly, the sound of the cars revving and growling is a treat for audiophiles and car lovers alike, but the races are accompanied by annoyingly generic techno and the very muffled voice of a snarky-sounding British announcer (because apparently, you can't be British and sound perfectly polite).
In summary, GTR: FIA GT Racing is an above-average racing simulator in a world already oversaturated with incredible racing simulators. It's hardly the best, but it's certainly upper echelon. If you're looking for the best simulator that money can buy, go after Colin McRae Rally 4, or, if you own an Xbox, stick with Forza Motorsport. If you want something that you can race without having to think about stability and wheel grip and all those other car-guru terms, there are twice as many games on the market that work better, look prettier, and are altogether nicer than GTR, even for the oft-ignored PC enthusiast. If you're a true gearhead and you're looking for a way to relive those fantasies of racing in Europe in the FIA circuits and don't mind a flaw here or there, GTR: FIA GT Racing should be right up your alley.