Release Date: September 29, 2006
Up until I installed the subject of today’s review, I had no idea what the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) championships were. Only the heavy abuse of Google has opened my eyes. Not the most auspicious way to begin a review of a game that is the official simulation of the FIA GT racing league, but at least I have some small clue now. I was certainly unprepared for the scale of it: FIA is absolutely massive and has a far larger international membership than I ever would have guessed. With this in mind, it puts in perspective what a daunting task it must have been for Simbin to attempt the creation of a simulation that lives up to the name. Critically, the first incarnations of this franchise (GTR and GT Legends) seem to have succeeded, and now we get to take a look at GTR2, the latest in the series.
So, to get the crude breakdown out of the way, GTR2 is a fully 3D racing simulation that attempts (quite successfully) to recreate the events of the GT1 and GT2 championship races that take place all over Europe. It lovingly offers 144 different Grand Tourer (Gran Turismo in Italian, thus “GT”) vehicles, 34 different tracks, and six game events. This press-sheet breakdown was brought to you by the official GTR2 website and Wikipedia. Shameless, aren’t I? How about I move on to my actual impressions, versus factoid regurgitation? Yes, that would be for the best.
This game starts off with one of the most complete tutorials I’ve ever seen. There is full written coverage of every topic included in game (from history of the FIA championship right down to the reasons why some cars are weight-penalized), as well as a detailed description of all the different features you can enable if you’re a novice, and 20 driving school levels that will teach you everything from how to accelerate through to how each race track plays out. More often than not, you can expect to split the learning curve between in-game lessons and the instruction manual; GTR2 packs it all into one easy-to-navigate menu. Speaking of the which, the menu interface is nothing short of beautiful. It’s all blacks, silvers, and blood-reds. Just staring at your list of options gives you the impression of sleek performance. It’s all in the details, and this is particularly good detailing.
As for the game play itself, I must warn you- GTR2 is absolutely not for the casual player. Even though some efforts have been made to make this accessible to all types, the nature of FIA championship racing is that of endurance. As such, it is very difficult to just jump in for a few minutes and really get much out of it. Either you’re in for the long haul (One race that I skipped through due to time constraints ran 83 laps), or you’re not really experiencing the full effect.
Graphically, GTR2 is impressive, but it does have a few shortcomings. To begin with, the visuals are completely unchanged from those seen in GT Legends. Even the models of the pit crews are the same, it looks essentially like Simbin didn’t even try to alter the skins. Granted, GT Legends looks great, and thus this game does as well, but one does tend to look forward to at least some kind of enhancements. Secondly, the logo textures don’t ever seem to clean up, no matter how much you push the graphics settings forward. This leads to a disparity; so long as a model has a glossy or reflective surface its right as rain. As soon as you need sharp definition, you’re beset with pixilation issues. Finally, the tracks suffer from a certain bland sense of repetition. Again, this is due to the similarities between GTR2 and GT Legends. I couldn’t shake the sense of “seen it all before”.
The audio is amazing, on all fronts. The music is a fantastic techno blend that sits between house and psy-trance. You have to hand it to the Europeans, they know their electronic beats. My only wish here is that more had been included by default, but GTR2 allows you to load in whatever custom MP3 files you wish into the game directory so as to define your own tastes. Past this, the sound effects are well-mixed with just the right punch. They also shift according to camera view, and trust me when I say that the cockpit experience is made all that much more desirable when you factor in the metallic turbine-engine shriek that accompanies it. Excellent job, Simbin.
Another aspect of this game that I find to be superlative is the implementation of the physics. Sadly, this can’t be solely attributed to GTR2, as both GTR and GT Legends had the exact same engine running (pun intended). It’s still excellent though. To clarify my position; I have found increasing frustration with physics in 3D titles. This has actually gotten to the point of annoyance, and it all stems from the fact that there never seems to be an approximation of weight. Havok is especially guilty of this, but most racing titles suffer from it too.
Recently, I covered FlatOut 2, and the vehicles felt like they were all made of cardboard. It was too easy to achieve air-time, and too little gravitational pull to get back down. The GT franchise seems to have really nailed it though, each car has its own handling intricacies according to its overall mass. Lighter cars tend to become slightly wobbly at higher speeds, and heavier cars are much harder to control. It’s interesting that such a basic element of racing simulation is so rarely included. Glad it can be found here.
It’s not all sparking glory, however. Much as I see so many fantastic features in this game, I can’t help but feel it’s somewhat of a victim of its own success. You see, GTR2 is so realistic that it loses out on generalized appeal to casual fans of driving titles. The target audience is clearly the fanatical FIA aficionados, and there hasn’t been all that much included to increase the drawing power to those who aren’t so rabid over European motor sporting. I personally felt that even GT Legends could appeal to just about everyone, whereas there is a clear sense of “hardcore” to this release that will be a barrier to robust popularity.
I also must mention again that the graphics, attractive though they are, haven’t been pushed far enough forward. This is where my issues end, however. After all is said and done, we have a game that has a superb soundtrack and audio effects library, is ultra-realistic, visually attractive, and boasts a stunning amount of depth and replayability. There is full multiplayer support both online and via LAN, but the review copy I have to work with doesn’t have an online key, so I didn’t get a chance to test it out. However; for the enthusiast, this is a “must have”. For the casual player, it’s still worth playing.