Gran Turismo 4 Review

Brilliant racing game with tons of cars, shiny graphics, superb soundtrack and wonderful gameplay.

Introduction

The world of competitive racing involves a myriad of driving techniques, a wealth of automobile and race course knowledge, car modifications and fine tuning. In the world of Gran Turismo it is about mastering and perfecting it all and ultimately becoming a racing legend.

The Game

Gran Turismo 4 is a PlayStation 2 exclusive multifaceted racing game sporting very realistic driving feel, 721 licensed cars and almost 50 race tracks, both fictional and nonfictional. Gran Turismo 4 is very detailed in both visuals, sounds and the racing sensation that it represents. It is a self-proclaimed driving simulator and it certainly can be called a simulator, especially for a home console video game title. This is a very polished and sophisticated racing game that offers you multiple settings to tweak and truly great video game racing.

The central focus of the entire game is to give you a feeling of owning and modifying cars as well as participating in and winning various racing events throughout the world. The game has a fleshed out single player campaign mode called the Gran Turismo Mode and a complementary Arcade Mode which features the game modes Single Race, Time Trial, 2 Player Battle and LAN support for six players connected through a local network.

The Gran Turismo Mode is the central core of the game and it will put you in the shoes of a racing enthusiast who sets out on a career to conquer the competitive world of automobile racing. The goal of the game is to win all the competitions around the world and prove that you are a true racing champion.gran_turismo_4_6

Content

The Gran Turismo Mode starts you off with some starting money and your first step is to get a car. Naturally your first car isn’t going to win you many races, but by participating in various events you can earn monetary prices and even new cars. Money can buy you new cars from any of the 80 manufacturers that are licensed for the game. As you get better cars you’ll qualify for more prestigious events and even brand specific events. The Gran Turismo Mode is a host to a number of racing events and features as follows; License Centre, Driving Missions, Beginner events, Professional events, Extreme events, brand specific events for the most prominent manufacturers in the game, regional events for America, Japan and Europe, Special Conditions races and Endurance Events. On top of this, you are given a virtual garage where you can check your cars and game progress. Of course, you’ll also have the option to buy new car parts and tweak car settings before each event.

You can replay any event for as many times as you want, but in order to progress through the game you must clear new events (that is, place in the top positions) as they become available to you. There are specific rules for each event on what type of car you can use, so in order to be able to participate in all events you must get cars that match the event requirements. This means if you run low on money you may have to replay an already completed event multiple times just to get the price money so that you can buy a new car.

The License Centre consists of series of tests that check if your driving skill qualifies for various racing events. The tests get increasingly harder the further you go and there are five licenses in all for a total of 80 tests. Clearing these tests will push your skill to its limits because they’re really challenging and will often require multiple retries and hours of practice unless you’re a skilled video game racer already. Each test is described in detail and you’re given text instructions as to what exactly you’re supposed to accomplish in order to pass. You are also allowed to see a video demonstration on how each test is completed. These tests will potentially teach you how the driving mechanics of the game work as they’ll cover everything from breaking to cornering along with overtaking and high-speed racing. It will also have you do guided lap runs on various tracks and even ordinary time challenge laps.

In order to progress through Gran Turismo Mode you must clear all these tests sooner or later. The game designer’s intention with this is obviously to prepare you for the harder races in the game, and while the license tests are helpful, they’re not the ideal learning tool. In order to master the game you would need to spend countless hours learning each track by heart and get lots of driving experience.

Entering the racing events as a competitor, you can win A-Spec points along with price money and new cars. Typically, the harder the opponents are, the more A-Spec points you’ll earn when you win. A-Spec points are basically a numerical measurement of your driving skill level. It’s interesting to note that the game automatically, at least in the Arcade Mode, adjusts the opponent’s vehicles according to your own vehicle. This means that the competition will try to be on the same level as you and this is also reflected in how much A-Spec points each race is worth.

Gran Turismo Mode also allows you to play in B-Spec game mode, meaning that the AI takes full control of your car and you are to give it basic driving instructions. Winning races like this will earn you B-Spec points. This may not be the most exciting way to play, because it is rather limited in what you can do with it and some times the AI doesn’t seem to care much about your instructions anyway. The B-Spec mode is best regarded as an added bonus rather than a robust viable game mode.

There’s also a photo session mode in which you can view one of your cars in various environments, set up shots and save images to the memory card like virtual photographs. You can then view those images together with music, efficiently allowing you to make sideshows of the cars that you own in the game. This is also a nice but somewhat excessive bonus feature and it really gives life to the notion that this game really caters to automobile enthusiasts who enjoy looking at both stationary and racing cars.

Also, playing the Gran Turismo Mode and accomplishing various (hidden) achievements will unlock new vehicles and race tracks to be used in the Arcade Mode.

The race tracks featured in the game are divided into four categories; World Circuits, Original Circuits, City Courses and Dirt & Snow. World Circuits are real world tracks recreated in the game and includes famous raceways such as Nürburing Nordschleife, Suzuka Circuit and Circuit de la Sarthe. The Original Circuits are fictional race tracks created for this game. Some tracks from previous Gran Turismo games reappear here. City Courses take place in cities and this means that there are lots of 90 degree turns on narrow streets. Racing on Dirt & Snow tracks means that you can say goodbye to traction all together – here you’ll rely on hand brake turns and drifting instead. Dirt & Snow racing techniques are severely difficult to master and require hours of practice upon the ordinary racing practice.

All the tracks in the game can be played either in normal or reverse mode, which adds further learning to each track in a simple but effective way.
The game has a massive roster of cars from 80 different licensed manufacturers, including; Toyota, Subaru, Cadillac, Renault, Peugeot, Citroën, Jaguar and BMW to name a few favorites. There are quite a few concept cars, lots of sports, rally and street cars in the mix and they all seem to have statistics that represent their real world counterparts. It’s an impressive selection of cars that has not been superseded to date.gran_turismo_4_12

The Arcade Mode holds all game modes that are detached from the single player campaign. Here you’ll be able to select any of the cars and tracks that you’ve unlocked and play them freely as you see fit. Even though this game mode is called Arcade Mode, it is not to be confused with the concept of arcade video game racing, as in non realistic action racing. Driving aids and realism level are adjusted from the game’s options menu and it applies the same to all game modes.

Arcade Mode can keep track of your Time Trial records and A-Spec points earned in Single Races. It does not support auto saving so you must make sure to save your records manually every time you’ve been racing in the Arcade Mode.

The 2 Player Battle Mode is played on a split screen setup and is a single race against another player. It optionally allows for a subtle speed handicap to the losing racer, making the most out of head-to-head racing. If you have a friend to play with, this game mode is certainly nice to have and can be fun for a good while – especially for test driving the many vehicles in the game together with someone. It won’t let you save time records, nor does it let you record the winner’s names, so it isn’t nearly as fleshed out as the other game modes.

Another notable and sweet feature is that you can save replays and ghost data from almost any game mode. The game also has support for file transfers between two memory cards, making it possible to trade cars, ghost data, replays and photos with friends.

Another interesting feature is the ability to link multiple PlayStation 2 units to produce a multi-screen interface and/or broadcasting screen intended for spectators – a very much excessive feature but cool none the less.

After each race you’re treated with a neat replay video of the entire race, which you can interact with by changing camera angles etc. It’s very well done and is mesmerizing to watch.

The AI controlled racers are ruthless and tend to drive blindly along the track. They will bump into you if you happen to be in front of them and they never make notable mistakes. This is pretty common in racing games and normally it isn’t such a big deal. There are Special Conditions races where you are penalized every time you bump into something, or someone bumps into you. Regardless of whose fault it is, you are the one who gets penalized. This makes some of the races very hard and infuriating experiences. This is perhaps the single one biggest issue in the whole game.

Another aspect about the game that can lead to some annoyance is the fact that it is hard to keep track of which cars are legit for what events. You have to manually scan through each car in your garage and then cross reference it with the information from the event, which is only seen before you enter the event. It would have been cool to be able to let the game automatically show you which of your cars are possible choices for each of the events. At least, it would have saved a lot of menu flipping.

On the whole though, Gran Turismo 4 is a brilliant racing game. It has immense replay value thanks to its depth and huge selection of cars and tracks. There is no racing game on the PlayStation 2 that comes even close to having this much content. Also, as mentioned above the driving feels just about right and is a sheer pleasure to play. This is a truly addictive game.

It should be said though, that despite all the realism that this game portrays, it totally disregards damage and effects there of. Crashing your car against a wall will probably make you lose the entire race anyway, so you certainly can’t drive carelessly if you hope to win.

Controls

Gran Turismo 4 has a pretty steep learning curve. If you’re new to racing games you may have to spend hours of practicing just to get the basics down. Also, the game is very challenging, often requiring perfect performance from your side if you hope to win a race. There’s a lot to take in in this game. All the different cars you can race will behave differently, and there are lots of tricky driving techniques that you need to learn. On top of this, there are tons of car settings that you can tweak such as suspension, downforce, LSD, brake balance, weight balance, and nitrous settings. As mentioned, in Gran Turismo Mode you can buy new parts for your car that will also greatly alter its behavior and performance. You can play on a trial and error basis and find that experimenting with various driving techniques, car parts and car settings can be very rewarding and very fun, if not a little overwhelming. It certainly helps to have some automobile knowledge. Otherwise you may find yourself in a myriad of mysterious acronyms and settings best left untouched.

Gran Turismo 4 can certainly be played with a standard controller pad but it will obviously not give you the full effect of what the game has to offer, and it will be a lot harder to play as well. The game has full support for force feedback functionality, so a racing wheel with force feedback is optimal. Every imaginable force feedback effect is nicely reflected in the wheel. Racing through uneven surfaces, losing grip and skidding, booming along a road at 250 km/h and driving over a curb – it’s all there and feels great.

The biggest advantage of playing with a racing wheel is obviously the precision and this game in particular demands just that. Playing with a thumbstick will often result in unintended under or over steering and while it supposedly can be mastered, it probably isn’t for the average person.

The cars in Gran Turismo 4 tend to be a little weak on the traction side, meaning that they’ll all tend to lose grip fairly easily. Touching the grass outside the track will often throw your car into a spin, and if done right, you can also perform ridiculously long drifts. Apparently the realism level doesn’t hold up in all situations. But even so, the controls are great, giving you a superb racing experience with a true simulator feel.gran_turismo_4_3

Graphics

The graphics are stellar – especially for a PlayStation 2 game. This can’t be pointed out enough. The car models have lots of detail and all the race tracks look stunningly good. It all has a natural and realistic look and feel. The game sports impressive view distance, widescreen support and it all runs with a solid frame rate without any hiccups or notable slowdowns what so ever.

There are lots of notable graphical effects such as sun rays beaming through trees, tarmac that seems to reflect sun light and reflections on the body of the car. There’s also a depth of view effect and some nice lighting effects that really show what the PlayStation 2 hardware can do. This is easily one of the best looking PlayStation 2 games that are out there and as far as hardware limits and graphics goes, this game is nothing less than a marvel.

The 2 Player Battle Mode also runs with a solid frame rate and looks really good. It does have less detailed textures though, but still is impressive – like no other split screen title on the platform.

Sound

Vehicle sounds are obviously an important facet of any racing game and Gran Turismo 4 does a great job at it as well. There’s enough authentic engine sounds to go around and modifying the car will alter its engine sound accordingly.

The game has a massive soundtrack featuring various rock, drum ‘n bass, house, electronic and hip-hop artists. Some of the more notable artists that appear are Judas Priest, Papa Roach, Feeder and The Hives. You can create your own music play list from the available songs and there’s something for every taste there. Simply put, it’s a nice and comprehensive selection of songs with lots of hit songs – most of it is perfect to listen to while racing.

The game also has its original soundtrack to go with all the menus and in-between race screens. It leans towards being laid back lounge type music and it certainly colors the whole experience – for better or for worse.

Summary

Gamer racing enthusiasts owe it to themselves to play Gran Turismo 4. It is a perfect racing game, and plowing through all its content will require countless of gaming hours. This is a game that you can and probably will return to again and again. Everything about this game is highly memorable – the excellent driving feel, rock solid graphics and great music. The beauty of Gran Turismo is that it can be played and enjoyed by just about anyone who has the slightest interest in racing. Hence, this game is a solid choice, and a must-have in any video game collection.

Developed By: Polyphony Digital
Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 2
Genre: Racing
Players: 1-6 (Through Network Adapter/ LAN)
Released: 2005-03-09
Website: http://www.gran-turismo.com

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