Heaven on wheels.
For almost two years, everyone from the Vice-President of a Fortune 500 company to the bagger at the Piggly-Wiggly has been asking me about Gran Turismo 4. You folks on the inter-web have been sending me emails day in and day out about when this game would arrive, and whether or not it would be good. Well the wait is finally over. It's here, and it's almost everything you hoped it would be.
Gran Turismo's in-depth racing goodness remains unmatched and the number of miles that you'll rack up is staggering. In case you've stumbled upon this review by accident or a google search gone wrong, let me give you the quick and dirty. Gran Turismo 4 is the latest installment of Sony's monster racing sim series. The previous three games sold over 12 million copies in North America, alone. It features amazing physics, in-depth customization and some of the most detailed graphics ever seen on a PS2 title, so buckle up.
The game is mainly played in one of two modes: Arcade and Gran Turismo. Gran Turismo mode will suck up hundreds of your single player hours, while arcade mode houses all the stand-alone events like time-trials, as well as the severely limited multiplayer components.
Gran Turismo 3 players will be happy to know that licenses and up to 100,000 credits can be transferred over to Gran Turismo 4. This feature saves hours, even days of start-up time and gets you into the fast lane with a sweet ride and a few goodies to go with it. But even with this head start, it takes a really, really long time to get through to the meat of the game.
Without a Gran Turismo 3 save you'll pretty much be starting from scratch, which means used cars and license tests. That's right, to enter various racing circuits you'll need to be licensed, so you'll have to submit to several difficult, somewhat frustrating trials before you can even start racing. Fortunately, these license tests also act as tutorials and do a good job of easing you into Gran Turismo 4's delicate and nuanced control scheme.
Gran Turismo 4's main hub has everything you need to develop into a pro racer. "Resort facilities" dot the landscape and offer everything from tournaments to tuning shops and dealerships galore. Just exploring the landscape can soak up some time, even before the first race is run. But as soon as you're set up with your first ride (new or used) and a license, it's off to find a race you can enter.
Like before, most races involve a certain class or make of car. Some races may involve only compact cars, while others run cars with all wheel drive. Then there are challenges, which lend you a specific car to race with. The bottom line is that you'll be behind the wheel of a new car every handful of races. Racers who are very particular about which car they drive might be disappointed to step away from their favorite rides, but to progress in the game, you'll have to become a master of everything on four wheels.
In case you missed it, there is a phrase under the Gran Turismo title that is pretty important: real driving simulator. As you may recall, the Gran Turismo series focuses on replicating a realistic driving experience, which means you won't be power sliding around ninety degree corners at 130 miles per hour in a pimped-out ride. Anyone coming off of arcade-style racing games like Need For Speed Underground 2 will definitely need a minute to get used to the game's realistic handling.
Gran Turismo 4 feels real " real smooth, that is, thanks to a revamped physics engine. Some of you may remember how easy it was to spin out (even on a straightaway) in Gran Turismo 3. This new engine has definitely toned down the twitch factor and made controlling your rides much more user friendly, while maintaining a realistic feel.
Gran Turismo 4 also allows full performance customization of every car. Aftermarket parts can be purchased to optimize performance right down to the gear ratios and suspension levels. You won't find any body kits, hydros or neons though, so be forewarned. Gran Turismo 4 is not The Fast and the Furious.
Some of you may remember the robot-like AI in Gran Turismo 3. Thankfully, the AI in Gran Turismo 4 has been tweaked for a more realistic feel. Rather than having every car follow a line to the letter, you'll probably notice subtle variations in the behaviors of your computer-controlled opponents. They won't cause massive pileups, but they will occasionally lose the line and respond to your position.
Making its first appearance is B-spec mode. This mode allows you to get behind a pair of headphones as a crew manager and give pacing advice to a driver. Your commands will set the speed and tell the driver when to overtake an opponent and when to head into the pit. It's a great way to rest your thumbs after tiring them out in the normal modes.
There are over 700 cars across more than 80 manufacturers. Honda, Ford, and others bring their toys to the table for an astounding selection of cars, trucks and prototypes. The only major manufacturers that seem to be missing are Ferrari and Lamborghini, but with over 700 cars to choose from, you'll hardly notice.
To race, you'll head out to an assortment of more than fifty real world and fictitious courses. Many of these courses return from previous games like Laguna Seca and Cote D' Azur, but new courses like the famous Grand Canyon level will offer plenty of new challenges.
If you're looking for some racing eye candy, Gran Turismo 4 owns the whole shop. This graphical powerhouse is one of the best looking PS2 games I've seen in a long time. Car models boast 5000+ polys and high-definition nuts will be more than pleased to learn that 1080i HD mode is supported.
Those of you with photo printers can also take advantage of the USB printer support and new Photo mode to "photograph" and print out pics of your ride in action.
Gran Turismo 4 also sounds solid with a wide variety of tracks available for your listening pleasure, along with the usual assortment of car sounds. You'll race along to the sounds of James Brown, Crystal Method, Frederic Chopin and Papa Roach. It's not as impressive as the lists you'd find on a Grand Theft Auto, but there's something for everyone and if there's something you'd rather not hear, you can just edit it out of the track list.
Gran Turismo 4 remains the standard for racing games, but it does continue to suffer from a lack of a few major components. First and foremost is the absence of any online racing mode. Sure, two players can go head-to-head via split-screen and up to six players can compete over a LAN, but in today's videogame landscape, it's almost unforgivable for a game of this caliber to ignore the online component.
Crash damage is also something we've been clamoring for. As it stands now, running into another car has all the impact of throwing a marshmallow against a pillow. It just doesn't make sense for a title that invests so heavily in realism to let you hit a brick wall going 120 and then drive away.
But other than those two gripes and the lengthy start up time, Gran Turismo 4 is a superb racing excursion that is currently unmatched in the video game racing world. Its simulation style of play and lack of flashy, vinyl coated cars may discourage a few, but with all of the other spot on features and hours of racing enjoyment, this is one ride you won't mind paying sticker price for.