Gran Turismo 4

Gran Turismo 4

Written by Jennifer Lam on 5/9/2005 for PS2  

Once you go Gran Turismo you never go back. After experiencing Polyphony Digital’s mastering of the racing simulation franchise, it’s hard to imagine yourself playing anything else. The same holds true for the fourth entry in this venerable franchise which promised to take the franchise to the next level with the addition of online play and the most realistic physics system to date. While the online features didn’t make the cut before the shipping date, Polyphony still managed to deliver what is, bar-none, the most realistic racing simulation ever created.

Polyphony Digital knew not to mess with a winning formula so instead of going back to the drawing board, the developers decided to build upon their already successful blueprint. The end result isn’t the reinvention of the racing genre, but the next logical progression of it. When you’re already creating the most realistic driving experience on the market, it’s tough to deliver something wholly unique and genuine. What you get are a couple of neat additions, but nothing that can really be perceived as groundbreaking or monumental.

Perhaps the most notable addition is the Photo Travel Mode which allows players to photograph their vehicles in exotic locations. As an added bonus, players who have an Epson printer can plug it into the PS2’s USB port and print out a copy of their creation. This sounds rather silly but when you take into account the game’s photorealistic graphics, it’s easy to see why this mode would be so attractive. Furthermore, this feature is accessible during races as well so that you can take snapshots of your vehicle as it screams around corners and clings to the track.

While many will argue that this feature doesn’t really enhance the driving experience, we beg to differ. Taking pride in one’s vehicle comes with the territory of professional race car driver. Before one can excel at the track, one must first learn to love his vehicle and all of its inner workings. Car people spend hours washing, waxing and servicing their vehicle so that it’s the most attractive ride on the road, why not add that facet into the vide game as well? The fact that the “photos” look photorealistic makes this even more alluring, as is the ability to hook up an Epson printer (via USB) and print out your creation. Try showing one of these pictures without telling a friend and see if he can tell that it’s from a video game.

Another neat addition (although rather useless) is the B-Spec mode. It essentially places you in the boots of a crew chief who has to give directions to his driver. The AI controls the races in this mode and you’re limited to giving orders such as “speed up,” “try to overtake” etc. This is actually nice for those endurance races that take 3 days to finish, but it will most likely go unnoticed by a vast majority of players, especially the gear heads who crave that hands-on approach that Gran Turismo is so famous for.After these additions, veterans of the franchise will feel right at home in what can be best described as the natural extension of Gran Turismo 3. The concept remains the same as does the basic structure for progression; participate in races, gain cash, upgrade vehicle, lather, rinse and repeat. As a nice reward to loyal GT fans, Polyphony Digital allows players with a GT3 save to transfer up to 100,000 credits as well as the B and A licenses. If you’re one of these people you’ll definitely want to take advantage of this as soon as possible.

One of the biggest changes comes from the way that the vehicle manufacturers are structured. Each manufacturer is grouped by its location of origin to allow for easier accessibility, but the used cars are all lumped together in two different show rooms. In previous GT’s the used cars were available for purchase at their manufacturers but this version’s method is less practical. All players get are numbers that sit along a list as opposed to the usual showroom-like display that they get from the manufacturer areas.
Aside from this little snafu, vehicle buying is as easy as ever and the GT interface comes through in spades.

Our biggest gripe with GT4 is that its collection-based nature has begun to run its course. There’s so much focus placed on the collecting and securing of unnecessary vehicles that you have to wonder why the developers didn’t just go the extra mile and put the words “Collection Get!” every time you acquired a new vehicle. There are more than 500 vehicles but in all honesty, you’ll only end up using about 20-30 of them for any extended amount of time. To put this into perspective, the game has the Toyota Prius. Kind of a stark contrast to the Lotus Elise, isn’t it?

Instead, Polyphony should have focused its energy on a number of other aspects that would have enhanced the experience. Adding in vehicle damage and real customization options (adding in rims isn’t enough) would have really gone a long way to differentiate GT4 from the others in the franchise. We don’t need to have anything extreme like in the Need for Speed series, but a little something to personalize each vehicle from the next would have been an extremely welcome addition.

Although Gran Turismo 4 features many of the same tracks that appeared in previous Gran Turismo titles, the physics system has changed enough to significantly alter the feel of each of these layouts. The traction system has undergone a significant overhaul and now more accurately replicates the action that takes place on each of the turns. In previous GT games you could head into a corner at full speed, slam on the brakes and merely skid your way through the turn, GT4 has a significantly different approach.

Taking factors such as speed, suspension stiffness and weight transfer into account, cars exhibit an amazingly realistic behavior in each of the game’s turns. Attacking the corners in an arcade-like method will cause you to slip off the track, costing you precious seconds and potentially the race. You will need to take a more tempered approach and use a combination of tactile breaking and cautious acceleration as you search for the apex. Hit the apex and your vehicle essentially pulls you through the curve, miss it and you’ll lose traction and a couple of costly seconds.

For a series with such realistic driving physics, it’s amazing that the designers couldn’t have been bothered with developing a decent collision system. The bumper cars feel from the original GT is back in full force. Hit a car from an angle in real life and expect the vehicle to fishtail out of control. Hit a car from an angle in Gran Turismo and it’ll continue on its merry way. Players can T-bone other vehicles at speeds in excess of 100mph with absolutely no penalty. In fact, one widely accepted driving technique in GT4 is to use the AI drivers as bumpers to help you bounce your way through the turns.

Speaking of AI, we found it nearly impossible to tell the difference between the AI in GT4 and the AI in GT3. They’re all still mindless and adhere to the all-important “kart on wheels” formula that was all the rage in Mario Kart. They don’t adjust to road conditions and simply plow through you if you get in their way. Adaptive AI would have been nice and it would have made sense to instill some kind of retaliatory system for drivers who get bumped around too much.After seeing Gran Turismo 4 in action we’re not fully convinced that we really need to enter the next-generation of gaming. With photorealistic car models, gorgeously rendered tracks and a frame rate that screams along at a constant 60FPS in the optional 1080i mode, you’ll have a hard time convincing us that we really need another generation at this point in time. When I laid eyes on Gran Turismo 3 for the first time I was convinced that it would be the pinnacle of visual quality in a racing game.

As it turns out Gran Turismo 4 looks even better than its predecessor, providing the same highly detailed vehicle models and coupling it with more roadside objects and elements. Most impressive are the crowds that adorn the roadsides in the rally races. They’re so well done that they look pre-rendered, definitely too good to be done in real-time. We were also impressed by the pit crews as they were some of the best we had ever seen. Since most racing games are designed with a driving engine in mind, most developers have a hard time scaling human characters with the vehicles. Polyphony had no problems and actually developed models that look realistic and proportioned to the vehicles.

Sony utilized its wealth of artists under its umbrella to pull together this soundtrack that really doesn’t appeal to anyone. It really reminds me of those newfangled “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” radio stations that seem to be popping up around the nation. Simply put, they play every single song on the face of the planet in hopes of catering to you, your neighbor, your best friend, your mother, your father and your girlfriend. What happens though is that you eventually end up catering to no one because there’s just an abundance of crap and variety strewn about. For a clear example of this check out 93.9 Jack FM (formerly Arrow) in Los Angeles, a station that will probably be off the air in about three months.

Luckily the stuff that matters, the sounds on the track, is great and really enhances the experience. Each engine sounds great and players can really the gradual increase in RPMs as they press down on the gas. Dolby Pro Logic II encoding allows you to feel your opponents creeping up on you from behind as you desperately try to hand on to your position. Some audio and visual improvements have been made to heighten the overall sense of speed. As you gain speed, you’ll hear the air rushing past you, subsiding only when you lower your speed or draft an opponent. On the visual front, the game utilizes a subtle blur effect to convey an added sense of speed. Both of these effects are nice and further complement the game’s already convincing sense of speed and realism.

Many will see the lack of online play as a major kink in Gran Turismo 4’s armor, but it doesn’t really affect the overall experience too much. From the start, the Gran Turismo franchise has been billed as a single-player experience and the latest entry doesn’t deviate too far from the formula. All of the game’s meat resides in the single-player elements and it’s readily apparent from the start. The game’s core simulation mode, where you participate in races and earn money to build up your ride, is for solo acts only. Online leagues and tournaments would be fun, but we’ve yet to see a game that can really put together an extensive online component that wasn’t called Need For Speed: Motor City, and we all know how well that one turned out.

To really get the most out of this experience, you’ll have to plunk down an extra $150, the price of the Logitech Pro Steering Wheel. This amazing wheel utilizes Force Feedback to provide the most realistic experience yet. We’re not saying that the game isn’t playable with the Dual Shock 2, it’s just that there’s really no comparison. If you don’t have the cash, do yourself a favor and don’t even come in contact with the steering wheel, you just won’t look at the game the same way again.

Polyphony Digital delivers the most comprehensive and realistic simulation racing experience that the market has ever seen, it’s just a shame that the same boat and RV show has begun to run its course. We’re still mesmerized by the deep simulation feel, but the more and more we play Gran Turismo 4, the more and more it feels like a “Collection Get!” game. Hopefully the designers will take a look at Forza Motorsport for the inspiration to create something truly unique and groundbreaking. As it stands, we have a solid title that really feels like the natural extension of the Gran Turismo franchise.
Polyphony’s fourth foray into the racing world doesn’t improve upon perfection, it simply maintains it. If you’re a Gran Turismo fan, this is the game that you’ve been waiting for but don’t expect a revelation, it’s more of the same, not that that’s such a bad thing.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


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