GT Legends, a racing simulation based on classic 60's and 70's muscle cars, will most likely go down in my personal history as the best racing game that I've ever hated passionately. Wow, there are two pretty strong sentiments in that statement, so I guess I had better explain.
Being a reasonably optimistic person, I'll start with what's good. 10tacle Studios has found a great niche in the racing sim genre that has been neglected since Sierra's Grand Prix Legends, which was based on the 1968 Formula 1 Grand Prix cars and tracks. GPL was the first racing sim I remember that actually challenged the PC racer to practice, practice, practice to master the realistic physics built into the simulation. Many complaints were heard far and wide about how difficult it was to drive well, which is of course exactly the point. Racing is hard - that's why not everyone does it. To race well in GPL required a complete understanding of the forces acting on a race car combined with a subtle touch on the controls. Released back in 1998, however, GPL has been left behind the progress made in physics engines, graphics, and sound. GT Legends picks up where Grand Prix Legends left off, albeit with cars available to the weekend racer rather than the complex and insanely expensive F1 cars.
As with GPL, unless you select Arcade-style difficulty levels you will definitely be challenged by the realistic physics that are made possible be the venerable Image Space engine. The type of challenges you face will naturally depend on the type of car you are driving. The low-powered cars such as the Cooper will require a smooth driving style since any speed lost through scrubbing or sliding the tires will be difficult to regain, and the pack will soon pull away. Conversely, cars like the Shelby Cobra require a light touch on the accelerator to avoid spinning the rear tires and causing the car to swap ends, and will require a bit more forethought as to where to begin braking for the turns, but with plenty of raw horsepower in reserve can actually be a bit more forgiving of a "throw the car around" driving style. No matter which car you are driving, though, you can be pretty sure that any challenges you face will be nearly identical to those dealt with by real-world drivers of these cars. The secret to success is, of course, copious amounts of diligent practice. It is not easy, nor should it be. On the plus side, this is the kind of difficulty that really gives a game like this staying power. As we will soon see, though, there is also an unwelcome type of difficulty imposed by the designers.
But before we get to that, there's still more good stuff to talk about. Namely, graphics. It's always difficult to find an adjective that hasn't been used to excess in the past, but at the risk of invoking a clichéd and over-used descriptor, I'm going to describe the graphics in GT Legends as stunning. The first time I had an early morning race and came storming around turn 1 only to be nearly blinded by the rising morning sun, I had to call the normally disinterested spouse to take a look. And it's not just the lighting effects that are noticeably better than ever before, it's also subtle details like the discoloration around the edges of the side view mirrors that reinforce a feeling of almost complete reality. The gauges in the instrument panels all behave realistically, the spectators at the side of the track are nicely detailed 3D models, and the tracks are nearly photo-realistic.
An often overlooked but nearly essential element is the sounds. There are a lot of necessary physical cues that you don't have when "driving" a computer-based sim that you would have in the real world, but those can often be compensated for with realistic sounds. For example, transmission whine is basically an audible speedometer. The awesome sounds provided in GT Legends not only assist in enabling a driver to perform edge-of-control driving, but they are also so sexy that they prompt an almost involuntary reach for the volume knob on your speakers. Within just a couple of laps, you will have increased the volume to levels incompatible with both marriage and dog ownership. Both will be cowering under the bed wondering where the Lotus in the game room came from. The dog will probably want to chase it, while the wife will probably want to sell it and buy an SUV. The joke's on them, though - it's all in the PC.
As I've said before, a racing game is only as good as the racing, and in the aspect GT Legends holds up pretty well. The AI racers are good enough to provide a challenge, and for those looking for the ultimate head-to-head realism, there is a multiplayer mode available. I enjoyed the low-power car races the most, probably because that was essentially all that was available to me. More on that in just a second, though. The best races are those where it takes three or four laps to pass a single car. In a race like that, you are nearly perfectly matched with the performance of the AI cars, and the strategy is to hang behind for a lap or two, looking for areas where the car in front of you has problems. Eventually you will see an opportunity and get up next to the other car, hoping to out-brake him into the next turn to complete the pass. It doesn't always work out that way, and it's not uncommon to run side-by-side for two, three, four, or more turns. That's exciting racing, and in GT Legends, it's available in large quantity.
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