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The new benchmark for racers has well and truly arrived...
In light of a mascot or talismanic protagonist, Polyphony Digitalâ??s Gran Turismo series has rightfully taken centre stage for Sony and the Playstation, essentially showcasing what the Playstation Generation is all about and distancing itself from the likes of Mario.
So after three years in development, numerous delays and the debate as to whether online play would feature or not, Gran Turismo 4 is finally here; promising to be the most complete title in the series to date before Kazunori Yamauchi and his team take the franchise to new dimensions with the next-generation (and hopefully damage), but can GT4 live up to the heavy expectations that an eager audience demands?
Consisting of over 700 cars, 90 courses and 580 events, Gran Turismo 4 boasts enough content to keep even the most fanatic fuel-head busy until the next-generation ushers in GT5 (delays included). The vast range of content marks a sharp increase compared to that featured within its predecessor, essentially replicating the same boost that Gran Turismo 2 enjoyed over the original Gran Turismo.
Itâ??s a given that the game would be stylish and from the outset looks deserving of the three years that itâ??s been in development; a stylish introduction sequence sets the course of events, some could label it as pretentious but by damn it works â?“ GT4 is finally here.
The main bulk of the game naturally lies in the â??GT Worldâ?, which encapsulates the various aspects of the game superbly, from racing events to manufacturers split down into regions and the various additional features to be found within the game â?“ but more on these later. The slick presentation hides just how effectively the coherent interface handles the vast amount of content that lurks within GT4, allowing newcomers and GT fanatics alike to jump straight into the action despite its daunting size relatively pain-free and easily.
Having stumbled upon the recipe for success a number of years ago in creating a great sense of progression and satisfaction, Gran Turismo 4 takes no risks in shaking up the foundations; as it stands youâ??ll begin with the License tests, before unleashing yourself to a world of motors and a dwindling list of social commitments â?“ if you like GT this game will consume you!
If youâ??ve been following the series throughout the years youâ??ll probably find yourself itching to get straight into the game, however the License tests do serve a purpose for even the most hardened of fan, highlighting a number of the continuing refinements that the GT series has undertaken. The overall movement of the car appears to be a lot more fluid then that of its predecessors, thanks largely to subtle enhancements to the physics engine along with immersive bobs of the camera to truly define aspects such the transfer of weight, drive and drag.
Recognising the increasing importance within real-life production cars and the extent to which the physics engine has improved, the driver-assist technology is further enhanced in GT4, helping to provide the balance between realism and enjoyment and striking a chord between experienced GT players looking for a challenge and newcomers alike. Rest assured the game packs a challenge, however itâ??s welcoming to note a steady curve and progression through the myriad of challenges presented to the player.
Progression through the game can seem daunting, however as you move through the Beginner Events and start to tinker and tailor with the setup of your vehicle, the subtle touches of brilliance become increasingly evident as you find yourself well and truly under hooked. Making slight changes to the setup of your car may not seem like a big deal, however when you get out on to the track and feel, hear and see the resulting change so subtly yet effectively, it just helps to remind you that the benchmark of racing simulations is well and truly back.
Those who take great delight in fine-tuning an engine to perfection can get their hands dirty amidst the depths of the tuning and modifications available. Thereâ??s simply not enough time to talk in-depth about the range of tuning options presented to the player from established brands and manufacturers alike, whilst a car-wash and oil change are always available at the GT Auto. As weâ??ve said before however, thereâ??s a great amount of satisfaction to be gained from taking the time to tune up your car, partially because of the sheer amount of options open to you, but largely because of the stylish execution on the track â?“ so subtle, so brilliant...
In terms of the much debated AI, Gran Turismo 4 makes enhancements and innovations, which will likely leave the less-educated slamming its intricacy. The actual racing experience may lack the frills of titles such as Project Gotham Racing, with AI opponents hugging the racing line and rarely deviating away from it; however extended play has revealed opponents that make mistakes when you apply pressure or playing chicken and slamming on the brakes a long time ahead of the corner. The same â??sterileâ? feeling is prevalent throughout the game however with opponents lacking a strong sense of personality, but as the GT fans will attest, itâ??s less about the actual racing and more about the driving decisions that you make, GT4 requires you to a certain extent to focus less on your opponents and more on yourself.
Visually the game is stunning, but not in an overly technical or gobsmacking way, instead GT4 blends various effects to create an environment that appears both natural and understated â?“ something that is extremely appreciated in our opinion. Dust trails, snow flurries and surface water sprays when it comes into contact with the car, at times the effects play a dramatic role within the actual gameplay. The car models look solid, convincing and quite unlike anything weâ??ve seen previously; sure games such as Project Gotham Racing 2 may sport effects such as advanced environmental mapping and more exquisite texture detail, but thereâ??s just something about GT4 that looks realistic and less like theyâ??ve come straight out of a showroom.
Having worked hard on the visual look of Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, GT4 lacks some of the initial buzz, relying heavily on artistic enhancements in style rather then just technological improvements. In particular, itâ??s the environment and trackside objects that have undergone the biggest change and help to boost the photo-like quality to the overall visual effect, while touches as semi-3D crowds that stray on to the track are a neat touch.
The lack of a damage model will provide the critics with ammunition and does seem somewhat lazy given what weâ??ve seen in Project Gotham Racing 2 and TOCA Race Driver 2; but as soon as you take GT4 for a spin itâ??s easy to come round to Kazunoriâ??s thinking on this one â?“ the technology simply isnâ??t â??quiteâ? ready, sure PGR2 was impressive but you can be sure that if and when damage features in the Gran Turismo series then it will be at a level of realism that surpasses anything that has gone before..
Of more concern is the lack of Online play in any shape or form, leaving Sony to muddle up the situation with suggestions that online features could become available later in the year, although exactly how they plan to do this remains unknown â?“ GT4 Mobile perhaps??? The â??will it, wont itâ? situation that has engulfed the development of GT4 poignantly symbolises Sonyâ??s commitment to online with the current generation, and sadly it does detract from the overall experience; weâ??re getting used to online racers and GT4 could have become the pinnacle of that on the current generation, as it stand the LAN and splitscreen options just donâ??t cut it in the multiplayer stakes.
The Gran Turismo series is famed for its selection of licensed music and much like every other aspect, GT4 takes this on to new dimensions. Featuring a more eclectic selection then before, GT4 mixes the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Bach to startling effect. The combination of solid driving, strong visuals and great sounds provides the foundation for the Gran Turismo series, and weâ??re happy to say GT4 takes all of these concepts on to the final level for the Playstation2.
Away from the licensed tracks, GT4 excels in the sound effects department, with ever make and model distinguishable purely from the sounds of the engine, while slight touches such as track variation affecting the sound of the engine continue to develop the experience that is GT4.
GT4 introduces a number of new features to the series, most notably in the shape of the Photo Mode, which may at first sound like a rather indulgent addition to satisfy Kazunoriâ??s passion for cars and photography; however weâ??ve found ourselves falling strangely fixated by this novel little feature.
Providing players with the opportunity to shoot their favourite vehicle in a variety of exotic locations, full control over the virtual camera is provided and allows you to choose between a huge assortment of options such as lens, film type, filters, aperture size and so forth. Various photography effects such as depth-of-field and motion blur can be applied, in the search of the perfect picture, which can then be transferred onto a USB Memory Stick and printed out at a one megapixel resolution.
What initially sounded like a gimmicky element actually proves to be a compelling experience, and certainly one that the GT fanatics will pore over and spend months perfecting the craft; the perfect bragging tool in a sense with web pages and forums already sprouting up designated to the GT4 Photo Mode, and one thatâ??s likely to become a regular feature of future titles within the series.
In an attempt to appeal to those who find a joypad completely alien but have an interest in the Gran Turismo series, GT4 features an all-new B-Spec mode, which allows players to command an AI vehicle instead of taking direct control. The mode presents you with five different settings to choose from during the race, ranging from â??Slow Paceâ? to â??Push Hardâ?, along with â??Overtakeâ? and â??Pitâ? commands. Youâ??ve simply got to choose between the options while the race is presented via the typically stylish GT camera positions.
To a GT fan this seems like a strange addition to the series, although the mode could become beneficial during the lengthy â??Enduranceâ? races we have our doubts as to whether the mode will appeal to anyone beyond this. Although weâ??ve yet to spend a long time with the feature, itâ??s fair to say that it lacks a sense of responding to your directions, which coupled with the lack of interaction results in one of the more peculiar additions to the GT franchise.
GT4 resets the benchmark for driving simulations, it’s not perfect but by definition we never expect a GT game to be; in the continuous strive for realism it seems Kazunori Yamauchi and his team are never entirely convinced by the results – but until we get nearer to that stage, GT4 will quite happily entertain you for months to come...
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