That was the first thing that crossed my mind as I checked out the fully unlocked and finally completed Gran Turismo 4 last week. I know, I’ve said that before…last October I basically said the exact same words about the release of the oft-delayed racing simulator. However, this time it’s for real (I promise). Gran Turismo 4 is coming out on Tuesday, and it definitely won’t disappoint driving enthusiasts with its visuals, its complexity or the amount of included unlockables. Get ready to start your engines, because we’re burning rubber with this first impression review of Gran Turismo 4.
I emphasize first impressions with GT4 because of two main reasons: One, considering that there hasn’t been any preview code even shown around in four months, the fast track approval for North America didn’t allow for the typical preview coverage. In fact, I probably managed to experience the game in better conditions than most people ever experience it: an incredibly clear flatscreen TV with surround sound and a fully constructed racing cage. Outfitted with a Sparco racing seat and a Logitech Driving Force Pro controller specially designed for GT4 itself, this was a racing gamer’s dream rig. (Unfortunately, that driving setup is probably more cost prohibitive than anyone other than the hardcore aficionado would pay for; the cage, seat and peripheral alone was more than 700 bucks).
Two, as I said at the very beginning of this article, the game is massive. I could radically estimate that unlocking just a small tip of this iceberg could take around 100 hours. However, that’s with very minimal success scattered here and there – it’s not plausible that every person getting behind the wheel will win every race, nor is it possible to continually get every single nuance of the game down to the point where you could defeat the game’s AI every time. Obviously, this means that racing fans should expect to hunker down for a long time trying to beat challenges and unlock new features. Fortunately, to gain the details that I’ve about to share with you, I had access to a completely unlocked save game, which provided access to just about every facet of the GT4 universe.
Career mode is essentially the lion’s share of the gaming experience, with all other “modes” spawning from it. Once you start the game, you’re essentially brought to a central “hub” screen that centers around your “Garage.” Here, you’ll have the option to pick and choose from the numerous cars you’ve purchased, won or otherwise acquired throughout your career. Much larger than any physical space (you might actually say car lot?), the garage can hold at least one thousand vehicles of different makes and models of cars from around the world, regardless of stock or aftermarket modification. We’re talking about of the sweetest cars ever seen on the planet, including everything from sleek Saleens and turbocharged Aston Martins to Vipers and Prowlers. However, you’re not going to start off at the top with an incredible car; you’re going to have to work your way there. Instead of other games that provide you with stock machines or even concept racers, you’ll have to take your hard earned cash to a couple of used car dealerships to purchase machines that will give you a chance on the track. Once you’ve built up enough dough in your bank account, you’ll probably be able to head over to race shops to buy brand new vehicles, some of which will have their own races you can enter.
Players will be able to pick and choose from their stored vehicles in a number of ways, including sorting by manufacturer or region. This actually comes in handy when you’re figuring out which area of the world you’re going to race in, such as the US, European or Japanese tracks. Most of these races have their own requirements, such as a racer having a specific kind of car, tires or license class to enter. So you’ll have to change cars frequently just to enter certain events. Gran Turismo’s faithful license requirements return to test and strengthen gamers racing abilities, and there seems to be much more of a basis on these skills in GT4.
See, the game tracks just about every facet of play, including what races you enter, cars you like to drive and performance you seem to exhibit on the track. This is recorded in the game diary, which you can access at any time to decipher just how you’ve done through the game. It also serves a number of other functions. First, this evaluation helps establish a basis for the amount of money (or credits in GT4) you receive after a race. Based off your machine’s stats compared to the other vehicles in the field, along with where you place and how well you drive, you might receive extra credits at the end of an event atop of the ones you’re guaranteed to earn for simply entering.
Second, the game presumably tracks the wear and tear on a vehicle based on the amount of times you use it in the game. Not only does it keep track of mileage for every machine, but it presumably tracks the dirt kicked up and gathered on cars (showing them to be dirtier and dirtier every time you drive) and the miles to go before you require an oil change. While it wasn’t possible to test it completely, it was plausible to believe that infrequent car maintenance could significantly decrease a car’s performance. However, thanks to the numerous aftermarket parts provided in the game, you should be able to care for your car before this happens. This should be easier than before, considering the options to either throw parts on a machine or fully tinker under the hood. Grease monkeys will be pleased to know that there’s more than thirty separate parameters than can manipulated for a car, so you can practically strip a car and remake it to suit your needs.
Players will have access to a drive park to test out these newly modified machines. Outside of this, there are a number of additional events that can be found in GT4’s career mode. Players will be able to enter beginner, professional or expert racing events in a number of different places. Players looking for extreme challenges might want to try Special Condition races, where you drive on courses with obstacles such as walls, extremely tight curves or slick roads. You’ve also got the option for offroad racing, snow races, city or endurance events (which primarily break down into distance and duration based laps). Finally, you have the option to take to Original courses based off actual locations. For instance, the El Capitan course was based off Yosemite National Park.
B-Spec, the driving coach feature that I described in the last preview, has been fully folded into the game, and appears during certain races and regions. Once again, players have the ability to pick and choose exactly how aggressive they want to coach their drivers from the sidelines, having their computerized racers respond accordingly. There have been a few notable tweaks to this feature which pulls the mode more in line with the game’s overall opponent AI system. While the game doesn’t set up feuds or racers that are always out to get you, any bumps or collisions that you create to gain a position will be remembered and revenge will be attempted at some point later. Because of this, your driver won’t go completely nuts when trying to go all out in passing another car. Instead, they may make sure there’s no way they can be knocked out of position before making their move. Photo mode has also been included into the career mode, so once you’ve acquired a stable of cars, you can take your machines to any one of 15 locations, including Italy, Japan and the Grand Canyon for photo shoots.
Visually, this game is still breathtaking. The cars look phenomenal and the environments are still eye-catching. Gamers familiar with some tracks will easily be able to pick out certain landmarks or other features from their real-life counterparts. For instance, if you’ve ever been to Vegas, you’ll be able to recognize some of the Casinos on The Strip that you’ll race past, like The Bellagio or Paris Las Vegas. Players with HD capable TVs will truly benefit from this game, as GT4 is the only HD formatted title on the PS2. What’s more, it supports up to 1080i, which is quite possibly the sharpest gaming ever seen up to this point. Sound is still impressive, with GT4 accurately rendering the different growls and rumbles of each engine on a track. It’s also supported by more than sixty songs. We’re talking about everything from Classical such as Beethoven to Alternative rock like The Donnas and Jet and Funk like Bootsy Collins.
All that said, the largest reason why this isn’t a fully complete review is not because of the lack on online play, itself a significant omission in current racing titles. No, the biggest reason itself was that due to the unlocked nature of the game, there was no way to get a sense of just how the play works as a beginner working their way up. Considering that, it’s hard to explain completely how succeeding or even persevering at a certain level unlocks cars or new tracks. What’s more, while the game does give previous GT3 players bonus credits for their saved games, it wasn’t possible to check how many were received without starting a fresh game. So while my initial score listed below is an 87, it’s still a rough score that still has room for re-evaluation and is merely based on what I saw last week. However, we do plan on revisiting this review once we have the final copy, so stay tuned for a comprehensive look at the most anticipated racing simulator of all time!