After years of disappointment from the Gran Turismos, Polyphony Digital has redeemed themselves with Tourist Trophy. It remedies some of GT’s major problems and while not everything is done as well as I’d like, it gives me hope for future games. TT brings the same level of racing intricacy alongside a streamlined menu system, and it’s more fun to play. There are a few too many similarities between this and GT though, and we’ll talk about those later.
I feel that the actual racing has been a personal weak point for the GTs, and I’m surprised to say that it‘s a strong one here. It uses the GT 4 engine, but with a greater sense of speed present and slightly tighter controls, it seems to work out better for motorcycle racing. With the GTs, it seemed like a struggle to have an exciting race. It’s easy here, and provides you with great incentive to keep racing. It does make me wish that online play was included. I can only imagine how fun it would be to try out the improved gameplay with fellow players across the globe, and it’s even more aggravating given that GT 4 was supposed to be online a year ago, and here we are a year later with another offline-only product using that game engine.
The previously cumbersome cash system for buying vehicles and gear has been removed in favor of unlocking them via license tests and challenges. I was skeptical at first, but Polyphony executed it to perfection. What they’ve done is streamline the existing process while putting the mode’s emphasis right where it should be - on the racing. In the GT games, I often felt as though the races were just there so I could get to more license tests. Now, that isn’t a problem. The licenses have been made easier to obtain, and your goal is squarely set at winning more races and improving your skills.
I enjoy the arcade mode more than the Tourist Trophy mode since it allows me to get quick thrills while also getting in some practice time with high-end bikes. While I still don’t like the “arcade” moniker attached to it since the pacing still isn’t up to what I’d call arcade-level, this remains a great way to have fun with the game without dedicating hours in the TT mode. This mode is where I’ve had the most fun, since it allows me to experiment more with bikes and varying racing styles while also improving at my own pace. Your only goal here is to enjoy yourself, and it’s a great change from the very structured TT mode.
GT 4’s photo mode is back, and even allows you to print out your photos if you have an Epson printer. Since I’ve got an HP, I seem to be out of luck, but it’s certainly a unique feature, and I can appreciate that aspect of it. Without this, the photo mode remains a fun novelty, and automatically captures the race’s most exciting moments from multiple angles. It might not be the most revolutionary mode ever, but it is a quick, convenient way to relive race highlights. I love the zoomed-in look it gives the visuals. Much like the standalone post-race replays, they can be used deceptively, but in and of themselves, they’re impressive showcases of the high quality graphics.
Speaking of which, they don’t appear to have been improved since GT 4. This is more a testament to things being done right the first time than anything else, as they’re still incredible to behold and honestly, how much better can one realistically expect PS2 graphics to look? As they are, everything looks sharp, and nighttime environments are the most visually stunning. Rain-soaked streets come close, and I would put them above the nighttime areas when you use the windshield view, as it shows the rain beading down.
The audio has that same kind of subtle detail, and I’m continually amazed at just how rich it is. When you use the behind-the-bike view, the wide range of sound effects is fine. Everything is clear, and you can distinctly hear the roar of the engine and rain hitting the ground. It’s not until you use the other views that one can truly appreciate just how much work went into them. When use the aforementioned windshield view, the effects become louder, and the engine roars are louder and richer since you’re closer to the ground. Then when you use the first-person view, the full range becomes apparent. Every single sound the bike makes can be heard, and when the rain pours, it’s even more immersive. You really feel like you’re in the middle of a downpour due to just how loud it is. It also doesn’t come from just one direction, adding to the realism. I have never played a motorcycle racing game with such expressive audio. You can tell folks poured their hearts into just getting the sounds right, and thanks to their hard work, every single sound effect does something to create a certain atmosphere for a race. Their hard work definitely paid off.
I don’t think the same is true for the music, unfortunately. The GT games have made good use of licensed music, and that doesn’t entirely hold true here. This soundtrack is comprised of muzak and bland licensed stuff that doesn’t actively hurt the game, but it also doesn’t help it. When I’m engaged in a back and forth battle in the final lap, it would be nice to not be reminded of dental visits. There is some variety to the music, but it all just blends together to form a mass of songs you’d never listen to unless you absolutely had to. Polyphony lucked out with it not killing the racing experience. The soundtrack would have been helped by allowing players to choose the songs. It wouldn’t completely fix the problem, but it would give the user the ability to just listen to the stuff they want during races, rather than being subjected to a random set list of tunes.
In the end, Tourist Trophy succeeds at providing a solid Gran Turismo experience with motorcycles. If you’ve loved that series, you’ll like this. Even though I have mixed feelings about that series, I found a lot to like here. The use of bikes really freshens things up, and helps prevent TT from feeling like a fully-priced GT 4 add-on. When all of the game’s tracks are taken from that game, it’s quite an accomplishment to escape that fate and they managed to pull it off here. Beyond the disappointment of online play being absent and the sub-par music, I’m incredibly pleased with Tourist Trophy. Anyone expecting a purely frenetic racing game should pass, but this should provide sim racing fans with a satisfying game. There’s a lot to tinker with here, and gaming gearheads will be in heaven.