Gran Turismo 4 Review
It's quickly become the pinnacle of videogame racing. A true-to-life digital representation of car behavior and visual detail that's always trying to be outmatched. Gran Turismo made an enormous explosion on the PlayStation back in 1998 with its unparalleled visuals and remarkable physics engine -- and most of all...that list of cars. We soon saw another Gran Turismo title about a year and a half after the release of the first. GT2 not only featured slightly updated physics, but also a car list that came near the 500 mark (but about 200 of those were unique models). After Sony moved us into another generation of consoles, the anticipation to play the newest Gran Turismo title was sky high. It wasn't until about a year after the PS2 debuted overseas that GT3: A Spec was released to a roaring audience of fans. A couple of months after, its US and PAL territory debut arrived to the same reception. With only three titles under the franchise's belt, the GT series has sold over 30 million (32 million if you include the GT Concept titles)...and now with GT4, that number is soon to see a drastic change, and with good reason.
Visually, there is no other. Simply said, GT4 is in a league of its own. Going back and comparing GT4 to GT3, a few things are instantly noticeable; the cars are definitely sharper looking and more vibrant in detail, the environments are downright stunning, the atmospheric colors look almost drab and boring in comparison to GT4's, and overall image is cleaner in GT4 than GT3. GT4's framerate is rock solid and is the only sim racer among the console market to run at a full 60 frames per second -- no other game is, or will, be doing that anytime soon (Konami's Enthusia is still up in the air). The older tracks that made their last appearance in GT3 have seen facelifts here and there; surrounding textures have been beefed up a little, the colors have been made much more vibrant and pleasing to look at, the out of bounds sand and grass doesn't look quite as messy as it did before, the trees have received some additional touches, and the roads have gotten themselves a nice new layer of pavement.
But what about all of the new tracks? Oh, man...a sight to see. Tracks such as The Grand Canyon, George V Paris, Opera Paris, Hong Kong, Citta di Aria, Tahiti Maze, Costa di Amalfi, Cote d`Azur, and Seoul Central are the most enjoyable, visually pleasing tracks I've ever seen in a racing game. But El Capitan would have to take the cake as the most downright, jaw-droppingly frigin' gorgeous track in a racing game ever. Seeing that mountainside is literally breathtaking. I've never been taken away by a videogame's environments quite as I have been with GT4's El Capitan. What's incredible is that El Capitan's environments are in-real time since you can drive right up to one of the mountains. The city tracks are every bit as breath taking, and seeing as how some city tracks are narrow, the game's new-found sense of speed increases ten-fold.
Since some complained about GT3's somewhat lacking sense of speed, Polyphony adjusted it just a bit to please the crowd; it's especially noticeable with the perspective in one of the first person views. Speaking of camera views; now when you're playing in first person view, and if you crash into a wall the screen will shake and get fuzzy as you crash - simulating impact. And if you brake really hard or accelerate really hard, you'll notice the camera either move down or up - simulating the car dipping and rising. Quite possibly the most shocking visual advance made in the GT series is Polyphony's surprise inclusion of progressive scan mode 480p, in addition to 1080i, a feat that everyone thought was impossible on the PS2. But the masterminds at Polyphony worked their magic and managed to get both 480p and 1080i running off the PS2 without a single visual sacrifice made. Though GT4's visuals aren't perfect and the game does have some weird little issues that need to be noted. First off, the shimmering in the background is still present, thankfully the game's road signs in the distance are very clear and easy to spot -- so unlike other racing games where shimmering is an issue of gameplay (Need for Speed Underground series), it doesn't really hurt GT4 that much. Secondly, there is a weird visual glitch in the game where the game screen would just start jittering and the visuals get slightly distorted. It almost never happens during gameplay, but it happens often during the rolling-start fly-by intro, and always on the Las Vegas drag strip -- very weird. But, it doesn't change the fact that visually, GT4 cannot be toppled; as it's still boasting the most meticulously detailed vehicles with the most extravagant lighting details. Witnessing GT4 makes you a believer...it'll make you believe that Polyphony Digital was assembled by God himself.
We all knew that GT4 would receive an overhaul in the gameplay category once we heard that Polyphony would be throwing in over 600 cars and giving us a total of 50 tracks to race on; some tracks being fantasy based, some being real, some being based on real locales, and of course, don't forget the real circuits (Suzuki, Motegi, Nurburgring, etc.). To say that Polyphony went all out for GT4 would be an understatement, and there really are no words to describe the amount of heart put into this game -- its production is downright flawless. GT4 offers something for everyone with its selection of over 650 cars -- the actual number being close to 700, by the way. There are 80 different manufacturers to choose from, ranging all across the world; so there's a good chance you're going to find your favorite car company and see that one prized vehicle in GT4.
Obviously, as we all know, Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley and Lamborghini didn't make the cut yet again, but we still have our selection of Porsches (thanks to RUF), among others. Surprisingly, GT4 has the redesigned 2005 BMW 330i in the game, so its obvious that Polyphony was arguably the very first in the automotive industry to have seen and driven the car -- because its revelation was only made around November of 2004. The game's selection of cars is ridiculously vast, but I am very, very disappointed to see (or not see) that Nissan's best selling vehicle line made absolutely no appearance -- the Maxima. Being the owner of a 2001 SE, I was really looking forward to driving a Maxima in the game, but alas I was left sorely disappointed, especially since they're incredibly fast cars. Still GT4 features other cars that I have a lot of interest in, including the Infiniti G35, Infiniti G35 Coupe (Nissan Skyline in the game), Infiniti FX45, Acura TSX (Honda Accord in the game), Honda Accord V6 Coupe (US import), BMW 330i, BMW M5, and the Lexus SC430 (a car I get to drive often).
Establishing that the game's lineup is quite deep, we can move on to the game's gameplay. If you play GT3 to prepare for GT4, then GT3's physics will be still fresh in your head and you'll instantly notice GT4's tighter physics engine. Polyphony created a brand new physics engine for GT4 and you'll feel it as you're taking those turns; you'll feel the weight of your car like never before. The way the cars react to the bumps on the roads now is fantastic -- they'll be harder to drive steady -- and you'll experience this even more if you stiffen the struts completely and drop the car as much as possible.
Those who are more focused on a car's agility, rather than straight-line performance will continue to love Gran Turismo 4's emphasis on the aspect. You can now purchase aftermarket wings (not spoilers) and adjust their down force, in addition to all of the previously adjustable characteristics. The game's handling aspect just feels a lot more solid and in place in comparison to GT3. Comparing the two will be quite obvious to the keen gamers, and they'll certainly appreciate the time and effort Polyphony put into refining the physics.
GT4's simulation mode has a new layout. There's the home area where your garage is, where you can save, check stats, and etc. Then on the main map are placed halls; inside the halls are the races and tournaments. There are three main halls to complete (Beginner, Professional, Extreme), three regional halls (American, European, Japanese), and three miscellaneous halls (Mission Hall, Special Condition Hall, Endurance Hall). Each hall has a varying amount of tournaments to participate in; a few tournaments will have you race 2 tracks, but most will have between 5-10. Of course, as with any GT game, you will a need specific car to enter certain tournaments, so you'll have to spend those credits very wisely and make sure the car you purchase is one you'll be using often in the game. GT4 has brought back the used car lots, which is where you'll likely purchase your first car from, so make sure you find something really quick and agile for your budget.
Once you have your first car, you may want to start modding it with whatever money you have. There are a number of new performance modifications that can be done in GT4 that weren't available in GT3: notably a supercharger and nitrous. Nitrous is probably the most worthwhile mod in the game, and is very cheap as well. It is used by pressing down the R1 button and it can be heard spraying in first person perspective. Nitrous can be adjusted as far up to 100 shot (or so far that's been the most I've seen) and you have a limited use of it. The larger the shot you set it to, the less you'll be able to use, since you'll be using more power at once then you would at a lower setting. The supercharger will usually get you an easy 100+ HP. Other new mods include a reinforced frame (a rollcage) for superior handling performance, snow tires, and body strengthening (haven't figured out what this does).
On the main map there are other options to choose, such as Power and Speed (Vegas drag strip and the high speed ring), Driving Park (play on various test tracks), Original Course (drive your car on the game's original courses), City Course (same as before), Real Circuit (same), Dirt and Snow (ditto), GT Auto (car wash, rim shop, wing shop, oil change), Music Theater, Photo Travel (take pictures with beautiful backdrops), Replay Theater (watch saved replays), License Center, and Tuner Car. The Tuner Car option is where you'll be able to take most Japanese imports to and mod them there with parts from HKS, Spoon, TOM'S, Trial, Blitz, Mine's and etc. Cars that can't be modded in the tuner section have to be modded at the car manufacturer from which it was purchased at. Speaking of which, in addition to all of the regular tournaments in the game, each car manufacturer has a set of their own specific races that is restricted to only the brand that the tournament is being held in. So it's going to take quite a while to complete the entire game, seeing as how the brand specific races are a bit of a setback. Also, each manufacturer's lot is broken up into two: a new car lot, and an oldies car lot. If a car was released before the year 2000 it'll be considered an oldie, so look for your favorites in there. And don't forget to pay a visit to the classics of the early 1900s, the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s -- yeah, GT4 goes that deep, and even dips into the 1800s.
There's a lot I may be forgetting about GT4, seeing as how there's just way too damn much to say. And it should be noted that while the game's gameplay is damn near flawless there are still issues that need to be worked out such as turbo lag. I haven't once experienced any turbo lag in the game and it's clearly a conscious decision on Polyphony's part, because the original Gran Turismo did indeed have it. Also, there's one thing about GT4 that's been bugging me quite a bit, and it's a bit of inconsistency that I've experienced. I have this Mitsubishi FTO GPX that I purchased used, I redid its transmission, brought it up to 288PS, put on super-soft tires, and most importantly reduced the weight to 1064kg (approximately 2400lbs). When doing 1/4-mile tests on the car, I can't do any better than mid-13s without using the nitrous, and it just doesn't make a grain of sense to me. The FTO is pushing 288PS and it only weighs a measly 2400lbs and it's not getting anywhere near the mid-12 mark it should be at. I've seemingly tried everything, but I just can't get the car to perform the way it should. It's just a minor qualm of mine I felt like mentioning. At the end of the day, GT4 is still the most authentic racer on the market and its bound to keep you playing for months and months, despite its missing online feature (something I've never expressed disappointment in, seeing as how neither my PS2 or Xbox have been online in way over a year).
Since I've already spent some time talking about how GT4 feels with the new physics intact, I suppose I should mention that the new Logitech 900-degree Driving Force Pro is something every GT4 owner must own; it'd be a crime against humanity to not own it, it's such a superb piece of hardware. That said, GT4 also contains quite the enormous soundtrack, featuring everything from rock, to hip-hop, to electronica, to jazz. Some of the songs are pretty cool, while others I don't really care for. In any racing game I've always preferred to turn off the soundtrack and listen to the cars instead with the volume up louder than usual. There's something quite satisfying when hearing a 2005 Pontiac GTO at wide-open throttle on a 5.1 setup; it's blissful really. Though it needs to be said that the PC version of NFS: Underground 2 is still the king when it comes to engine growl, but GT4 is definitely no slouch.
It's baffling when you think about it, but GT4 has finally arrived after a long and excruciating wait. Only with the GT series can I sit down and plug away 10 hours straight and not realize where the time has gone; no other franchise has that effect on me. The Gran Turismo series is by far my most favorite gaming series of all time and there are no amount of ‘thank yous' that can describe how much I love every iteration. GT4 is no exception and it is easily the best of the series, the most refined, and without a doubt one of the most gorgeous videogames of this generation. Gran Turismo 4 is a masterpiece and there's no two ways about it.
1/11/2005 Arnold Katayev