There is no doubt that Gran Turismo 4 is one of the most anticipated racing games of not only 2004, but of all time, and it is with good reason. Polyphony Digital have shown game after game that they still have the knack to obliterate the competition and truly produce the premiere driving game. With the wait for Gran Turismo 4 still about six months, SCEE has decided to release Gran Turismo 4: Prologue, a game designed to give people a taste test of the upcoming game and prepare them for the significant changes which are coming. It may not offer the best value in comparison to the other games in the series, but for any GT fan it is definitely worth a look.
Gran Turismo 4: Prologue is divided into two sections; the school mode and the arcade mode. The school mode is an area which basically teaches you how to drive the cars in Gran Turismo 4. Forty one lessons take you through techniques such as braking with light and heavy cars and how to overtake and take corners at speed. If you've never played Gran Turismo before then Prologue is definitely a good start.
The school mode is not an easy task to beat either, although most racing veterans could probably finish it in a day. Before each task you are introduced to the task and given a demonstration of a replay showing what has to be done. Even then it is highly unlikely that you will pass all forty one tests first time because Polyphony Digital have not made it easy. There are three different levels of trophies to achieve, bronze silver and gold. Unless you have played Gran Turismo in an ongoing fashion for years, it is likely you will struggle to get even near the gold times and this enhances the replay value of Prologue somewhat. The school mode is one of the most useful tools available for Gran Turismo fans and there is no doubt that you come out a much better GT driver, especially if you're new to the series.
As you pickup the different trophies the cars are unlocked to use in the arcade mode. The arcade mode is basically choose a car and a track and go for it. Fifty four cars have been included in the game and they offer a decent variety to try in the new engine. Cars ranging from the Subaru WRX to the Toyota Prius and more exotic cars such as the Skyline GTR are all included and some feature very unique features. For instance in the school mode when using the Prius you have to manage fuel efficiency. This is because the Prius can run on both fuel and electricity which adds a unique touch to the game and gives a sneak peek at the level of detail we can expect to find in the final game.
There are five tracks to play around with in Prologue and all are unlocked initially so if you want to ignore the school mode for the first hours of play then you can. Four road tracks and one rally track are included in places such as New York, Italy and the Grand Canyon. There is a difference between driving on an actual race track and a place such as Italy because on the road tracks, pushing it to the limit can be dangerous as you are surrounded by walls, where as on the race tracks you are met by grass.
The rally engine is one of the most impressive engines seen in a racing game based around the sport for quite some time. It actually feels like what you would expect a rally car to handle and feel like when sliding around on dirt at high speed. This is definitely the most challenging course of those featured in Prologue and getting a fast time is going to take quite a bit of practice. In an interesting twist, some street cars are allowed to race on the rally track such as the NSX, but most of the road cars can not be chosen.
The physics engine employed in Prologue is highly impressive. Braking in a small, lightweight car is much easier to do then in a large, heavy car. Before going through the school mode you may find yourself off the track or taking corners at excessive speed, but once you graduate from school mode, Gran Turismo 4: Prologue will be a much more enjoyable experience because you will have been taught what the new physics engine is all about.
All the tracks in Prologue are highly detailed and feature a superb draw distance with not a hint of frame rate loss at all, even when racing against other AI cars. The race tracks are obviously the most boring to drive around, but like the game encourages, it is easy to pick out braking points from surrounding buildings and signs featured etc. In New York you race through famous places such as Time Square, and the Italy track gives a great sense of driving through a small mountain township, while the Grand Canyon features some of the most impressive scenery in a racing game thus far.
The cars also feature unique sounds from each other and this is also determined by which view you are using. Three views are included in Prologue, bumper, behind the car and an aerial shot. The sense of speed in Prologue is impressive and you can really tell when a high powered car is in control as opposed to a small coupe like car. Still no pit chatter and still no commentary is featured allowing you to take in the impressive sound of the engines. There are a few things which are missing which did come as a disappointment such as no multiplayer, not even split screen but Sony has made no qualms about the fact that this is a preview version and therefore does not necessarily contain everything people would expect to find in a GT game.
As good as Prologue is, for GT veterans it will be a walk in the park to complete but does offer an insight as to how the Gran Turismo series will change upon the release of the fourth edition. Prologue is best recommended to those new to the series as it teaches the basics through to advanced driving skills and if you simply just can't wait, then Prologue does offer a great ability to play GT4 months before release with a few cars and tracks. Just don't expect the same level of value featured in the other titles available.