Three years, three long years it has taken for Polyphony to bring out the next game in the GT series, well if you don't count Concept and Prologue that is. Considering GT3 was still considered the best game in the racing style until GT4 was getting closer to release, they had no need to rush. Gran Turismo 4 however is finally here and after much waiting the cars are ready to race. However it's not all plain sailing for the next game in the series, as we comment about in our review, it's a flawed gem but still an absolute must own for PS2 owners.
Gran Turismo 4 is all about replicating the lifestyle of a car enthusiast with money to spend. The game is divided into two modes; arcade and Gran Turismo mode. Both compliment each other well and each offers the game something different. The fact is to get the most out of the game you really need to play through both as each of them has unique options. Of course the main mode is Gran Turismo but Arcade has progressively become a more important facet of the series, and it is no where near as important as it is in GT4.
The engine on which GT4 is built has been completely made from scratch leading to the most complete racing game ever in both detail and realism. Initially the game does feel very close to GT3 but once you begin to play with faster cars, and watch replays you will notice small nuances that really make GT4 the best in the series yet. Things like cars leaning in and out of corners, tyres bouncing on chicanes and the high visual detail of the cars makes this a game that really must be played. The game also doesn't feel like a
'game' and more of a simulation with cars racing violently to thrash style racing while offering a more smooth experience for stylish driving. Driving properly is the most rewarding aspect of the game, as it is that which will cut lap times, not just putting the pedal to the floor.
The arcade mode is important for one reason; Gran Turismo can get boring. Many fans will not agree with that but the fact of the matter is there is a decent chance that you won't like GT4 right off the bat, we didn't but after about thirty minutes of trying different cars we came to realise what Polyphony was doing with the game. If you have played Prologue initially you may moan about the changes which seem to have occurred, but they have all been for the better and in the long run, GT4 stands up on its own against all comers. The arcade mode offers you the ability to drive cars on any track you have unlocked with the cars you have unlocked. You unlock the other tracks and cars in the GT mode so they do compliment each other. A quick burn around the Nurburgring every so often can keep you from burning out in GT mode, and makes a nice change especially during the first few hours of GT where you have to repeat race after race to gain enough cash.
As mentioned, the Gran Turismo mode is where it all happens. In this mode the aim is to build your garage up with exotic cars, win lots of money, gain all the licenses and finish all the races. This sounds like a lot and it is. The whole game is divided into a sequence of menus, with the main screen a 'world map' allowing you to quickly move from JP cars to US cars etc and this layout also makes it very easy to find parts for the car you're currently driving. So GT mode consists of gaining licenses (very much like Prologue, in fact you can use Prologue data in GT4 to skip some), winning races and buying cars but it's not without its problems.
The structure of the game leads to a lot of repetition. This is because the cars are so expensive to buy and you need a decent one to win. You can be winning by a mile in one category, move up one and be beaten by a mile. The learning curve is strong and picking the right car is half the way to victory. However if you stick with it and begin to unlock more licenses and cars you will find a much more complete game than the arcade mode, and anyway to unlock all 700 cars you need to buy them.
There is one more mode in Gran Turismo which is quite interesting and that is the photo mode. Considering Polyphony went to a huge amount of detail in the real cities replicated in the game, taking photos of your cars is really something very cool. The fact you can then print them out makes this a very useful option and one that really has surprised us as to how important it is to the overall package. Basically you get placed in one specific area of the track and can position the camera and car anywhere to take the photo. The other interesting mode is B-Spec which will probably be ignored by most people. This is where GT becomes a team manager game and you give instructions to an AI driver such as overtake, slow down, speed up etc trying to win the race. It's a nice sideline to the rest of the action but doesn't really offer that much appeal to the majority of racing fans in our opinion.
Perhaps the most impressive feature though is the cars, all 700 of them. It is this that really makes the game what it is with the new physics engine. It is the cars that display the small things Polyphony did with the new game that really impress such as the cars leaning in and out of corners, tyres reacting to different surfaces with huge detail such as shock absorbers etc. The cars are also from a wide variety of manufacturers and despite the fact there is three camera angles to view the game, we found ourselves using the behind car view most of the time, due to the sheer fact the cars look so close to the real thing. Manufacturers include Honda, Toyota, SEAT etc and you can see that the game was as important to them as it is Sony. The AI is still shocking but we see it as a game that you buy to race cars you can't afford not a game you buy to race AI drivers with brains.
The visuals of the game also are stunning. There is fifty tracks in the game, many real, many fictional but all impressive. The most impressive by far is the Nurburgring which is an extremely challenging course and really overshadows the rest of the tracks. Every detail is recreated to a high degree such as Seattle where the landmark is displayed and fictional tracks also have some impressive graphics. The sound effects are done well, each car has a unique sound and the soundtrack is quite suitable. One really cool thing about the game is replays can be synchronised with the soundtrack, so as a riff starts etc or thumping the screen will change.
Gran Turismo 4 is the best racing game ever made, but was there really any doubt that was going to be a reality? Polyphony has crammed every piece of data they can onto the PS2 disc and in the process have squeezed as much power as possible out of the PS2, so I'm sure they're happy the PS3 is on its way. With what they have done with GT4, racing fans around the world can only contemplate what Kaz can do with the PS3.