Gran Turismo 4 Review

Developer: Polyphony Digital Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: February 22, 2005 Also On: None

The Gran Turismo series didn’t pioneer the racing genre, but it certainly made it take off in a way that no one would have ever imagined. Four years ago, Sony released the first next-generation version of the series with Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, which flew off store shelves (over 6 million units sold worldwide) and threw gamers head-over-heels into simulated racing. Now, in perfect timing to start off 2005, after many delays, Gran Turismo 4 perfects the racing genre – but in a way you might be disappointed by.

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You see, Gran Turismo 4 isn’t quite a sequel to GT3: A-Spec. In fact, there isn’t much new to the core game at all. Rather than take the experience from the level it already was and tamper with it, Polyphony Digital took all of GT3: A-Spec and doubled the detail. Detail on a graphical level isn’t quite as important, and although the graphics are breathtaking, the detail of the racing itself is the thing that is most worthy of praise. If Super Mario 64 was the pinnacle of platform gaming, Gran Turismo 4 sits at a similar level in terms of racing games. Among 700 cars and 50 tracks have been mastered for this racing game, where the emphasis seems to be on detail and accuracy. The unfortunate thing is, there isn’t much fresh material.

The core game rests in the “Gran Turismo Mode�, where gamers will start from their homes and earn racing licenses, buy cars, and work their way through hundreds of race events to earn credits and prize cars. This is the exact same concept that the series has had since the first Gran Turismo, but it is as addictive as ever in GT4.

The different race events have been split up into skill levels, from Beginner to Extreme. Once you’ve experienced some of these races, country-specific events are also available where you’ll only race cars from a certain country and only those national cars are allowed. Even more interesting are the special condition races (like dirt, snow, and ice races) and the driving “mission� races, where you’re given a specific goal.

Each race is a new experience in Gran Turismo 4. Each cause has an affect: take a turn too sharply and lose your speed, and you may find yourself behind for the rest of the race because another car saw your mistake and took advantage of the time to get ahead of you. The A.I. has apparently been tweaked, but the only difference I’ve noticed is the tendency to be vengeful for collisions or the amazing skill that the leading driver shows near the end of a race. Basically, I noticed that it got progressively harder and harder to recover from a simple mistake, making each soft and hard turn vital to success. This shows that you have to be careful but you also have to be skilled. Many gamers may be turned off by the difficulty, which is much higher than GT3: A-Spec’s level.

The newest additions to the game are actually more menu-based than hands-on, which is slightly disappointing. The “B-Spec Mode� puts you into the shoes of a pit coach as you direct your in-game driver through a race. The perk to this mode is that you don’t actually have to control the car, so you may find it much easier to win on certain races with this option. Also, if you don’t have the required license for a particular race, it may be possible to enter the race with the B-Spec option instead. While this is an interesting addition, it isn’t nearly as immersive as the driving itself and mainly serves as a side-show attraction that I rarely took a look at.

Also, there is a photograph mode where you can set up your car in different areas to take virtual pictures. If you have a compatible USB printer, you even have the option to print out these in-game shots, but this isn’t much of a gameplay mode to brag about by any means. It does, however, show off one of the greatest aspects of GT4: the graphics.

I couldn’t believe I was playing a PlayStation 2 game when I started my first series of races in Gran Turismo 4. The graphics are so utterly amazing that replays look like televised races. The graphics in the previous Gran Turismo were amazing, but with the extra layer of polish that GT4 received, it’s hard to compare. Each car has a near-perfect realism that is only enhanced by the glossy, shiny reflective layer that cars now display. When the sun is shining down on your car while you’re roaring down the corkscrew on Laguna Seca Raceway, you’ll understand and appreciate what you see – reflections, dust and other particles kicking up, with a beautiful car that looks like it would if you stood alongside a road and watched it pass by.

I do have a few minor complaints. As I’ve already addressed, I’m disappointed by the lack of new material. I’m also annoyed with the in-game music, as it simply doesn’t draw me into the experience at all. I would have loved to see a radio feature like the Grand Theft Auto series has, but I’m not going to compare the two games – afterall, it’s much more interesting to hear the roar of your powerful car than the music to some background song.

Speaking of roars, your cars in the game have a certain sense of power that is remarkable – but the power doesn’t translate to speed, as Gran Turismo 4 feels almost slow and sluggish in comparison to the lightning-fast Need for Speed Underground series. This might not make perfect sense, but you won’t feel like you’re going 200 mph until you actually slow down to take a turn and you feel the realistic feedback coming from the in-game car. While it works with the realism factor, I wish the game could have felt a little faster, even at the expense of ‘realism’.

Gran Turismo 4 left me gawking, smiling, and shaking in excitement. I just can’t stress how amazing the game feels. Despite my small gripes, it will keep me sucked in for a very long time. From the feeling of accomplishment of getting your first racing license to the extreme sense of joy after winning a difficult championship, Gran Turismo 4 does what it needs to and does it almost perfectly. For that, I must tip my hat to Polyphony Digital on a job well done.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 7.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 9.3
Written by Cliff Review Guide

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