Not many game series can be referred to as genre-defining, but in the world of console racing games, Gran Turismo has definitely led the way. Since 1998, the GT series has aimed to bring every car lover’s dream to your PlayStation and PlayStation 2 through a combination of realistic driving physics, massive car rosters and courses from around the world, all topped off with state-of-the-art graphics and sound presentation that’s redefined the technical capabilities of the console each title has appeared on. With the fourth installment in the series, Gran Turismo 4, we find the franchise at the peak of its ever popular lifespan in a game that makes adjectives such as “big” and “sprawling” seem somehow inadequate.
Gran Turismo 4 features more than 700 cars from more than 80 manufacturers. As you might expect, the line-up leans heavily toward American, Japanese, British, and German makes, though you’ll also have access to cars from Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Korea, among other countries. This variety is not simply limited to country of origin, however. The cars found in GT 4 range not only in their power and prestige, but also in their ages. The game features cars from every major era of auto manufacturing: from 1960s muscle cars, to powerful Japanese turbo machines of the mid ‘90s, to one-off concept cars that won’t see city asphalt for 10 years or more, to examples from the very dawn of the auto era (such as the Ford Model T and the Daimler Motor Carriage from 1886).
It’s the little touches that make the difference, like your car’s reaction to a rumble strip telling you that you won’t have sufficient downforce and traction to take the corner. The trackside detail and little cameramen snapping away at your bonnet on rally stages and then jumping out of the way as you peel off the start line. The way that front-engine and rear-engine cars require a different cornering mentality and that you can tell that in seconds. The sense of awesome speed that you suddenly get when you find something that’s 200bhp beyond what you were previously driving. The way that you can eventually walk out of the room, have your mate fiddle with the car set-up and, with practice, actually realise what’s changed when you get back. The tyres, right? Wax on, wax off. Surround sound is a must. So’s a steering wheel. GT’s got all the parts to make you into a first-class driver, and it’s your own fault if you don’t bring the tools.
The structure is unashamedly GT, and the size of the task sprawled out in front of you as you enter GT World is sizable. A whole week and tens of hours weren’t enough to get the “game completion” figure looking anywhere near respectable. It’s extremely daunting, and although the handholding in the Licence Tests - complete with increasingly detailed explanations of the driving theory that applies to each challenge, as ever - is welcome, the lack of any subsequent help means that progress will be as slow or as fast as your random exploration of the GT World map lets it be.
The available cars, of course, are only part of the attraction of GT4. The game also features more than 50 courses to drive, including a tantalizing mix of real-life racetracks such as Fuji Speedway, Suzuka, and Laguna Seca; a cosmopolitan array of city courses from metropolises such as Hong Kong, Seoul, and the Big Apple; rally courses on dirt and (new for this installment) snow and ice; and old fictional friends such as Grand Valley Speedway, Deep Forest Raceway, and Trial Mountain.
Its like being there
Beyond these impressive stats, the first thing any casual fan of the GT series notices are the graphics. The earlier GT games defined the technical reach of the PlayStation across two consoles, and this reach extends here. Car models look fantastic, and though only six cars are on-track at any time, the game suffers zero slowdown, even when things pile up in the corners or during drastic elevation changes. Lighting effects that were impressive in Gran Turismo 3 are stunning in GT4, both in terms of technical achievement (such as in the real-time reflections on car doors) and artistic aesthetic (the luminous George Paris street track or the neon-drenched section of the Hong Kong city course). The game only features three points of view when driving--and there is no cockpit view--but a tangible sense of speed is conveyed by all three angles.
You can also spend time with the game’s other additions - the B-Spec and Photo modes. B-Spec basically involves managing an AI driver racing in your place. You can tell him to be aggressive, overtake, pit, etc, and view his work from different angles. Although it’s arguably little more than a novelty in most cases, it’s nice to be able to swap from A to B-Spec in the pits during Endurance Races, and, as we realised recently, it’s also a nice excuse to keep playing while you’re eating your dinner. Photo mode, meanwhile, allows you to set up complex photo opportunities for your favourite cars, frame them nicely and then save them or send them to a USB printer.