The installments of Polyphony Digitals now infamous Gran Turismo series have had some very high expectations to live up to, the original game on PS1 practically redefined the racing genre upon its release, the series first outing on PS2 in the form of Gran Turismo 3 again raised the bar for racing games and the GT series in just about every way, not least of all the graphics department, so how does the latest chapter in the Gran Turismo world measure up?
Read on, and you shall see.
As with previous releases of Gran Turismo the majority of the players time will be spent in the simulation mode in which you race for money to purchase and upgrade cars with which you will earn more cash, cars and trophies, the interface for the simulation mode is the now familiar map-themed affair common to the GT games in which you are presented with a birds-eye view of an area with icons placed at various location for you to visit including car dealerships, race meetings, your house and the (love it or hate it) license test center. While the overall design of the simulation mode interface is immediately familiar it has indeed undergone some changes, both aesthetic and functional changes too, your ever expanding car collection is now much easier to manage thanks to the ability to search through your cars for specific types of vehicle, you can for example quite easily alter your garage listing to show only your four wheel drive cars, or front drive or cars with specific sorts of components fitted, also in your home you can view your progress through the game in an easy to follow stat screen which lets you know how far through the game you are and other details like how much prize money in total you have earned.
You begin the simulation game with 10,000 credits with which to acquire a vehicle, needless to say your will not be grabbing a shiny new high performance car right from the start, in fact I would recommend that you take your ten grand along to one of the used car dealerships dotted around the map from where you can purchase decent unmodified cars from various eras of motoring at a reduced price, Players of GT3 or GT4:Prologue will be able to make their transition to GT4 a hell of a lot easier initially thanks to the ability to transfer 100,000 credits from their GT3 or GT4P save file in order to help in getting started.
After you have your new ride sorted you can enter the lower level racing events, more races will become available to you as you gain your licenses and there is no shortage of race meetings to take your pick of, on the map you will find a number of events ranging from beginner to extreme levels of difficulty and also regional tournaments where only cars from specific continents or countries are eligible to participate. Browsing through the car dealerships will reveal even more races for you to enter with the tournaments being based around the vehicles of whichever manufacturer you happen to be at.
As is par for the course for the GT series many of the races have special entry requirements as to which cars you may use, you will find races where your car cannot exceed a set length or a race where you need to have a Turbo kit fitted to the engine in order to enter and the like. This will ensure that you cannot beat the majority of the races with one super-powered vehicle and will instead need to manage your car collection effectively to include many different rides of various types.
Pimp my ride
At each car dealership you will find an upgrades center, here you can go to town on all aspects of your car provided you have the necessary cash, as with previous GT games you can perform a wide range of engine and exhaust modification to up the brake horse power of your rides along with modifications of the drivetrain, brakes, suspension and clutch amongst other things.
The reason for all of this modification - besides raw power - becomes apparent when you get into the car settings screen which you may enter before each race. In car settings your hard earned and hopefully well spent money on upgrades will really pay off, buying and fitting a brake controller for example will allow you to tune the brakes exactly the way you want them, you may decide (as I always tend to) to have the back brakes stronger than the front ones to aid turning, your money spend on customizable transmission will allow you to perfectly tune up your auto-gear changes (assuming you are using auto changes) depending on the course you are to tackle next, you can adjust how high the car is off of the floor in order to help hold the road (interestingly, the closer the underside of a car is to the road, the faster air moves under the car - this creates a 'suction' effect and helps the car to hold the road) you can mess with every aspect of your car provided you have purchased he required upgrades, even things like whether - and indeed to which angle - the wheels tilt (camber) is under your influence in car setup. The car settings screen had undergone a revamp and its is now much easier to tweak your vehicles than previously in the series.
Unlike previous games in the series, in Gran Turismo 4 each car can have 3 totally different setups - A, B and C - which you can individually configure and switch between at your hearts content, this means you could have config 'A' setup for high speeds at the loss of handling for fast courses with many straights, config 'B' with less power and more control for more technical courses and config 'C' setup with the suspension rigged up for courses with many changes in elevation for example, this comes in very very useful indeed.
A new coat of paint
Upon beginning your racing you will undoubtedly notice the graphical quality of Gran Turismo 4, all of the cars look stunningly realistic and come complete with slick realtime reflections of the surroundings and the surroundings have undergone a makeover too, the look and feel of the many raceways recreated here have been captured perfectly well and in immense detail, the lighting effects used to get the sun reflecting up off of the tarmac are spot on and the scenery in the distance beyond the racetracks is also of a very high quality with mountain ranges and forests visible as you go screaming round some of the courses.
The city based tracks boast similar levels of detail in their surroundings too, the 'rush' feeling of racing through dense sprawling citys is handed out in spades by both the layout of the tracks and the detail in the buildings that line them. The courses are plentiful and can be tested out via the map screen by selecting from categories of tracks including 'world circuits' which displays the real life raceways found in the game, 'original' which lists the custom made GT circuits, you can also choose to test out the city tracks and rally courses in this way.
Your license tests have had some changes made too, you will obviously be taught about the new driving surface - snow - as part of the tests which wasn't in previous GTs (in case you're wondering, driving on snow in GT4 is pretty much like driving on dirt but with less friction and more sliding about - it's a nice touch but don't expect a whole new style of gameplay or anything) and the driving tests now feature a 'coffee break' halfway between the lessons which is a simple thing like avoiding or knocking down cones, there is no time limit to achieve bronze in the coffee breaks but there is for silver and gold. Finishing most of the lessons will show you an outside shot of your car complete with three dudes standing about clapping you on your success.
The handling of the cars is still spot on and you can really feel the changes made to the way your cars perform due to the changes you make to the cars components and the tuning that you perform in the car settings screen, changing the correct settings will definitely give you an easier time although exactly how you want your car set up will vary from car to car, and from course to course.The physics is still off in places, colliding with other cars does not produce realistic results in terms of how the two cars are affected by the crash in handling, nor can you damage your vehicle, if realistic damage had been added to GT4 then the review score here would have been considerably higher since this would add a major change to the game and give players something they have wanted since the first Gran Turismo game, as it happens you can merrily bash your way into the AI opposition in order to slow down or bounce the corners without suffering any detrimental effects at all if you know what you are doing. The AI cars themselves still have a very 'on rails' feeling to them as they tend to stick to the best driving line and never really deviate from it and although I have seen them come spinning out on the odd hairpin it is rare for them to come off track without you bashing them off.
Aside from the simulation mode you have the familiar arcade mode which does away with all the buying and selling and simply lets you race a range of cars from all the manufacturers in a series of races, against AI opponents in similar vehicles, you can choose to play LAN games against up to five other players in arcade too although I feel that an online extension of the game would have been more widely used and better enjoyed.
The in game music is varied and the music library includes a wide range of artists to listen to, from the simulation map-menu you can select which tracks you would like to hear in game by adding them to your playlist, or removing from it tracks that you do not want.
The sound effects are also perfectly well done, each car having perfectly realistic engine sounds and the sound effects can really help you out, especially when turning or drifting as you will find the sound of your tyres screaming as valuable as what you see on the screen in order to judge your drifting around corners and when to accelerate out.
Coming packed with 700 cars and roughly 50 courses means there is a lot to see in Gran Turismo 4, although a lot of the cars really aren't worth bothering with on account of being crap when compared to what else is on offer, although overall GT4 is definitely a worthy entry into and continuation of the Gran Turismo series, while fans of the previous games are not going to be disappointed they may feel as though they are repeating most of what they did in GT3, new players to the GT series will be blown away by whats on offer here. Absolutely worth checking out and if you get seriously into the game you might find that sleep will soon become a long forgotten memory.