Preview: Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)

Publisher: SCEA / Developer: Polyphony Digital / Genre: Driving / Release Date: 1Q 2005
With the game set to come out soon, Gran Turismo 4 is right around the corner and will be driving over the competition. GT4 is projected to be one of the highest selling games this year, an impressive estimate considering that the sales charts are still burning up over the recent releases of both Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Halo 2. Then again the game has already sold very well in Japan with Sony reporting that they’ve shipped over 1 million copies in the first two days of sale there.

How did this racing game become such a giant name in the business that it has people predicting that it can outsell highly popular action titles and overshadow other popular racers being released this winter? Let’s take a brief look at the history of the Gran Turismo series and see how this juggernaut got started.

The History:

Gran Turismo:

The first Gran Turismo game hit the US shores in 1998 and was quickly a hit. Part of this was due to the large selection of licensed vehicles available to choose from that each handled uniquely and realistically. Another addition that grabbed racing fans at the time was the ability to customize each vehicle with parts that affected the handling of the cars. This was all due to the efforts of longtime automobile fan and game developer of the series Kazunori Yamauchi who was tired of racing games with special cars and special races and decided to try and make a game using actual vehicles that you would see on the streets. Gamers took to this simple idea like a fish takes to water. While some of this might not seem like much now, at the time it was enough to put the Gran Turismo name on the map. With the success of Gran Turismo Yamauchi split of from SCEI and formed his own studio, Polyphonal Digital (some of this may be because of how long it took to get approval from Sony to develop the original game). Wasting no time Yamauchi and Polyphonal Digital went straight to work on the sequel…

Gran Turismo 2:

1999 saw the release of Gran Turismo 2. Though not much different in terms of graphics or overall gameplay of the original game, Gran Turismo 2 was closer to the Yamauchi’s vision of the game. He had wanted to include more American and European cars in the original, and the sequel definantly did not disappoint in terms of vehicle selection. The insane amount of vehicles to choose from was combined with more tracks to the inclusion of rally racing. Gran Turismo 2 was an impressive use of the Playstation hardware and still considered by many to be the best racing game on the PS1.

Gran Turismo 3:

GT3 hit shelves not too long after the PS2 was launched and was like getting a drink of water in the desert. At the time the PS2 was launched there was a distinct lack of launch games creating a need for at least one big title. GT3 was that first really big title. The game exploded onto the screen with near photo quality graphics and showed off some of the power of the PS2. Hell I’m not that big of a racing fan and I bought the game because there wasn’t much else out and the game was gorgeous. That mix of perfect timing and beauty with the already solid gameplay expanded the already large following and ensuing sales turned the game into one of the largest titles available for the PS2.

Enough With The Past Already….What About The Future?

Now onto the good stuff. Now that we have the past out of the way let’s look at what’s in store for GT4:

The Cars:

Obviously one of the most important parts of the game is the cars and a large selection of vehicles is a trademark of the Gran Turismo series. GT4 is no different offering up a huge selection of vehicles. How huge? Over 700 vehicles will be represented in the game from nearly all of the major popular car makers, including cars from Honda, Isuzu, Mazda, Chrysler, Acura, Audi, Citroen, Jaguar, Lotus, Lancia, Renault, BMW, Chevy, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Pagani, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volvo, MINI, TVR and VW. Two car makers whose cars will sadly not be appearing in this version of the game are Ferrari and Porsche. Of the vehicles that will make it in the final game, they range from cars you can see out on the streets to concept cars that have yet to be released (or may never be made at all). There is even an old three wheeled car from 1885 in the game, no word yet if Fred Flintstone’s foot powered car will be included.

The cars models for GT4 have had far more work put into them than any other previous GT title. Each car takes around a month just to create. They are all properly fine tuned to meet how the real car would react in any given situation, and the overall level of detail has jumped with the cars looking photorealistic. The already awesome physics engine has been upgraded and tweaked even farther to further enhance the simulation feeling of the game, however there still is no visible car damage and cars will not roll. Damage has always been something left out of the series in order to obtain the license to use some vehicles (some car companies refuse to have their cars appear damaged in the game). Rolling has been left out due to hardware limitations. There are now around 6,000 combinations of different paint jobs and vehicles parts to customize vehicles with, to support the variety of different vehicle combinations Polyphonal has made more room to save your cars in. You could store 200 in GT3, in GT4 you can put up to 1,000 vehicles in your garage.

The Tracks:

Sure you have vehicles, but what are you going to be driving on? Gran Turismo 4 will sport 50 tracks including popular tracks from previous games that have been given a makeover for the new game as well as many new tracks. These tracks include a variety of locations from all over the world both real and fantasy through both the city and the country. Each track can also be played in reverse, giving over 100 different track options.

The detail and graphics have been given a significant upgrade in this area as well. Some of the backgrounds are just jaw dropping and so real you’d think you could reach through the TV and touch them. While the demos and videos have shown 2D cardboard crowds Polyphonal assures people that the final game will have a fully polygonal crowd which will add to the realism. A great idea since crowds look really out of place by comparrison to the cars and the tracks.

The Modes:

In addition to the basic Arcade mode where you can choose an unlocked vehicle and track and go for a spin, and the Gran Turismo mode that has you racing all over the world, there are a couple of new modes this time around:

B-Spec Mode, which can be used with both Arcade and the Gran Turismo modes, is a different direction for the game. In the B-Spec mode you are essentially the ultimate backseat driver. If you choose to use this mode you will not be in control of the vehicle, the computer will automatically control your car while you take the role of a spectator who has the ability to influence how the computer drives. You’ll be able to choose how fast the driver goes on a scale of one to five, however the more aggresively you instruct the computer to drive, the better chance there is of the computer making mistakes or running off of the road. You also have the opportunity to press a button to make the computer try and overtake the other cars on the road, or have them pull over for a pit stop. Honestly, I don’t understand the point of this mode at all. The mode just seems to give you less control over the vehicle. Maybe a bigger fan of simulation racing games can give me some help here because Idon’t understand it.

There is also a photo mode which will allow you to take a vehicle and have it ‘pose’ in any one of the 50 tracks and allow you to choose from several different camera effects such as blur, angle, filters and more. You can then save the pictures onto a PS2 memory card or can print the pictures out on a USB printer.

Hey, Where’s The Online Mode At?

Unfortunantely due to time constraints GT4 will ship without an online mode available. Currently it is rumored that at a later date they’re might be a different version shipped with a completed online mode (maybe like they did with Twisted Metal: Black?).

Finish Line:

The ultimate driving simulator is back again with a more improved physics engine and stunning graphics along with an army of vehicles from the last hundred years, but other than a larger list of vehicles and tracks there doesn’t seem to be much new for the series this year except for the B-Spec and Photo modes. Will the newest Gran Turismo game be able to compete with other racing games that do have online support and vehicle damage? Time will tell.