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Sean Pettibone

Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Sony and Polyphony Digitalís highly anticipated racer Gran Turismo 4 has arrived at last for the PS2. Fortunately, it largely lives up to the exacting standards and expectations that have built up by series regulars. GT4ís graphics are highly polished and slick, setting a new level of realism and detail. With more than 100 unlockable during the game, thereís an incredible amount of depth. Players will find incredibly detailed car models that ape their real-life counterparts down to the smallest detail. While many competitors seem to have been closing in, GT4 finds the developers once again pushing on the accelerator, and leaving them in the dust. This is the deepest, most-realistic racer on the PS2 to date and a must-purchase for any racing aficionado.

While many racing titles have attempted to challenge the Gran Turismo seriesí legendary depth and realism over the years, none have ever really come close to capturing the mystique and essence of the influential ďReal Driving Simulator.Ē Many have aped the seriesí driving tests, extensive car lists and realism, but few have produced as cohesive a package as Polyphony does in seemingly effortless fashion. The long awaited arrived of GT4 for PS2 is an event that should please fans of the series and genre, as it builds substantially on previous installments, while not losing the essence of its appeal. While itís not exactly perfect, GT4 is a solid upgrade that delivers the thrilling, realistic racing action players have come to expect. As usual, players have an extensive array of options at their disposal initially, with several standard modes of play including
Arcade , GT and more available initially. There are many different modes, tons of different challenges and loads of depth, all of which gives GT4 plenty of longevity. In addition to the standard racing modes players have come to expect, there are a couple of interesting twists in GT4. Thereís a director mode that allows you to issue commands to a driver from a remote spit, such as increasing aggression or holding back, which is quite cool. Players can also print photos from the game in the B-Roll mode which is a nice extra, but is limited to certain manufacturersí printers, thus hurting its usefulness.

Players will find an extensive array of vehicles, courses, and driving styles represented in the game. While most of the gameís content can only be unlocked after extensive play, the initial selection should be more than enough to satisfy gamers. The gameís stats are impressive: it features more than 40 tracks in all ranging from real-world racetracks, urban city driving, challenging test courses and, a good selection of off-road rally tracks. The diversity of racing offered once again exceeds expectations. The vehicle list is also quite impressive with more than 40 manufacturers with more than 200 unique vehicles available in all. With so many vehicles on offer, Polyphony has helpfully included a feature that allows you to flag your favorites so you can find them easier later on. The vehicles themselves range from humble economy cars, to sedans, to high-end sports cars, rally cars, prototypes, and super-high end vehicles. This gives the game plenty of balance and offers a wide variety of driving experiences and techniques to master. Most major manufacturers are included with vehicles from Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Subaru, Nissan, Hyundai, Suzuki, Daihatsu, and others representing the Asian market. A impressive number of American models such as Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Chevrolet, and Pontiac are also represented. European modes from Audi, Peugot, BMW, Jaguar, Volkswagen and, Volvo are also included. In addition to these mainstream models, players will find numerous vehicles from more obscure manufacturers including exotics from Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Opel, Pagani,
Shelby , Scion, plus many other vanity and boutique models. Thereís an extensive selection of model years as well, with many classic vehicles from the 1950ís on available along with the expected inclusion of todayís performance beasts. You can find these classic vehicles within manufacturer pages or grouped together by era. While the manufacturers are heavily weighted towards Japanese firms, other areas of the world are represented with many American and European models available.

Players who want to get right into the action can select Arcade Mode, where they can choose a car and track and begin their quest. This mde allows you immediate access to high-end vehicles, race cars and other high-end vehicles. However, donít be fooled, since the Arcade mode also requires exacting driving standards, and isnít as simple as you might expect. The driversí AI is quite high here, and you probably wonít win many races without much practice. However, you can still earn GT points, which you can use to purchase vehicles and other items in this mode. While the arcade mode is fun and makes a nice breather for those in the heat of GT mode, it doesnít have the depth, customization or selection and serves mainly as a pleasing extra. The main meat of the game lies in its extensive GT Mode, where you have a chance to build up a career by winning races and upgrading your vehicle. In this mode, players can view the cars in their garage and choose whether to buy or sell them. There are also several dealerships which sell various types of cars, and parts shops where you can buy upgrades for your vehicle. In addition, players can buy and sell cars as they progress through the ranks. As usual, players can also choose to race against a set group of opponents and parameters on the main tracks, or in specialized races against cars of the same class. At first, youíre limited to a few events, but can unlock more by winning races and purchasing additional vehicles. You select which racing events to compete in and can earn money depending on your finishing position. In the main menu, most races are grouped by nation, with separate areas fro Japanese, European and American cars to name a few. Players can also select different event types such as Beginner Challenges and Special Events as well. Each racing type or nation requires the player to have the appropriate car or license to compete. Players will find that navigation of the GT mode is simple, just point the cursor over the area you want to go. While progression in this mode is fairly slow, at least initially, persistence pays off once you begin to upgrade your less-desirable vehicles, win races and trade in for more powerful cars later on. It seems intimidating, but this mode is required if you really want to get the most out of the game.

GT mode also features the infamous and somewhat dreaded licensing modes, where you have to pass a series of exacting, sometimes frustrating driving tests. Some of these tests seem deceptively simple, but the structure leaves little room for error. Many of the earlier tests require you to perform simple tasks such as accelerating and braking, while the more advanced tests require you to take devastating corners without skidding off the runway. The thing here is that youíll need a great deal of patience, since many will take multiple attempts to beat. This is really frustrating when you find yourself a few tenths of a second off the mark, missing the test requirements by a small margin. While they can be a bit tedious after awhile, the techniques you learn in the licensing area help to improve your driving skills. After you pass each test you move on to the next one. Each license requires you to pass 16 tests but once youíve earned a license class, youíll unlock a series of races and can use any of your earned money or points to buy additional vehicles.  This formula hasnít changed much from the first GT game, and really works well for a simulation. It not only tests your driving skills effectively, but works well in demonstrating Polyphonyís rigorous attention to detail and authenticity.

Once youíve mastered the basics, itís time to hit the pavement and find out what youíre really made of. With such a large number of vehicles in the game, you could forgive Polyphony if many of the cars performed similarly, but they donít. Each car in GT4 has a unique feel with little nuances that make their performance and handling differ. While the kludgy steering, poor acceleration and sub-par cornering of the beginner vehicles is frustrating, more advanced vehicles can be difficult to control, with over-steering and cornering techniques very difficult to master. The game controls are about as fluid and intuitive as one could expect, with steering, accelerating and braking simply mapped to the PS2ís standard controller. The responsiveness and realistic performance of each vehicle makes driving each one about as close to perfection as one could ask for, making for one of the smoothest driving experiences on the PS2 to date. Players can also set numerous options on the fly, with multiple viewpoints easily selectable. In certain training levels, you can also toggle a roadside guide on and off. This is extremely helpful when you canít quite figure out which racing lines to take and where you need to begin your braking before tight corners. Unfortunately, we werenít able to test the game with one of the high-end steering controllers on the market, but its safe to assume that GT4 plays even better with one of these devices.

Another key element that separates Gran Turismo 4 from most other titles on the market is its attention to detail and authenticity. For example, the performance enhancements of adding different tires to vehicles in other games causes barely a ripple, in GT4 it can make all the difference in the way a car handles curves, or its traction on rough surfaces. Players will find numerous extra parts for each vehicle, and knowing when to use them, and where to use them makes all the difference. Upgrading your engine, reducing your vehicleís weight or revamping the steering columns can make a huge difference, enabling even a humble, low-end vehicle to experience significant performance improvements. Of course, you can only do so much with certain vehicles, and there comes points when you have to trade or sell them for cars that are more sophisticated and complex. Whatís most impressive about all of this is that the game gradually opens up as you progress, slowly inching you towards more advanced, yet sophisticated vehicles as you go along. This measured approach to racing is definitely the seriesí trademark, and those looking for a quick spin are bound to be disappointed Ė it takes quite some time to master the gameís intricacies and nuances. Thereís quite a time commitment involved, those who have the patience will find a genuinely rewarding and deep experience, while gamers looking for a quick fix will probably find the gameís simulation aspects too dry for their tastes.

From a visual standpoint, Gran Turismo 4 sets another high-water mark for the series. As youíd expect, plenty of attention has been placed on the car models, which are spectacularly realistic. The carsí bodies and appearance is about as close to reality as youíre likely to find, with natural reflections and beautiful finishes making each vehicle shine. The vehicles still donít take damage, but this is a minor issue at this point since most GT fans have come to expect it. The sheer number of cars is impressive and the level of detail in each is quite astonishing. GT4ís courses and environments also look quite impressive, particularly some of the outdoors and off-track courses, such as the Grand Canyon track, which looks breathtakingly lifelike, with impressive vistas and an extensive line of view. The sheer diversity and quality of courses gives the player quite a varied experience, making GT4 feel like several games in one package. Each of these environments features a variety of impressive weather and other effects such as rain, snow and times of day. Each course showcases a tremendous amount of detail, which adds to the gameís realism. The developers have also spend time making the road-side spectators seem more lifelike. No longer are they pasted on digitized characters, and are actually 3D modeled characters react quickly and jump out of the way when your vehicle goes outside the railings. Unfortunately, the graphics engine is a bit buggy, and certain areas tend to glitch and freeze up slightly at certain points, which is surprising given the amount of polish thatís gone into GT4. Still, this remains the most impressive racing title on the PS2 to date, offering a level of realism that no other title on the platform has yet matched.

Overall, Gran Turismo 4 offers exactly what players have come to expect from the series: a highly-tuned precision driving simulator thatís demanding and deep. The gameplay is standard GT with hundreds of vehicles, many driving types and the extensive GT mode that offers the typically deep RPG-like racing experience. The sheer number of cars, vehicles and courses can be overwhelming, so its best to take this on in small chunks. While there are a few interesting twists such as the new direction mode, GT4 stays largely true to the seriesí formula to date. Some players will find the experience frustrating and too technical, those who really want a deep driving simulator have come to the right place. From an aesthetic standpoint, the game truly pushes the PS2 hardware to its limits, creating the most realistic racing game on the platform to date. Gran Turismo 4 represents the pinnacle of the genre, and marks another high-water mark for the franchise.

Grade: A

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