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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Tourist Trophy  (PlayStation 2)


By Michael Palisano

Going on a different path from their Gran Turismo roots, Polyphony Digital enters the world of motorcycle racing with the release of Tourist Trophy. The game retains the company's typically obsessive attention to detail with a range of real vehicles, manufacturers, parts, and courses that should please racing fans. The game's structure allows for plenty of options and a deeper mode where you can earn licenses. The attention to detail pays off since the game's impressive physics engine creates an authentic feeling of riding a bike, with dangerous curves causing your rider to be thrown off their bike. While Tourist Trophy isn't as elaborate as Gran Turismo, it's an engaging title that offers players the depth and challenge they've come to expect from these developers.

After creating the amazingly successful Gran Turismo series, Polyphony Digital switches gears with the release of Tourist Trophy. The focus this time switches from four-wheeled vehicles to two in the form of motorcycles. This makes the gameplay much more elaborate and visceral, though the company's trademark attention to detail is evident in the realistic physics models, accurate course design and flawless control. Tourist Trophy's lineup of bikes features an impressive roster with more than 100 street and racing bikes from real-world manufacturers and suppliers. Players will also find the usual elaborate career mode, with extensive license testing, tournament modes and a cool photo mode where you can print out your best moments. This is an impressive title that successfully creates a sense of speed and excitement. The level of detail is fantastic and its sense of realism makes it for an enjoyable and challenging motorcycle sim. While the action switches modes of transportation, Tourist Trophy retains much of the feel and style of Gran Turismo in its menu presentation, music and overall structure. The game definitely feels like a GT spin-off, though the unique gameplay mechanics and physics presented with motorcycles gives the game a unique feel all its own.

As you'd expect from Polyphony, there's abundant options and settings. To start with, players can choose from a variety of modes such as standard Time Attack, Arcade and One-on-One battles. The most elaborate mode in the game is Tourist Trophy Mode. Here, players can learn the basics of riding in the License School mode. In this mode, you are given a set group of very rigid requirements to beat in each race, such as beating a set time, racing through an entire course without crashing or going off the main track. Anyone familiar with the GT series knows that this can be a pain to complete, but there are plenty of rewards to keep you motivated. Once you have attained a license level, you can compete in Challenge modes, which allow you to unlock extra items such as bikes, racing gear and additional courses to race on. Players can also enter their garage in this mode, where they can manage their bikes and riders and adjust the riding form for each bike. Additionally, this is where you can use the game's special Photo Mode to take photos and save replays of your races. This mode isn't quite as elaborate as the GT mode was, but it still provides plenty of depth for players looking for something with some longevity. Options such as adjusting screen gamma, music and ambient volume and replay settings are also available. With all these features included, it's somewhat surprising that Tourist Trophy lacks the one ingredient that seems almost essential these days - online support. This is quite disappointing and definitely ranks as one of the game's more glaring omissions.

Once you've selected your game mode, you can then select which bike to use. This isn't as easy as it sounds because Tourist Trophy includes more than 100 bikes from a variety of manufacturers including Honda, BMW, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati. In addition, parts makes like Firestone, Dunlop, Castrol, and many others supply the tires, parts and other options. Players can also select with gear their rider will wear, with an array of suits and colors from various manufacturers. The bikes offer a broad range of styles and classes and come in a variety of classes and are grouped together by their CC ranking. As a general rule, slower bikes offer better cornering and maneuver easier, while the faster bikes are more difficult to control. The faster your bike, the easier it is to fall off or spin off the course. Each bike can be customized with a number of variables such as weight, riding position and tire grip. There are two basic types of bikes in the game, street bikes are best in urban courses and allow for faster, more flexible turning. Using the racing bikes is ideal in the game's oval tracks; these provide a generally faster top-speed and better cornering around the bends. Using the bikes requires a great deal of practice and concentration, to a much greater degree than standard vehicles in Gran Turismo. One of the most important factors you need to consider is your rider's racing form. This can be set to either a body or bike balance, this setting plays a key role in how your bike handles during the race. You can adjust a variety of parameters including your rider's body position, arm and leg angle, angle your body leans and several slide angles, to name a few. Additional options in the garage allow you to change your bike's suspension, tires, transmission, brakes, gear ratio and roller weight. This gives the game a comprehensive detail that allows you to fully create exactly the kind and type of race you want. By tweaking and adjusting all of these variables, you can make a better vehicle over time and develop a riding style that becomes second nature.

Once you're out of the garage and on the road, Tourist Trophy's finely tuned gameplay begins to emerge. While it might seem a little analytical and dry at first, TT becomes more exciting as you gain experience and progress through the levels. While the nuances and subtleties of the racing are slow to emerge, once you gain proficiency in the basics, you can concentrate on racing tactics and strategy, making for a more competitive race. Keeping your rider balanced, knowing which angle you need going into curves and keeping your eye on the radar to avoid deadly hairpins are keys to success during the races. The game's tracks offer a range of obstacles and turns to master, some of these are more straightforward than others, and Tourist Trophy does an excellent job in its track designs. While many of the 35 or so courses in the game are based on real world tracks and locations, others are pure fantasy and seemed to be designed with both the beginner and expert in mind. The tracks include professional courses such as the famous Suzuka, Fuji, Laguna Secway, Twin Ring Motegi, and Valencia. These have all been faithfully recreated from the actual course layouts and offer plenty of challenge. Many of these offer different layouts from different eras, alternate routes and branching tracks. Players can also race in a variety of urban locations through city streets including New York, Seattle, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong. More exotic locales such as Citi di Arria in an Italian city and Costa de Alfami on the Mediterranean offer twisting courses through narrow pebble lined streets which offer a completely different feel and set of challenges to the player. In addition, several fantasy courses, such as the infamous GT Clubman stages and Autumn Ring courses are playable here. This gives TT plenty of variety, with each course offering a distinct set of challenges and unique style that makes each circuit almost a game in itself. This variety adds to the replay value, offering an incredible amount of depth and challenge. Most players should find there's more than enough challenge in the game to keep their interest level high throughout. Since the game's courses can differ so dramatically, choosing and configuring your bike beforehand is almost as important as what happens during the race.

A fastidious, obsessive level of detail is evident in most aspects of Tourist Trophy, and this realism extends to the controls and gameplay as well. Controlling your bike is fairly simple with the standard analog and digital interfaces used, which makes the game immediately familiar and comfortable. The level of responsiveness of each vehicle is evident in turns and cornering, and each bike's unique personality gives the game a realistic feel throughout. While steering and braking are fairly obvious, learning when you need to anticipate turns, how much you can lean into turns without falling off is quite tricky. Mastering the sense of balance you need is quite tricky, since you can't make too many dramatic switches or make wide turns, or you'll slam into the sides of the courses. Mastering the physics and handling of riding each bike isn't quite as complicated or daunting as it sounds, since the game is more forgiving than you'd expect. The realism and authenticity is impressive and makes Tourist Trophy a satisfying experience. You can win early races with little effort, but incremental improvements will take time and effort. The game makes you work to shave every tenth of a second off your lap time, which is actually fairly satisfying if you have the patience to master every nuance.

Even though the PS2 is currently the oldest of the current generation consoles, Tourist Trophy shows the system is still capable of creating some impressive visuals. It should come as no surprise that the game's overall appearance mirrors the look and style of Gran Turismo 4, with a similar level of detail and technical realism. As you'd expect, the environments are richly detailed with brilliantly rendered trackside objects that bring each course to life. There's very little in the way of draw-in or pop-ups, which gives the game a generally smooth appearance. Unfortunately, there are a few jaggies which show up from time to time, which lessens the impact of the otherwise excellent visuals. Each track in the game features excellent light sourcing and color, with reflections, shadows and glowing signage creating some impressive environments. Tourist Trophy's frame rate is consistent throughout and the game offers a convincing sense of speed and momentum that's quite exhilarating. You can choose to race in either a first person or behind the bike perspectives that can be changed on the fly. The screen doesn't tilt as much as you think it would in the first person mode, which is less distracting than you'd think it would be. An excellent soundtrack features a decent selection of driving techno/trance music that compliments the action perfectly. Overall, the game's production values are superb, and show there's still life on the PS2 yet. Tourist Trophy's visuals create a convincing and thrilling sense of speed that are enhanced by its high degree of realism that should please gear heads.

Those players expecting a game with the depth and detail of Gran Turismo are likely to be pleased by some aspects of Tourist Trophy, yet leave slightly disappointed by others. As you'd expect, players can change and select from piles of options and variable to create their perfect ride, and tweak its settings to their desired modes. The selection of bikes is impressive, with a huge number to choose from. However, the selection also feels more limited than the GT titles that offered exponentially more vehicles. This is mitigated somewhat by the game's track selection which offers a number of riding styles and obstacles, giving the gameplay more than enough variety and depth to create some deep replay value. Visually, the game is impressive and definitely shows there's still some surprises left in the PS2 hardware. While Tourist Trophy shares more than few similarities to last year's Gran Turismo 4 in terms of style and presentation, the game is different and unique to merit a purchase on its own.

Grade: B+

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Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)
Project Gotham Racing 3 (Xbox 360)

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