Gran Turismo review

Gran Turismo: The Real Driving Simulator, to give its full Japanese monicker, is possibly the greatest driving game of all time. It’s certainly the most impressive example of the genre ever to grace a home format – no other racing title has attracted the attention of so many individuals passing through Edge’s office or interfered with the magazine’s schedule to such an extent. To say that it takes its racing seriously would redefine the term ‘understatement’. Indeed, anyone doubting GT’s genuine devotion to racing driving will more than likely be convinced by the 54 page reference guide that accompanies the already substantial game manual. It offers everything from advice on driving technique – including 12 pages on the art of drifting – to a technical breakdown of every model buried within the game’s code. The only drawback at this stage is that it’s in Japanese.

GT probably features more cars in one game than the whole of last year’s PlayStation racing games put together. Although Edge hasn’t finished counting them, Sony’s PR department proudly boasts that ‘over 250’ are available and – amazingly – they all handle differently. This is perhaps GT’s most impressive aspect. The physics models are so accurate that anyone whose motoring experience extends beyond prosaic machinery is able to differentiate between front, rear and four wheel drive vehicles, not to mention front and mid-engined vehicles.

It’s a safe assumption to say that most players will rush to partake in the arcade mode. Here only Japanese machines are available at first, along with a mere four tracks – although playing it through will reveal the game’s other courses as well as grant access to the European and US cars. The most surprising feature, however, is the ability to engage in a time trial on three night courses running at an arcade-like 60 frames a second. Admittedly, in order to achieve this GT’s developer had to sacrifice its lighting effects, as well as simplifying scenery and removing all other cars from the track. Still, technical demonstrations have never proved so playable.

However, the real game lies in the GT option. Players start off with a limited sum of money with which to purchase a second-hand car and enter spot races with the purpose of earning more money in order to acquire superior machinery so as to better their chances of winning championships. To enter the latter, potential racing drivers must first obtain a racing licence. Three of these exist, but once a ‘pass’ is obtained players face a veritable feast of different cups – 13 in all – from short four-race meetings to 30 and 60 lap affairs on one of 21 tracks, all rich in scenic detail. The cups themselves are varied in nature and range from front, rear, and four wheel drive competitions to tuned car sessions and full GT-prepared racing car events.

Once the money starts rolling in, players can opt to upgrade to a faster, more powerful, better handling machine or decide to tune up their current model. This is where things get silly. Imagine the acceleration figures of a Mitsubishi GTO that – once fully souped-up – boasts an astounding 955bhp and a top speed around the 400kph (250mph) mark… Indeed, there is much fun in deliberately taking ridiculously inferior machines and seeing what may be achieved by adding a multitude of racing components. And this is one of GT’s primary strengths – the anticipation of seeing how a particular model is going to handle after modifications is fully justified once on the track (and, more often than not, off it, too).

However, despite all of this attention to realism, GT is a far more forgiving, and therefore accessible, game than TOCA Touring Car Championship, for example. Anyone with a basic knowledge of driving should get round most of the tracks without much trouble, yet the application of the slightest racing technique will immediately shave seconds off the lap times. This is GT’s greatest achievement. No other racing videogame has ever offered players such a convincing and rewarding racing environment. Where else has a game conveyed such realistic handling in terms of the right weight feeling, body roll, right down to lift-off oversteer and power understeer? Other games may have boasted sampled engine sounds but few make it possible to discern the turbos frantically whizzing in the back of the car. And what other game features car models so detailed that it is possible to recognise them by driving up to their boot and simply looking at their badge?

This realism extends to the races as well. During cups most players will breathe a sigh of relief to learn that, unlike Mario Kart, the same car does not win every race – allowing fairer and frustration-free competition.

There is, of course, no such thing as a perfect game, GT included. One possible criticism would be the relatively small number of cars on the track. This is a direct result of the PlayStation’s technical limitations and never a problem for most of the time as the racing is so close players are constantly dealing with cars in front and behind, and more cars would not add anything to the proceedings. However, during the 60 lap 300 Grand Valley race it’s possible to pull away from the other five contestants and spend a large proportion of the one hour and 38 minutes out in front with only the occasional need to overtake one of the backmarkers or pit in for a fresh set of tyres. Furthermore, the slowdown evident during the replays in the playable demo Edge tried a few months ago is still present and also makes an appearance during the actual game. Thankfully, this is extremely rare and always brief – and Sony Europe is promising that the PAL conversion will address the problem.

By comparison, the other gripes are petty; weather would have been a nice addition, as would a pit crew when coming in to change tyres, and the ability to fast forward the replays. The in-game music is atrocious and the end sequence features one of the most vomit-inducing tracks ever heard in a videogame. But again, the European release will change this – SCEE is replacing the whole musical score with material from ‘name’ bands.

Racing titles have remained fundamentally the same for the last 20 years. While GT doesn’t represent as immediate and apparent a departure from racing games as Super Mario 64 did for platform games, for example, it is the most realistic, detailed and playable example of an extensive genre. Not only does it redefine the concept of PlayStation racing games, Gran Turismo sets a new standard of excellence for all other platforms to follow.

Gran Turismo is one of very few games awarded an Edge 10. You can find the rest here.

10