News and views on motorsports

Monday, January 10, 2005

GT4 Review

Toyota has just launched their TF105. So what? It's that time again that happens once every two or three years. Yes ladies and gents, the good folks of Polyphony Digital have done it again. The latest edition of Gran Turismo is now out. Its been out in Japan since December 28 in fact. Its time again to ignore your partners and give full attention where its due. On the racetracks.

Graphics, Sound And Music
I was a little disappointed with the graphics. That is to say, I had expected a lot more. Of course the background scenery has been improved tremendously but the rendering of the cars themselves haven't changed much. It is an improvement but not a quantum leap. Think of the difference between GT1 and GT2 and you will begin to understand. An evolution rather than the revolutionary leap between GT2 and GT3. I suppose Kazunori and his team have done the best they can from the Sony PS2 graphics engine. We'll just have to wait for PS3 to see vastly improved graphics.

Whilst I did mention improved rendering of the cars but then again, some things, like no driver in the driver's seat makes it look awfully wierd. This only applies to tintops. If your car is a convertible or open top, then you'll see a driver in the seat complete with action movements.

I'm not sure if its rendering errors or if its intentional but on distance shots the picture does tend to get jittery. Not necessarily bad but I'm not sure what they intended right there.

On the music front, I really miss the Cardigans and "My Favourite Game" on the title screen. Now it starts with an operatic score leading to some electric guitar muzak. Not very inspirational. The background music during the games are not so bad. I did hear Elvis though. Could've been someone else and you can check this. Before a soundtrack plays, the title and musicians name appears on the bottom of the screen.

All in all, the graphics, music and sound effects are of the usual high standards you'd expect from Polyphony. These folks have a way of squeezing every ounce from the PS2 but you'd of course expect that if this were an XBox game it would look way better. I must say though it does not in any way make the game less appealing. After all, those people who emphasize too much on graphics, people like pretentious art directors and graphics card geeks, are simply missing the point of the game. That is the driving.

Driving Impression
This is the heart and soul of Gran Turismo. Thankfully for the latest installation, the driving is much much improved over previous versions, living up to its name as the "Real Driving Simulator." As I said at the beginning, those of you who're used to GT3 will quickly acclimatise. For immediate thrills you can go to the Quick Races (or whatever it says in Japanese). There you may choose between "Real" circuits i.e. the ones that do exist in the real world, "Street" circuits for those who enjoy a spirited drive along the roads of some famous cities around the world, "Original" circuits that have been created by Polyphony. Of course, you must go the the "Real" section first. And why not? The first track you get is the Nordschleife.

As you may imagine having only received the game yesterday I haven't yet had time to go over most cars so I selected just a small sample to get a feel for the driving. This included the 2005 BMW M5 (standard), the standard BMW M3, Honda NSX-R (standard), Ruf RGT, the Spoon S2000 race car and my very own real life car, the Toyota Altezza RS200. I chose the Altezza because its the only comparison I have to a real world car.

The first thing you notice is the brakes. Standard cars dive and dive a whole lot. Its quite disconcerting at first but you get used to it. The Spoon race car had enormous brakes but if you brake hard for a hairpin for instance, the car begin its fishtailing rituals. The RUF's rear weight bias tells on hard braking, the momentum of its rear engine makes the car spin around like Kylie. The simulation of braking performance is much much improved over GT3. In GT3, braking was always a sedate affair no matter what car you drove. What I mean of course is that the car would always point where you want it to even under extreme braking. The only worry you'd have is understeer. With GT4 you'll have to contend with nosedives, fishtails and step on oversteer.

The other thing you notice especially at the Nordschleife is that during fast straights, standard cars will "float." This is especially frightful at the Nordschleife where you often will be in 5th or 6th gear balls out flat into a corner doing some ridiculous speed. The car's floating and suddenly there's a bump or the camber of the road starts to change. You're guaranteed to have a "Whoaaa oh me god" moment. The Nurburgring though is the perfect race track. Drive it people, and you'll know what I mean when I say that its the best track in the world. Its the definition of fast and flowing. Plus its got every conceivable type of corner there is. You'll quickly realise why all the major performance car manufacturer test their products there.

The Nordschleife tests all the major aspects of a car. You'll need mechanical grip, straight line speed, handling balance, high speed stability and aerodynamic downforce, suspension compliance and every other thing bar the kitchen sink to do well over there.

The modelling of road surface and camber changes have also been vastly improved. If there was one thing I thought very strange in GT3 was the fact that tracks were too smooth. In the real world though, circuits do have their bumps and undulations, that unsettle cars. GT4 has brought this to the fore and it feels great. I would imagine, you could use GT4 for finding initial base settings in a car. A pity then that circuits close to me like Sepang are not in. I bet you'd get loads of racerboys using GT4 for setup work then.

Of the cars I tested the BMW M5 impressed me the most. Sure it has a 500bhp V10 but it weighs something like 1700kg, so you'd expect rhinocerous like agility. Not so. Somehow in GT4 (and I assume in real life) BMW has completely sorted this car out. Not only is it stupendously quick in a straight line and it brakes on a dime as well. Like all modern BMWs it has a tendency to understeer but not so much that you'd be pulling your hair out in frustration. At the Nordschleife I managed to take it to 290km/h plus in seventh on the back stretch prior to the start and finish. The Nordschleife is not an easy circuit to learn what with the endless number of corners. So having those enormous brakes help a whole lot.

Nevertheless, there was one particular run I did that resulted in a huge spin. I somehow was on the verge of the blacktop and a wheel touched the grass at 290 km/h. Whereas in GT3 you'd still be pretty safe, in GT4 the car started to gyrate from side to side as I tried to counter and added to the aerodynamic lift and the fact that I lifted the throttle, at that speed I eventually lost it and round and round it went. Brilliant. This is much more like it, more realistic. Oh and of course I switched off the traction control and automatic stability control. Only wimps need to use that.

I also tested a Peugot 206 S16 for good measure since its a front wheel drive car and also I know for a fact that it will be used by many.... enemies. So I just wanted to see what my garage collection will be faced with. A front driver like the 206 feels like crap what with all that understeer it faces. For sure, it was only a standard model but the Civic EK Type R I purchased in the simulation mode has got it licked. Another car that disappointed was the BMW M3 although this was a standard version and not the CSL. It simply did not perform as well as the BMW M5. Put it this way, the M5 easily put the Ruf RGT to shame. But again I must stress, these were the standard cars and not the race varieties.

GT4 is a massive piece of gaming software. Its going to take months if not years to complete it all but I'm sure its going to be spectacularly good fun. In GT4, I would say that a steering wheel control and brake pedals would really benefit the player. Again, the physics model of the game is far far superior to GT3. The revolution may not have happened in terms of graphics but it sure as hell happened with the gameplay. Get your copies today maties. And see you in a couple of years!

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