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Grand Prix Legends (PC) Review

Background Info

It's been a great time for racing simulation fans these last few years, with releases covering everything from Formula 1 to Monster Trucks. Even with the variety, however, the developers at Papyrus/Sierra found a genre that had remained untapped--vintage Formula 1 racing. Grand Prix Legends (GPL) recreates the 1967 Grand Prix season in full detail, and brings the excitement of the past back to life.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
The key word here is horsepower. GPL will take a fast system to run, and an even faster one to bring out all the detail that is available. Resolutions from 512x384 to 1024x768 are available, along with native support for Rendition and 3DFx accelerators.

Word of warning--if you don't own one of the above mentioned cards, don't even try this sim. GPL is pretty enough in software-only mode, but I don't believe there is a machine around with the processing power to make it a viable option. Framerate is everything in racing sims, and without a Rendition or 3DFx card, it's just not going to be there.

For those of us with the needed hardware, there are several options to streamline performance to your system. Anti aliasing, dynamic lighting, and texture details can be tailored to give the best balance of looks and framerate, and even with the details at the lower end, GPL is pleasant to look at. With the detail set high, it's simply amazing. The drivers' faces are textured, each car has a unique appearance, and the tracks and surroundings are very well done. Some of the nicer touches are skidmarks which stay on the track for the entire race, great smoke and flame effects, and good texture on the tracks. This is especially good at Monaco, with the broken and worn road surfaces.

On my system, which is the least I would even suggest for GPL, I got 30-33 frames per second with no other cars around in 512x384. Add 9 AI cars, and the rate stayed at a steady 20-25, except at the start, where it dropped to the mid-teens. GPL was drivable at these rates, but a faster system should be capable of 30+ FPS at all times. The AI in GPL is very advanced, so adding more cars(up to 19) can reduce framerate significantly. Overall, GPL's graphics get a thumbs up, even with the high hardware requirements.

Presentation/Audio : 90
Audio in GPL really means one thing--engine sound. And once again, I feel praise is due here--the Ferrari engine is one of the truly great sounds in the world, and is captured beautifully in GPL. Driving in a pack of cars with 3 or 4 different engine notes does wonders for realism, as opposed to the generic engine sounds in most sims. Wind noise and tire squeal are represented, and nicely, but when I think of GPL I hear the wail of 12 cylinders at 10,000 RPM, and can't help but smile.

Interface/Options : 86
The interface is very well done, with a vintage GP feel throughout. All the menu screens are clear and easy to navigate, and everything is accessible quickly. I particularly like the driver info screen, which allows creation of several different profiles. Each created driver can belong to a different team, have a custom helmet color, and different control and graphics setups. Very nice when running more than one season concurrently.

Gameplay : 96
In this case, gameplay is almost a misnomer. As soon as you get into the driver's seat, it becomes evident that the developers did eveything possible to make GPL a simulation, not a game. And, in line with the intent, going fast right away is no easy task. Options to make the transition to such a realistic sim are available, with less powerful cars and reduced damage, but even the novice trainer can be a handful. Once used to the handling, though, get ready for the time of your life.

Players can select from training, single race, or world championship from the main menu, but the less powerful GP3 cars are only available in training, so plan to spend some time on the track alone. Single race allows competition on any of the 11 tracks, and with your choice from among 7 cars, chosen at the driver info screen. World championship involves a race on each track, with driver's and manufacturer's points.

Even in training mode, GPL is a joy to drive. The car physics are unlike anything else, and feel absolutely spot-on, right down to body roll and lift-throttle oversteer. The cars modeled are light and powerful, with narrow, hard tires, and GPL models these traits perfectly. I had a lot of trouble with the handling at first, but after learning how to balance the car with the throttle, my lap times were faster and I found myself having an absolute blast. The car setup options are as complete as any, but until you get a handle on the proper technique for driving the GPL cars, I don't recommend tinkering too much. The default setups seem adequate, but the advanced GPL driver will be able to fine-tune to his heart's content. Each car has distinct powerband and handling characteristics, unlike many sims where the only difference is in appearance.

The AI cars in GPL behave very realistically, patiently waiting for passing opportunities and taking advantage of mistakes. I never noticed the AI doing any of the stupid things I've seen in other sims. All the famous names are included, such as Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, and Jim Clark.

The tracks are, in a word, great. From the narrow streets of Monaco to the entire 14.2 miles of the Nurburgring, everything seems to be lovingly detailed and period-correct. Each track offers a distinct challenge to the driver, and provide a great mix of high speed venues and precise, technical courses. All 11 tracks are presented as they were in 1967, and provide limitless driving enjoyment.

Multiplayer options for TCP/IP, modem, and LAN are provided, but as of this writing I haven't tried it yet. If warranted, a follow up will be done to cover the Internet play in GPL.

The overall feel and driving experience in GPL is almost flawless. The only change I would like to see is some way to adjust the speed of the AI--editing an .ini file will accomplish this, but I would have welcomed an easier way. Nonetheless, a stellar effort by Papyrus.

Difficulty : 98
If you haven't picked up on this, I'll say it now--if you want an easy, arcade-type experience, stay away from GPL. This is a serious sim, and will require many hours and hundreds of laps to master. A lack of adjustment for computer-controlled cars will likely frighten some people away, but the difficulty seems right in line with the intent of the developers, and just serves to add to provide a true sense of accomplishment when you turn a good lap. Kudos for not dumbing this one down to placate the masses.

Overall : 96
Obviously, I'm quite taken with this sim. All the right pieces are there,from sound to looks, and GPL has a "feel" which is absent from almost everything else. I'm still struggling to break 1:10 at Watkins Glen, and the AI have no trouble beating me, but the frustration I expected is nowhere to be seen. Quite an accomplishment, and I have no problem with saying GPL is the finest piece of software I have ever experienced. Highly recomended for any serious simulation racer.

By: Scott Moore 10/7/98

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