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Gran Turismo (PSX) Review

UPDATED 11/27/99

OK. It's Thanksgiving today, and this vegetarian is eating a little crow. One of our educated readers complained about my review of Gran Turismo below. In particular, he made issue with my statements about the physics. I'm here to tell you that crow ain't particularly tasty, but it's served compliments of Sony. As you read in the review below, I make comments about the speeds and RPMs of some cars. Well, I discovered a bug in Gran Turismo as I was defending my position to this reader. And the only reason I found it was because I was using a memory card page that didn't have my GT data on it.

My review was done after a time when I downloaded a game save from Sony's Playstation Underground disc (issue 2.3). Well, the game save was the culprit. By default, the game plays with speeds in units of miles per hour rather than kilometers per hour. Somehow, the game save changes the units of speed to kilometers per hour but doesn't update the rest of the parameters, resulting in a completely false set of physics. So I messed up, thanks to Sony and my inability to get through the game fast enough. I'll brag and say I made it through all the licenses and difficulty levels in arcade mode, but I wanted cash to upgrade those cars.

So when you read my review below, remember that in the end I say GT is a great game, which I still agree with. The physics are accurate as long as you don't use the game save from the Playstation Underground disc (and probably numerous saves from the Dex Drive website).

So the village idiot apologizes. Now if only I could get some ketchup for this crow.

Background Info
Is this the greatest racing game of all time? With tons of cars, and tracks aplenty, you have a top-notch contender. Throw in the promise of being a true driving simulation and you may have yourself a winner.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
Gran Turismo features some of the most detailed graphics ever on the Playstation. While the usual Playstation pixelation exists in the game, the programmers at Sony did their best to make a clean looking game. Cars have a tremendous amount of detail, from headlamps to racing decals.

The tracks are visually appealing. From tree-lined tracks deep in the forests to metropolitan city tracks, detail to the off-track elements is given. Roadway signs indicating upcoming turns are clear and provide you the opportunity to anticipate some of the more difficult parts of the courses. The signs prove to be a valuable aid since you can not enter a turn late without suffering speed.

The game appears to run at a smooth 30 frames per second with no hint of slowdown, even with a maximum of six cars on the track at one time. There is a limited amount of pop-up which is not too noticeable. The pop-up usually occurs away from the track itself, and if you are busy driving and watching the road, you will not notice the off-track pop-up. An example would be a tree suddenly appearing between two pre-existing trees.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Most racing games have the same types of sound, and Gran Turismo is no different. Each make and model of car has unique engine sounds. But the sound is fairly routine. It does not grab you and give you an adrenaline rush. Bumping into other cars gives the same sound, which is actually quite unimpressive.

Interface : 95
The control in Gran Turismo can be graded based on the type of controller you use. If you stick with a digital pad, you will not have an enjoyable experience. A game like Gran Turismo requires some sort of analog device. Using a digital controller, oversteer in corners can become a common occurrence.

Using an analog pad, such as the Dual Shock, improves the game over the digital pad. The steering can react to subtle changes and give better cornering techniques. And if you have a controller with the ability to rumble, you get a great driving experience. Some cars have a low frequency rumble in the straights, while some of the better cars are smooth as silk.

However, for the best driving experience, a steering wheel is recommended. A full-size wheel seems to give the best response, which is logical seeing as how the analog controller only gives you about one inch of total throw from left to right. You would have to have pretty good thumbs to dial in, say, a ten degree turn of the steering wheel. But with a full-sized wheel, this is an easy task, and it is bound to improve your driving times.

Braking and acceleration can be either digital or analog depending on the controller. In a digital configuration, the X button provides acceleration, and the square button hits the brakes. Hitting the circle button gives the emergency brake, and if hitting the emergency brake sends you into a spin into the grass, you can always back out onto the track by hitting reverse, which is the triangle button. In manual transmission mode, the gears are shifted up with R2 button and down with the L2 button. Views can be changed with the L1/R1 buttons.

Gameplay : (Arcade: 95) (Realism: 60)
I was all set to give Gran Turismo a high score in this department until I noticed a few things. From the manual covering the simulation mode, there is the statement "...experience the realism and thrill of authentic auto racing." On one level, I certainly agree; Gran Turismo generates a rush of adrenaline when you race against five other cars and are tightly packed going into the final turns. However, there is some problem with the realism in the game.

There are two modes of gameplay in Gran Turismo, Arcade and Simulation. Arcade mode gives you a quick introduction into racing in Gran Turismo, and the cars drive much the same as in Simulation mode. Arcade mode provides three modes of play - Single Race, Time Trial, and 2 Player Battle. In the Single Race mode, the levels of gameplay are Easy, Normal, and Difficult. Once the level is selected, you can choose the make and model of car you wish to drive. Cars are separated into three classes. The C class car is a low performance machine. B class cars are a step up, and the A class has the fastest cars, such as the Acura NSX and similar automobiles.

Once the car is selected, it's off to the races. Select the style of driving (standard or drift) and the type of gearbox (manual or automatic), and you can select the course. If you should place first in the race, you are given a check on the Bonus Items page. To fill out the entire page, you must place first in each class of car on every track. As you fill in the boxes, new tracks are opened. However, to completely fill out the page and get all the bonus items, you need to clear all the tracks on the Difficult setting.

What you will find when you race is that each make and model of car has different handling characteristics. I appreciate the amount of time Sony devoted to modeling the handling properties of the cars, and based on the gameplay, I know what cars to avoid and what cars to buy if I want to stay on the road.

Moving to Simulation mode, Gran Turismo offers months and months of play time. While you can race in the Spot Races as soon as you start out Simulation mode, to do anything worthwhile, you must first obtain a driving license. The B license is the easiest license to get and it requires you to pass tests in cornering, starting, stopping, etc. Once you get the license, you can start racing, earn some cash to buy some better cars, improve your driving skills, and come back to get a new license.

The A license is the next license to get and is much more challenging than the B license. The final license, the IA license, is very difficult to obtain. It involves time trials on the different courses. In all license tests, you are graded and will either pass or fail. If you pass, you can grade gold, silver, or bronze.

As licenses are obtained, you can race different championship series. With the B license, you can race in five additional series. With the A license, you open up seven more series, and with the IA license, you have the complete championship series available, which is an astounding 18 types of driving series. Each series has certain restrictions on cars. Some series allow modified cars, while others must use stock cars.

As you place in races, you will earn credits that can be used to improve the performance of your car or to buy a new or used car with better performance. With over 100 cars available, the car upgrade path is virtually limitless. Parts you buy for you car can be switched out; you can tinker with the gear ratios, braking properties, and everything else under the sun. You will have to become a virtual mechanic if you want to win at the higher levels.

And because each car handles differently, you need to make sure your new car suits your driving habits. Some high performance cars can easily spin out while others have incredible control. You will find yourself buying and selling cars to find the stable of machines that fit you.

The AI in Gran Turismo is second to none. Opponents are aggressive without cheating. You will sometime see your opponents off in the grass. But the opponents are very good drivers. They hold their lines and take advantage of your mistakes. The AI is consistent across both the Simulation and Arcade modes.

With all of the upsides of Gran Turismo, is there anything bad about it? Well, yes. Remember that the Gran Turismo manual states that this game is all about "realism." It is here that the game breaks down. The game is not a driving simulation but instead an arcade racer with simulation touches. If taken that way, Gran Turismo is nearly perfect. But taken as a true "simulation" the game completely fails.

First off, take any car out for a spin in Arcade or Simulation mode. I took the not-so-impressive Civic 3 Door for a drive on the High Speed Ring track, which is listed at 1.926 miles. My peak speed, as displayed by Gran Turismo during the race, was approximately 120 km/h. My second lap time, which was the fastest, was around 54 seconds. So performing some simple math, I must have had an average speed of around 128 miles per hour, or over 200 km/h! I think we have found a time warp machine, and it is hidden in the body of a Honda Civic!

Or how about an Accord in the 1000-meter machine test? I recorded my elapsed time and speed under each banner, which are separated by 100 meters. According to my calculations, I actually traveled 2200 meters instead of 1000 meters. Or was I 2.2 times slower? Who knows? Something is screwed up in a big way in this game.

And if the cars are truly modeled after their real-life counterparts, then I can not recommend anyone purchasing any of the cars in this game. Pretty much every car is pushing over 6000 rpm at highway speeds of 120 km/h. Good thing extended warranties are commonplace today, since with those types of numbers, engine life will decrease. Or how about the '96 Corvette with an unimpressive 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) time of around 10 seconds?

Or try going down the straights at 100 km/h and going into reverse. I am sure many out there have accidentally done this on a standard transmission and are greeted with an excruciating sound from the engine compartment. In Gran Turismo, there is no sound, and the car acts as though it has been put into neutral, as the car coasts to an eventual stop and then starts going backwards.

These may seem like silly complaints, but it puts into question the whole physics of the game. If Sony can not figure out velocity, time, and distance relationships, how can we be certain that the handling characteristics are modeled accurately at all?

Overall : (Arcade: 96) (Realism: 77)
Taken as a true simulation of driving or racing, Gran Turismo can not be graded highly. It simply does not model the basic physics of speed properly. Whether it was a simple programming error or an oversight, the end result is that some aspects of Gran Turismo are erroneous.

However, if you view Gran Turismo as an arcade racer with simulation aspects added, it is a wonderful game. The number of cars, tracks, options, etc. are amazing. The AI of the opponents is exceptional, and the variety is endless. The game will take months to complete and not become boring at all to the arcade racing fan.

By: James Smith 8/12/99

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