Gran Turismo 2 (PSX) Review
After what has seemed like an interminable wait, the sequel to the mother of all racing games has arrived. Polyphony Digital have taken the safe route with Gran Turismo 2 (GT2) by choosing not to mess with the formula and game engine that made Gran Turismo (GT) so phenomenally successful. What they have done instead is provide a massive update to the original, a game already so good that it virtually consumed six weeks of my life when it was released back in 1998. Can love be so sweet the second time around?
Presentation/Graphics : 88
GT2 opens with a solid, but less than awe-inspiring, intro. Granted, intros are nothing more than window-dressing, and I only mention it here because the intro to GT ranks as possibly my all-time favorite. Now on to more important things…
One of a handful of gripes that I had with the original GT were the graphics. Sure, the cars looked fabulous, but the background graphics suffered miserably as a result. The same holds true for GT2. Once again, the cars are the stars. Given the limitations of the hardware, I wouldn't have it any other way, but the great looking vehicles come at the expense of some horribly pixelated backgrounds and road surfaces. There is also some noticeable draw in, white and black seams are a pretty common sight, and the overall look is quite grainy. However, the action moves along at a decent clip, and conveys a good sense of speed. Despite some faults, GT2 is far from being unattractive game. It's as good as can be expected from the Playstation at this stage in its lifecycle.
Presentation/Audio : 95
The one area where GT2 improves the most upon the original is in the audio department. GT's audio package was very good, but GT2 features better dynamic range and more oomph overall. Engine sounds are distinctive for each car (no mean feat considering how many there are), and precisely localized in stereo. Running the audio through a surround setup yields some smooth rear to front panning effects that really help to immerse you in the action as opponents approach and attempt to pass.
The soundtrack in GT2 has also received a serious shot in the arm. A weak point of GT, Sony has really pulled out the stops here by serving up a veritable who's who of front-line artists including Beck, The Cardigans, The Crystal Method, Filter, Foo Fighters, Garbage, Rob Zombie, Soul Coughing, and Stone Temple Pilots. Whew! As good as the music is, like most racing games, it's tough to balance against the engine sounds. If you use a manual transmission you're likely going to want to sacrifice the music for the ability to hear your engine clearly. On the other hand, if you enjoy racing to tunes, you're gonna love this. I should also mention the jazzy music that plays over the menus. It sounds great and is in stark contrast to the edgier music used during the races.
Interface : 98
If you've played GT, you'll feel right at home with GT2's menu interface. Despite containing many more options, its design is very familiar. Menu systems just don't come any more intuitive than this. Once you become accustomed to the icons used on the various menu screens (which you will in no time), navigation is fast and efficient.
Load times are quite quick, both when starting the game and moving into a race, but saves are a little sluggish. GT2 offers the option to load saved license test results from GT so you don't have to pass them again. This is a very thoughtful bonus on the part of Polyphony Digital, but the interface is kind of cryptic. I managed to import my license results, but it was never really clear that I had succeeded in doing so. Some sort of confirmation message would have been really useful.
As with the menu interface, if you are comfy with the control of GT you will have no trouble migrating to GT2. It's identical in terms of both layout and control. It's just like riding a bike. Once mastered, you'll never forget it.
Vibration feedback is as good or better than it was in GT. I can't think of a game that's implemented vibration better. The feeling of rocketing down a dirt track in a 295 HP Subaru Impreza Rally Car is completely immersive, not to mention exhilarating.
Upgrading and tuning options are presented and structured almost identically to GT except that, you guessed it, there are even more of them. You'll be adjusting parts of the car that you didn't even know existed prior to GT/GT2. It's truly one of the wonders of the game, and testament to the level of detail that the developers have built into it.
Gameplay : 92
Like GT, GT2 is structured into an arcade mode, and a simulation mode. This time, however, they're split onto separate discs due to the sheer size of the game. I won't spend much time on the arcade mode here because, chances are, neither will you once you start playing the game. GT is, and always has been, about its simulation mode. However, there are some goodies worth checking out in Arcade Mode including bonus items that can be unlocked, and a terrific time trial mode with ghost car (yeah!).
GT2 features more of everything than did GT including a staggering 500+ cars, and a mouth-watering assortment of new manufacturers. The track count has more than doubled, and includes all the originals that you've come to know and love (or should that be loathe?). There are now more leagues, cups, and events than you can shake a stick at, including special events specific to a manufacturer. And if that weren't enough, there's the very welcome addition of rally racing.
So, does all of this additional quantity translate into quality when it comes to gameplay? Well, yes and no. There's certainly a whole lot more to do in GT2 than there was in GT, but it all plays out in pretty much the same way as it did the first time around. Much as I loved the original, I had three main concerns with the gameplay. Let's take a look at each in turn, and see how they've been addressed in GT2.
1. License Tests
I had a major issue with the mandatory license tests in GT. With the exception of a notable few, they weren't terribly difficult to pass (unless you went for golds!), but I thoroughly resented the fact that they were compulsory. I found them boring, tedious, and completely unnecessary. They taught me nothing that couldn't have been learned from participating in actual races. It was my fond hope that the license tests would be optional in GT2 but, alas, they aren't. In fact, there are even more of them. Many gamers who lack the patience or skill to pass the license tests will have sections of the game inaccessible to them. I far prefer the more standard means of advancing through levels based on performance in races. If you're willing to invest the time, there are some cool cars that can only be won by obtaining golds in the license tests. The only silver lining here in all of this is that it's possible to import your GT licenses to GT2. Hope you kept your saves!
2. Car Damage
One of the primary complaints that many of us had with GT was the lack of a damage model. As a result, racing turned into a game of bumper cars. As accurate as the physics model was (and still is), it was possible to careen around the course with reckless disregard, and no consequence for sideswiping other cars in order to keep yourself on the road. Naturally, your opponents returned the favor. Once you realized that you could take advantage of this, it became part and parcel of your racing "technique." Unfortunately, GT2 does nothing to correct this. There is a car damage option that can be activated for two-player racing, but not in simulation mode. For all the lengths that GT2 goes to in other areas in its quest to be the ultimate simulation, it's perplexing that the game still lacks any semblance of a damage model. It's quite apparent that the game engine from GT has been left virtually untouched for GT2. The racing is as much fun as ever, but it's still bumper cars.
3. Entry Requirements
GT was a game that I found completely engrossing in the early going, but lost its allure about two-thirds of the way through. It simply became too easy to upgrade your car to the point where it was possible to overpower the field. When the game reached that point, most of the challenge was lost. This is one area that I felt really needed to be addressed in GT2 by including entrance requirements to each event in the form of maximum horsepower ratings, and Polyphony Digital have done just that. Unfortunately, it doesn't go far enough to solve the problem. It's still too easy to improve your car in other areas, particularly by upgrading the transmission and reducing weight, to better the competition. It always seems that you're just an upgrade or two away from winning a particular race or class. Then it becomes all about the money that's required to upgrade. It won't take you long to find the races that will become your cash cows.
It's worth noting that the gameplay is less linear than GT thanks to the number of cups and events that are now available. They are more or less structured into layers by the license and maximum horsepower restrictions, but there is lots of latitude within that to move among the various races. Just don't expect to fill your garage as quickly as you did in GT. Early on, you'll be racing strictly for money. The prize cars (and there are tons of them) don't flow as fast and free at the start as they did in GT. How many Mazda Demios do you really need anyway?
Replay Value : 98
GT2 is about as deep in replay value as just about any game you're likely to encounter. Unlocking all of the cars is not something most gamers will ever invest the time to do, but the challenge lays in wait. There are so many cups and events to participate in that mere mortals will be well occupied until the release of Gran Turismo 2000 in the fall. The only question here is whether GT veterans will be able to summon the tenacity to play through what is, essentially, the same game a second time. Sure, there's a ton of new stuff that's been added, but it doesn't feel a whole lot different from the original. For the three of you that never played GT, brace yourself for one of the most massively addictive gaming experiences of your life.
Overall : 94
Polophony Digital have done it again. They have taken the best console racing game ever and updated it beyond any sane person's reasonable expectation. Taken on its own merits, there isn't another sim-oriented racing game that can come close to it. The question is whether even that will be enough to captivate seasoned GT'ers the second time around. Despite offering more of everything than GT, the similarities in terms of gameplay are inescapable. As a result, it doesn't have quite the same draw that GT did. No longer do I lay awake nights mulling over how to dial the shimmy out of my Chrysler Concept Car (which is probably a good thing!). Gamers put off by the simulation characteristics of GT will be no more enamored of GT2. However, for anyone new to the series, GT2 is the one to get. For the rest of us, there's still too much here to resist. Way too much.
This review marks my last as a regular contributor to SGN. Real-life has simply become too hectic for me to continue. But before I go, there are some people I'd like to thank. First, James Chheng and SGN for allowing me to contribute to what has developed into a first-class website. I wish you continued success. Second, to my good buddy and SGN compatriot Jim S. for his continued support and friendship (and for getting me this gig in the first place!). Thanks bud, you're the best! And last but not least, to you, the readers of my reviews. I hope you've found them useful, and I really appreciate all the feedback and support you've given me. See ya!
By: Pete Anderson 2/10/00
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