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Grand Prix 4 (PC) Review

Background Info

Screens (7)
When writing reviews, I generally state I will not compare one game with another. I prefer to have the title reviewed stand on its own merits. However, I'm going to deviate from that theory at times for this article.

There are two current F1 simulations and a PC gamer new to the genre should be able to make an informed choice. If both games were equally well-done, it wouldn't be important, but this isn't the case between Geoff Crammond's GP4 and EA Sports' F1 2002. If this is going to be your first F1 racing game, I recommend that you read our review on EA Sports' F1 2001 first.

As its title suggests, GP4 is the fourth in the series of Crammond's F1 racing games. When GP2 came out, it seemed advanced for a racing title at that time. GP3 added a little to the game, but not too much. Will G4 be able to take a big step in advancing the genre and the series or will it all under the same category as its predecessor?

Presentation/Graphics : 60
I believe the type of graphics used in a game set your mood; surreal, dream-like graphics used in Unreal set you up for adventure. The cartoon-like graphics in the Dirt Track Racing series says, "let's have some fun and bang door handles!" For a serious F1 racing simulation, you need photo-realistic graphics like those used in EA Sports' F1 2002; and that's what GP4 attempts to deliver. Unfortunately, it falls a little short and has a mix of both types of graphics.

The reflections on the cars are way overdone, giving them a mirrored like finish. I'm not sure if the code is just bloated because it's been added to so many times from one release of the GP series to the next, or if some other gremlins are at work, but the frame rates are very low.

To make matters worse, the game seems to slow down under intense graphics situations making it very hard to drive consistently. Keep in mind that I'm running a 2.6 gHz P4 with DDR400 memory and a GF4 Ti4400 video card over clocked to Ti4600 specs (3D Mark is over 13,000). But frame rates are not generally a problem with this system. I used FRAPS to determine the frame rates in different situations. At 1600 x 1200 resolution, I got 16 FPS at the start line at Suzuka with a full field of cars. Contrast this to 53 FPS with F1 2001. At the start line at Albert, I got 56 FPS with F1 2002 demo compared to 23 FPS with GP4 (and that's with reflections and some other eye candy turned off).

GP4 follows its predecessors in the use of a tool called Processor Occupancy instead of a normal Frame Rate display. It's just as awkward and meaningless as it has always been, but Crammond is apparently stubborn and sticks with it. Overall, the graphics are pleasing enough even if they're not the state of the art photo-realistic quality that I expected. The fact that the frame rates are so poor and that the game slows down under some driving situations, really hurt the graphics score.

Presentation/Audio : 50
I have an SB Live xGamer sound card that I can use, but I really prefer the sound from the c-media audio that's built into the SD7 motherboard. I've never had problems with any other game titles, but unfortunately GP4 cuts the sound out of the rear speakers. I've tried several menu settings, but nothing I did could change it. Engine sounds are average, if not flat. There are no intake sounds to compliment the exhaust. Wind sounds and rolling tires were also not noticeable.

Interface/Options : 40
The interface in one word is, "clumsy." Controller setups are not explained well in the instruction manual and you have to do a lot of guesswork. To get a wheel to work at all, I had to bypass the Wheel setting and go right into the Advanced Controller options and set up a new wheel profile. One of the nice things about testing and owning several Force Feedback steering wheels is that I can pick one that fits the mood of a particular game. For F1 sims, I like to use the TM Ferrari wheel; however, I always prefer to use the Act Labs Performance Pedals. Although I was finally able to configure the pedals and calibrate them as the second game controller in the menu, they would not work in the game. The car would just sit there at the starting line as if the brake and gas were being applied at the same time. I tried every trick I could think of. I put the primary controller into non-split axis mode, I tried switching controller IDs in Windows Controller Panel and I even tried letting up on the brake and gas (either or both) instead of pushing them in the calibration screen. Nothing I tried would work. The fact is they setup fine in the menu, but just wouldn't work for actually driving.

There's no excuse for this in any modern game. You should be able to load the game, set up your wheel and drive (editor's note: don't all PC gamers wish it were that easy). To make matters worse, the menu's selected items can be jumpy and you can't always click on the item you want. It's tied in with the controllers, keyboard, and mouse, but either can take over and make it unusable. I found that holding down the brake, part-way, and using the arrow keys sometimes helped, but I was often left with nowhere to go to another menu selection and had to restart the game. I made sure that the controllers were freshly calibrated and I even tried changing video drivers, but nothing helped. Sometimes I could get through the menus and sometimes I couldn't. The menus were not laid out in an intuitive manner.

Gameplay : 50
If you've somehow managed to navigate through the menus and set up your steering wheel (congratulations), you may actually get to do some driving. The Force Feedback effects are strong enough, but not very convincing. In a racing simulation, you should be able to have the forces turned up just high enough to help you feel what the car is doing.

The effects in GP4 are arcade-like. For example, there is no change in FF feeling when cresting hills and the effects for tire grip are not subtle at all. For beginners that are actually able to make it to the race menu, you can set the cars so they are very easy to drive. Of course, this isn't very realistic and hard-core sim racers won't care about this. On the other hand, the AI (computer) drivers are quite well behaved and only run into you occasionally. Here, GP4 is about on par with other racing sims. If your computer and video card are fast enough and you turn down the graphics resolution, a beginner can have some fun with GP4. Of course, you still have to put up with the graphics and menu problems.

Replay Value : 40
Unless a game is really good, this can be a hard category to judge. I can make a guess at what a casual gamer might do and draw on my own feelings from having to replay the game over and over to write this review. GP4 is certainly not destined to become a classic. I think that after spending the money to buy the game, people will try to like it but eventually get discouraged.

Overall : 48
If this game had come out 4 years ago, it may have been worth purchasing. It's in desperate need of a patch to fix the controller and menu issues. If that ever gets done, it may be worth considering for the casual gamer who wants to put it in novice mode and race a few laps against the AI drivers. If you're a serious sim racer looking for an F1 title, the two current choices are GP4 at about $40 or F1 2002 at about $20. Save yourself some money and get the good one.

By: Gary DeRoy (GTX_SlotCar) 11/6/02

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