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GT 64 (N64) Review

Background Info
Racing games have enjoyed a mixed fate on the N64. Most players prefer games published for the Playstation, PC, or the Saturn. This is surprising in light of the opportunities for rich graphics and vehicle control offered by the N64 hardware. With a few exceptions, however, most racing titles have failed to satisfy players, rarely rising above mediocrity. Will GT64: Championship Edition buck that trend?

Presentation/Graphics : 55
The graphics are, in a word, disappointing--especially when it comes to the race courses. The cars themselves are nicely detailed, complete with decals; players are not able to tinker with paint jobs or numbers, for these cars represent official teams and licensed cars. On the track, sparks fly from the back and sometimes the tires kick up a combination of dust and smoke.

The race courses are mundane at best. Whether you use a cockpit view or a behind the car view, you gain the impression that you are playing a 32-bit game and that the course scenery is a paltry fabrication--an impression promoted by problems with draw-in and pop-up. There is very little of intrinsic interest to see. Nor does the representation of weather (which boils down to overcast or sunny) add anything.

Presentation/Audio : 40
Boring. There's a non-descript track that plays when you are making menu choices, engines whining away during the race (although at least the sound increases as cars approach you from behind).

Interface : 80
The menus are clear and straightforward, making them easy to use. This is especially true of the setup menu, in which players specify the grade of tires, steering, brakes, front and rear suspension, front and rear spoilers, gear ratios, and fuel capacity (only in 24 lap races). You may also select the other cars in the field (or settle for a random choice). For each race or circuit you may also choose from a number of screen displays (race map, lap time), number of laps, and (only in single races) weather. Camera angle (behind the vehicle) is fixed at the beginning of the race, and you must wait until after you pass the start line at the rolling start to make changes

The controller is equally simple to use. The c buttons control camera angles and rear view (there is no rear view mirror, a major omission). It is up to you to remember to insert the rumble pack in prior to a race (not that it seems to make much of a difference in the game's overall sensation of simulating a racing experience).

Players can save time trial performances and car set-ups as well as circuits in progress.

Gameplay : 60
Players can choose from the usual assortment of options for competition: a 1-player championship circuit of six tracks, a time trial mode (with a three-lap "time attack" and "free run" options) and a 2-player battle mode. As noted above, players may also choose weather, number of laps, and opponents.

There are three basic course settings (generically named Japan, U.S.A., and Europe); each track has a long and a short course version, and winning a circuit unlocks mirrored versions of each track. Both the USA and Japan tracks are located in urban areas (an oceanfront city in the former case, "Tokyo" in the latter), and feature straightaways; the Europe track winds its way through countryside, towns, and mountain tunnels. It should come as no surprise to discover that the European courses demand the most in driving ability. However, in all cases those demands are not excessive, for the cars simply bounce off side barriers, fences, and walls, sometimes with little effect on speed. Only in the 24-lap versions is the impact of damage and wear evident (and thus pit stops are of importance). Players qualify in a grid of eight competitors either by engaging in a three-lap qualifying run or a warm-up followed by a single lap. Then it's off to the races with rolling starts. On the whole, the computer cars maintain their rank order, so the game devolves into an exercise in passing and sometimes being passed, in which one's ability to power-slide is crucial. There's little in the way of jostling for position and CPU-controlled cars rarely get in trouble (unless you force them off the road for a moment); poor collision detection renders even this destruction-derby strategy of dubious value, for I have seen cars pass through each other. A capable player should have no trouble winning circuits on the easy and medium difficulty setting, for poor scores on both European courses are countered by high finishes on the other four tracks. The victory celebration is rather anemic, consisting in part of game credits, and there are no cumulative records for circuit performance.

The two-player mode is not terribly interesting, although at least you can now share your consternation about the game with a friend. The time attack offers some more amusement, but not much.

Difficulty : 55
If you want a game with minimal challenge so that you can claim victory, choose easy or medium (where there's at least a little competition). Skilled drivers will quickly settle upon hard, however. Only on that level did I have to develop some proficiency with the game's controls and cars in order to win.

Overall : 60
Ocean's previous effort in N64 racing, MRC, was a fun if not overly-deep game, with far more interesting tracks. GT64, which appears to be a feeble effort to replicate the success of Gran Turismo for the N64, falls far short of that. Replay value is also limited. Other players appear to agree: I have seen this game for as little as $25 in local stores. Save your money.

By: Brooks Simpson 12/28/98

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