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Sports Car GT (PSX) Review

Background Info

For my money, there's nothing quite like a good racing game. I'm a big fan of the genre and, as such, have anxiously awaited the release of Sports Car GT since its development was announced last year. The game was originally slated to debut in the Fall of '98 and was delayed a couple of times beyond that, which is never a good sign. Based on the exciting GT Series of racing, Sports Car GT held promise as Electronic Arts' answer to Gran Turismo. Unfortunately, the final product doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the great Sony racer.

Presentation/Graphics : 60
Remember how impressed you were with the graphics of Destruction Derby 2 when it was released? That was over three years ago. Since then, the likes of Gran Turismo, Need for Speed 3 and 4, and the soon to be released Ridge Racer Type 4 have raised the bar immeasurably in terms of racing game visuals. The graphics in Sports Car GT bring to mind games like Destruction Derby 2 and CART World Series, and look positively archaic when held against the standards of the current breed of racers. While graphics typically don't make or break a game, they can go a long way towards enhancing the gaming experience. Sports Car GT's grainy visuals detract from it.

The game's car models are reasonably well rendered and the real-life tracks seem faithfully represented, but there is an overall lack of detail and clarity that inhibits view distance to the point where it affects gameplay. For example, the black and yellow barriers that signal upcoming turns are difficult to discern until you're almost on top of the corner, which is often too late. Likewise, cars ahead of you, which should be plainly visible on an open stretch of road, can't be seen at all until you begin to close in on them. Lighting and weather effects are more visually distracting than they are realistic. Crashes result in a primitive looking shard of metal flying from your car, but the car itself shows no damage. The sub-standard graphics might be tolerable if there were a credible racing game lurking beneath Sports Car GT's unimpressive exterior, but that's not the case.

Presentation/Audio : 30
Sports Car GT's audio package is so lacklustre it's hard to believe that the sound you're hearing is coming from a CD. The sound is devoid of dynamics, and a severe deficiency in the bass frequencies leaves the mid-range and treble dominant. It becomes grating in no time flat. The lack of Dolby Surround Sound borders on the inexcusable.

The sound effects are uninspired and plagued by the generally poor sound quality. The engine sound is virtually the same regardless of the car you're driving. The engines whine like a blender set on liquefy. Bring on the margaritas! The balance of the limited sound effects, including squawking tires and crash sounds, are no more convincing. The music is of the generic techno variety, but you'll have to crank it up in order to hear it over the annoying scream of your engine.

Interface/Options : 87
Probably the game's strongest suit, the menu interface is simple and effective. Options are easy to find and change, loading and saving games is as quick as it gets, and load times from race to race are well within reasonable limits. The menus and overall presentation lack flash (the game has no intro), but everything is efficiently structured.

I tested Sports Car GT with both Sony's Dual Shock Analog controller (DSAP) and Namco's NeGcon, and the game supports both nicely. The default controller setups are logical and I felt no need to change them, though it's nice that the option to customize your configuration is provided. The game is vibration function compatible when using the DSAP, but the effect isn't exploited to any significant degree. It's there (usually in the form of rapid shaking), but contributes little toward making the experience feel more realistic.

Gameplay : 65
Sports Car GT was clearly designed as a simulation. Real cars and real tracks based on a real racing series, the ability to upgrade and tweak your cars, it's all here. The gameplay is structured along similar lines to Gran Turismo. There are four classes of cars each represented by a season series of races progressing in difficulty. You start with a modest bankroll with which you can buy a low-level car. That, along with a little skill, is enough to allow you to finish in the top three and earn some cash with which to upgrade your car or save up for a new one. Finishing in the top three in every race of the series opens up the next set. However, the competition is stiffer so you'll need either a heavily modded car or a more powerful (and expensive) model in order to keep up. This will have you racing each series more than once to scrape together the coin you'll need to advance.

Upgrades are purchased in stages and categorized by class. This means that you can only mod your car to a certain point if you want to remain eligible to race in a particular class. That keeps the races at every level competitive by preventing you from overpowering the competition. It's a great idea that I hope to see implemented in Gran Turismo 2. Unfortunately, the upgrades don't seem to have any direct impact on the performance of your car. For example, upgrading your brakes might generally improve the performance of your car but it doesn't feel like the car brakes any better.

Despite the lack of graphical detail, the game moves smoothly, has very little pop-up, and maintains a decent sense of speed. However, there is very little variation in the perception of speed regardless what your speedometer is telling you. 150 MPH doesn't feel appreciably different than 50 MPH. This causes a real problem in terms of judging shifting and braking points into corners. What's worse is that all of the cars seem to be based on the same driving model, one that features poor braking and massive understeer as standard equipment. All of this combines to make following a realistic racing line through a corner next to impossible (though the computer cars zip through them with no difficulty), and undermines the illusion that you're driving a real racecar.

Sports Car GT offers a reasonable assortment of real-life tracks (Mosport, Road Atlanta, Sebring, and Laguna Seca among them) and cars (BMW, Porsche, etc.). The tracks are nice but, as mentioned above, driving one car doesn't feel any different than driving another. Part of the fun and replay value of Gran Turismo was in earning and driving as many cars as possible. Sports Car GT lacks that incentive.

Like too many other racing games of late, Sports Car GT doesn't equip its cars with a rear-view mirror. It compensates by providing the option of displaying a chase arrow at the bottom of the screen. The arrow indicates the relative position of pursuing cars and changes from green to yellow to red as they close ground on you. This allows you to block without taking your eyes of the road by using a look back button (which the game also includes). There's no substitute for a rear-view mirror, but the chase arrow is a terrific idea that works like a charm.

Apart from the season mode, Sports Car GT serves up the expected arcade (single race), two player, and time trial (sorry, no ghost car) modes. Like Need for Speed's High Stakes mode, Sports Car GT Pink Slip mode provides the option to put your car on the line in a two-player race. The loser's car is wiped from his/her memory card.

Difficulty & AI : 40
The real difficulty in Sports Car GT lies in coping with the sub-par physics model. It's fairly easy to compensate and succeed at winning races and tournaments, but that means compromising normal racing techniques by altering braking points and lines into corners. That's hardly something you should need to do in a game that purports to be a simulation.

The AI of the computer drivers could also stand to be more realistic. They tend to maintain a good racing line when leading, but if you get close or they fall behind, all bets are off. At that point, your opponents become aggressive and will go out of their way to sideswipe you or ram you from behind. I haven't seen a lot of GT Series racing but, from what I have, the drivers don't behave like this. If this were TOCA or even Nascar I could buy it, but not here. What's more is that there is supposed to be a damage model at work. You wouldn't know it by the way the computer drivers handle their cars or by the lack of affect that damage has on your own car's performance. Once this became apparent I found that I could win races easier by crashing and banging my way around the tracks than by using proper technique. At that point, any credibility this game had as a simulation went out the window.

The actual game structure provides a nice progression in difficulty, and the restrictions that apply to racing in each class are a nice touch, but it's not enough to overcome the inherent AI and control problems.

Overall : 56
It's hard to imagine that Sports Car GT is published by the same company that just released Need for Speed: High Stakes. There's simply no comparison when it comes to production values, the graphics and sound in particular. And if Sports Car GT was in fact conceived as a game to rival Gran Turismo, it falls miserably short of the mark.

Sports Car GT is an unremarkable racing game at best and fails completely as the simulation that it aspires to be. The Playstation racing library is stocked to the gills with racing titles that are much more worthy of your attention.

By: Pete Anderson 4/30/99

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