After almost 4 years of waiting, Gran Turismo 4 has finally been released by Polyphony Digital, and it is worth the wait! While most people will think this is simply a continuation of the Gran Turismo, and, like many other series, is simply just another addition with a few extra features. You couldn't be more wrong if you were talking about Gran Turismo 4, however, because it is much more than a cheap remake. Gran Turismo 4 defines everything a racing game for the PS2 should be, and it easily leaves all of its competitors in the dust.
Recently, game developers have been pushing the PS2 to the limit with games such as Metal Gear Solid 3 and Tekken 5. Gran Turismo 4 can be added to this last of games, as it is better looking than most of the games you will see for the Xbox! Not only does this game look amazing, but the updated physics engine gives the cars a much more realistic feeling than in previous games. If you have never played a game of the Gran Turismo series, do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy right now.
Whether you're an average gamer or just a racing fanatic, everyone can enjoy what Gran Turismo 4 has to offer. For the casual gamer, the license tests will allow you to adjust to the feeling of the game. Gran Turismo 4 sets itself apart from others primarily because of one feature: brakes. Most of the PS2 games have very unrealistic physics, allowing you to take turns at 180 MPH without even scratching a wall. On the other hand, Polyphony Digital made sure every car in the game was exact to the nearest horsepower. From the Mazda Miatas to the Mercedes Benz SLR McLarens, every single car in that game has been tested by professional drivers in real life to give the gamers a perfect feel. The creators even made sure that the times you can get on each lap will be what you could get in real life! At first, newcomers to the series might find this game a little frustrating, but if you take some time to drive around and forget everything you know about arcade racing you'll be fine.
In order to start your career, you must first obtain licenses that allow to compete in certain events. The first two licenses, National B and National A, are rather simple to obtain. Completing these license tests are vital because they not only give you access to the first events, but they teach you the basics of driving. The next two license tests, International B and International A, are a little more difficult, but will allow you access to events later in the game. The International B License won't be too hard for most people to obtain, however the International A is where it starts to get tough. The tests can last around 40 seconds, and even one mistake will cause you to fail. Finally, the Super License is the most sought after, but it will not come easy. You have to complete a full lap at a designated course in under a certain time, and these preset times are not easy. While it will be very frustrating at first, as you learn the courses and memorize the turns, you will soon obtain this license, and the sense of accomplishment will be overwhelming.
After obtaining your licenses, you can either enter racing events or try driving missions. Driving missions are new to the Gran Turismo series, where you are put in a situation in which you must pass the other car, without hitting him, and then crossing the finish line in first. These are like license tests, except they don't unlock anything in the game. Instead, you are rewarded with "credits". The Event Races have been upgraded nicely as well, with a new truck racing mode. However, the most notable installment is the B-Spec mode. In Gran Turismo 3, A-Spec was the only mode available, in which you control the car. In B-Spec, you are a member of the pit crew, and you instruct your driver on how aggressive he should race. While this mode doesn't allow to participate in the race, you can set the race to run at 3X speed so you can earn money and cars faster. Although this might not seem like much, it really proves itself useful for the 24 Hour Endurance Race at Nurburgring Nordschleife.
Gran Turismo 4's greatest feature would have to be the endless amounts of customization available to the cars. For the causal gamer, you can purchase turbo kits, exhaust systems, and brakes, to name a few. You will notice improvements in performance in handling as you add more parts to your cars, and it requires absolutely no knowledge of cars to do so. For the hardcore racing fan, you can purchase the same parts, but fine-tune your car to fit your personal needs. Whether you need to increase downforce, adjust your gear ratios, or change the brake biasing, you can easily find yourself spending hours trying to perfect your car to your every desire.
Regarding graphics, there is only one word to describe this game: Gorgeous! The developers created impressive looking models for the cars, and this, combined with new skins, amazing reflections, and a new lighting system, really creates an amazing looking game. In previous Gran Turismo games, the lighting effects were rather lame, and they had very little effect on the car. Now, every ray of light streaks past the car as you fly around the track. The most memorable moment for anyone who has played this game will be flying through the Deep Forest Raceway, and as you speed through the forest, the light seeps through the trees and caresses your car, creating a stunning visual effect. Also, the textures on the grass, sand, and tarmac are highly defined so that individual pixels are no longer noticeable. However, the most impressive addition would have to be the sense of speed. When your car reaches speeds of 120 MPH, you really start to feel it. Changes in elevation of the track can be felt in a slight offset your car's path, and it is almost impossible to stay calm when racing at over 230 MPH! Gran Turismo 4 runs at a steady 60 frame per second, which adds more to the excitement of the game.
The sound works very well to bring out the true sense of being in a professional race car. Adding to the sense of speed, you don't only hear the roaring of your engine pushing itself to the redline, but you actually hear the wind flying by your car. The volume gets increasingly louder, and at your top speed your heart will be pounding from the effect that is created. The engines themselves sound similar, if not exact, to the cars in real life. The sound of your engine will also change depending on what parts you purchase; adding a Stage 4 Turbo Kit will give your engine a nice, high-pitch revving sound. Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn't fit the mood of the game too well, and you will notice its very hard to get excited when listening to bands such as Earth, Wind, and Fire. [Speak for yourself! -Ed]
When announced last December that the Online Play feature for Gran Turismo 4 was not going to be included, it was a very large disappointment to anybody interested in the game. However, it is still possible to play via Split Screen or iLink, however it is nowhere near as great as online play would've been. The 2-Player Battle allows you to select cars from your garage, or from a list of loaner cars, and challenge your friend to a few laps. Rally racing with a friend is great fun, especially if you forget about the whole "braking" thing and floor the gas pedal the entire time. However, not being able to talk trash to people online is something every racing fanatic will miss.
In conclusion, Gran Turismo 4 is an outstanding game that every racing fan will enjoy. Whether you're a casual gamer or an extreme NASCAR fan, everyone can squeeze a great deal of fun out of this game. The visuals are simply stunning, and you will be left wondering how the PS2 is capable of producing something some beautiful. The endless customization features and racing types will always leave you with something to do as well. The only drawback is the lack of online multiplay, which we can all hope to see in the next installment of this series. Dust off your steering wheels, put on your racing helmets, and peel out with Gran Turismo 4, one of the finest racing titles to ever hit the PS2.