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reviews >> playstation 2
Gran Turismo 4

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Year Released: 2005
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Visuals 10
The best looking game on the system, hands down. The car models are highly detailed, better than any other racing game on this or any other system. The sense of speed has improved, and it's sensational. I do have a few quibbles with roadside detail and texture quality, but the sum of all the parts point to one great looking package.
Audio 9.75
Similar to GT3, but improved. Now has Dolby Pro Logic II support, and new effects add to the experience.
Gameplay 10
It will be hard to find another game that tops the level of accuracy and attention to detail that Polyphony Digital has put into GT4. To quote an old Mazda slogan, "it just feels right".
Replay Value 10
GT4 will love you long time. Tons of racing events, many cars to drive and unlock, addictive photo mode and so much more. Just imagine if the online mode was left in.
Reviewer's Impression 10
It took me a day or two to get used to some of the changes Polyphony made in the game and to find where everything was. From then on I was set and playing the game for hours. Only the GT games could make you lose so much of your free time and keep you glued for a long time
Overall 10
Without question, it's a must-have. Basically, it's the only PS2 game I have ever bought that I paid the full $49.99 for, and I've owned the system for three years. That says a lot. GT4 doesn't revolutinize the genre, it just refines it, and it still remains the best of every racing game made. Like I said, if you don't get this game, people will laugh at you. At least the GT fans.

Well, after three and a half years, Gran Turismo 4 finally arrives. The game has been subject to numerous delays, since late 2003, and had been pushed and pushed over until FINALLY Polyphony Digital decided they were finished with development. The game was released in Japan in December 2004, but American gamers had to wait a little longer to get their GT4 on. Then when Sony finally announced that GT4 would see release on February 22, 2005, fans everywhere realized that the wait was finally over. Then the game was released. Now, we take a look at wether or not if GT4 was worth the wait or not, and see if it still holds the racing crown of this generation.

In writing this review, I come to a realization that while Gran Turismo 4 is a new installment of the series, the formula is actully pretty much the same as it's been since the original release in 1998. So instead, I'm going to go over what's new, what's changed for the better and what didn't see improvement, as well as what's missing. This is going to be a fairly thorough dissection of the game, and possibly one of the biggest reviews I have ever written for a game. Then again, no game has really had as much build-up and hype as Gran Turismo 4 has (except for Halo 2, Half-Life 2 and Doom 3).

Let's start things off by looking at what's new to GT4. That is, the things availbale here that really weren't in past GT titles. New additions to GT4 include the B-Spec mode, the Photo / Photo Drive mode, the Mission Events mode, and new additions such as parts and the like.

"Just B-Spec It"

One of the newest additions to GT4 is the B-Spec "Director's Mode". In GT4, you can race in two ways, the A-Spec mode, where you go behind the wheel and drive, and the B-Spec mode, where the computer drives for you, but you dictate on how they should drive through a simple set of commands. The B-Spec mode is a double-edged sword of sorts for GT4. On the one hand, it takes away from the experience of driving by just letting the computer do so, unless you rather take care of things for yourself. In some cases, you'll have to, because the B-Spec driver can be problematic at times, and it's just better to drive the car yourself (plus, the computer driver doesn't take the same aggressive measures like I do, such as smacking into cars to make them go off the road, cut through course sections [like that one portion of Fuji Circuit 90's], or use the nitrous you have equipped in your car). BUT, the B-Spec mode can make short work of long races, including the dreaded endurance races. By switiching from the live view, you can speed up the race by up to three times the normal speed. You can cut the duration of races to a third, and that means getting cash and rewards quicker. But that all depends on wether or not the B-Spec driver decides to be an idiot or not, and how fast your car is. For me, personally, the B-Spec mode didn't rob as much fun out of the game as I imagined. Some races I do participate in, and I really only use the B-Spec mode to speed things up, or to pass on a course I dislike. And it's not like you can B-Spec every race. You can't B-Spec rally or special condition races, mission races or license tests. It's not a mode I would preffer over actually racing a race myself, but it makes great work out of the long and arduous races that make people just get sick and tired over the game.

Damn Papparazzo!

The next new mode added to GT4 is new to the series, but not really a new idea. In fact, we've seen this in a more simple form in Sega GT 2002. The Photo / Photo Drive mode of GT4 allows you to take pictures of your car in senic places, from hotlap sessions or from replay data. While you would think that this is a simple addition where you would just take pictures, this is no oridinary picture-taking mode. This is a game from Polyphony Digital, which means that much of what they do is far from simple, including the photo mode. While taking pictures is relatively a snap, you're given many options that you would find on a normal camera, such as F-stop settings, aperture settings and the like, and enable to create some dramatic and impressive pictures. I wish I could show you the pictures I've taken in the game, but until I find a way to do so, yo'll have to wait. Once you do take pictures, you can view them in slide-shows, print them or transfer them to a USB device. But there's a very big disclaimer to printing pictures through a USB printer. Unlike other reviews you've read (like I have), they have failed to mention that you NEED an Epson brand printer. No other brand will do (I tried to use our Lexmark USB printer, and it said that the damn thing wasn't even on). As for USB storage devices, I've been reading that certain brands won't work with the PS2. Check the message boards on the website to find wether or not your USB device is compatible. It would have been nice to see the game be friendlier with other USB devices, rather than just stick to one brand. But even if you can't print your pictures, the Photo mode is still a fun and addictive diversion. I've spent 15-20 minutes at one time just to get the right picture. The extra time is sometimes worth it if you get a memorable picture.

Mission-ary Positions

A new mode thrown into the GT-Life mode (the simulation mode of the game) seems a bit based off what was done in GT3. If you remember the arcade mode in GT3, you may remember the time trial mode, where you're given a specific car on a specific course, and you need to meet a certain goal time. The Mission Event hall in GT4 seems rooted from the mentioned mode in GT3, but pretty much comes off as something different entirely. Here, you're given 30 missions, which range from overtaking cars, to slipstream battles, to 1 and 3 lap battles. Complete a given group of events, and you could win a prize car. Complete any event, and you'll win some money. Some events are pretty easy to pass, while others are pretty damn tough (the one-lap battles are incredibly difficult, as you're held behind for over 30 seconds, and need to catch up to the lead car). It's a nice change of pace from the normal racing events, and really changes things up from the norm. In some respects, it kind of reminds me of the Crazy Box / Pyramid events from the Crazy Taxi games, just not nearly as irritating.

Factory New

There's some other new additions to GT4, but they really don't pertain to a mode or a series of events. These are basically, new additions to the game. One new thing Polyphony has added to GT4 is the Tuner Center in the GT-Life mode. Here, you now have a choice of either buying your parts from a dealer, or from a tuner such as HKS, Mine's, etc. . But that's provided that you can do so with the car you have (it's pretty easy to tell when you're on the GT-Life map). At first, I thought this was a rather useless inclusion, as you really can't tell the difference between the tuner parts and the manufacturer's parts. But it wasn't until today (yeah, over three weeks after starting the game) that the tuners offer originally designed parts created by them, that can only be bought from them. I didn't notice this until I saw the option of "Original (Part)" that was only available in the tuner section and not in the manufacturer's parts section. So there is SOME point to it. Another new addition is fuel usage, which is something that really should have been added awhile ago. It's funny in past GT games that you have an unlimited tank of fuel, and the only thing that is done in the pit area is a change of tires. Well, now you actually use gas in the game, and it's another thing to consider when driving in endurance races.

Probably one of the most notable (at least visiably) additions to the game is that there are actual people in your pit crew and in the license testing areas. Polyphony calls this the "human element". Now, when you go into a pit area, it's not longer some mysterious force that changes your tires, but ACTUAL people come out and change them. After you pass a license test, three guys come to your car and congratulate you. Plus, now the people on the side-lines aren't so static anymore, at least in rally races. There will be photographers who will dart out and dodge your car, and people on the side waving and looking. There's still cardboard cutouts of crowd members, though, and some people animate rather choppily, but at least there's now some form of life in this game, which was kind of an issue in GT3. It's not a break-through feature, but it adds something extra.

Other new things include a diary, which keeps track of what you've done and won; a new nitrous add-on part, which can be benefical in giving you a quick boost in acceleration; an option to add on spoilers (provided your car can get one); an on-screen representation of the G-forces you incur while driving; nasty penalties that cause you to drop your speed to 30 mph for five seconds (special events and mission mode only) if you hit a wall or car, and probably a couple of other new things I'm forgetting.

Eight Easy Steps To Self Improvement

Now that I've covered "what's new", let's take a look at what's improved in GT4. As GT fans know, each installment of a new Gran Turismo title has brought in improvments to exisiting design. GT4 is no different. The first thing you'll notice is that the layout of the Simulation mode has changed. Now referred to as GT-Life, it's a large map that points out where to buy cars, where to go to practice or race in events and so on. It's a lot bigger than the map given in GT3, and that's largely due to how much Polyphony has seperated everything. Car manufacturers are now divided by country, and have their own place on the map. Race events have been moved around as well. Before, you could find racing events all in one place in GT3, but now, they're seperated by difficulty, by nationality and even by car model. At first, I was a bit confused by how everything was seperated, then a bit let down when I saw how few race events were offered in the Begginer and Professional halls. But when you really look around, I found that many of the past events in GT3, which consisted of a certain make of a car, are now with the manufacturer, and that there are more of them. I think it's a bit overkill to give a whole spot for a country that holds only one maker and one car, but for the most part, after some looking around, you'll be able to find what you need pretty easy.

Although I'm tempted to write about the visuals and audio here (as they are improvements), I think I'll just save it for the end, as I usually do in my reviews, because in a way, it's something of a different category to evaluate. So instead I'm going to turn your focus onto the controls of the game, or handling, which is a term I preffer using when writing about racing games (after all, handling and control are kind of one of the same thing). The handling (control) has always been the main part of what makes the Gran Turismo franchise one on it's own in the field of racing games. No other company really has yet to refine and accurately depict a car's road manners as well as Polyphony has, and I don't think any other game developer will, with the exception of the developers working on the upcoming Forza Motorsport for the Xbox. Each car has a feel all of it's own, and likewise can be said for the drivetrain of a certain vehicle (that is, an FF drivetrain will feel different from a FR drivetrain, and so on). Handling also changes based upon the tires you choose and use, how your suspension is set up, how much weight your car has and any other "tweakable" factor that can affect yout handling.

Now, as to the question of wether or not the handling has improved over previous Gran Turismo titles, the answer is "yes", but you may need to get used to the new adjustements Polyphony made since the past installment three years ago. They've taken a lot of time to further accurately portray how a car feels, again, three years, so it's a given that the GT4 would feel a bit different from GT4, plus any racing game I (or you) have played in between.

When I first began playing GT4, I had the option of transferring money from my previous save to buy a car (up to 100,000 cr. worth). The first car I bought was the newest Subaru Impreza available (can't remember the full name off-hand, but I do remember the "spec. C" part), and loaded it with part upgrades and enhancements. But it was a bit tough to steer, like it was heavy or something. Even with weight reductions, the car was still prone to understeer. I guess we should factor this to the 4-wheel drive. But with the part that can adjust the distribution of power to the front or rear of a 4-wheel drive car, the handling improved. Now what the hell this has to do with the improvement of the game's handling is a bit out of place, but I'm making a point about how adjustments can change the handling greatly. That, and the fact that the Impreza handled differently here than I remembered in GT3. Gee, maybe I do have a point.

Another new improvement involves the addition of new cars and car manufacturers, and courses. Obviously a given, GT4 would include more content than the last installment, a lot more, in fact. GT4 features over 650 cars (I've heard that the number reaches near or at the 700 range), which is over three times the amount of cars offered in GT3, or even Project Gotham Racing 2, and even the upcoming Forza Motorsport. The cars range across many power types to eras, and while some would complain about some of the cars offered (like many of the slower, classic cars, or the numerous sedans and compacts), but it's the broadest spectrum of cars ever offered in a video game. The developers of the upcoming Forza Motorsport has made the point of the fact that they don't have the same number of cars as Polyphony's GT4, but they don't include the cars that people wouldn't want to drive in GT (like the compacts, classics and so forth), rather cars that are fast. Well, the developers of Forza (as well as others who have this mentallity) aren't really getting what the developers of GT4 are trying to do. It's not just about driving the fast cars, it's about driving cars from all eras. Sure, you'll be stuck in events where you'll have to drive slow-ass cars such as the Fiat F500 or the Citroen 2CV, but you'll also get to drive hella-fast cars such as the Cadillac CIEN, Panoz Esperante and the Mercedes SLR McLaren, plus everything in between. There are also new courses added onto the roster of courses that make their return from past GT games. Finally, Polyphony offers the actual Le Mans track (Circuit de la Sarthe), as well as Nurburgring, Tsukuba Circuit, the long awaited Suzuka Circiut and Fuji Circuits, and more. I wish Polyphony would ditch some of the "original" courses they keep using, such as Grand Valley, Trial Mountain and Deep Forest, and replace them with entierly new offerings. But at least they have been improved graphically, and at least it's something to race on.

More design improvements aren't as major as what you've read above, but are needed fixes from GT3. For instance, when you are taking yor driving tests, you can advance to the next test without going back to the test selection screen. This saves some time from flipping through the menus just to take your next test. Another improvement includes the option to save three different tuning configurations of your car. Before, you could only save keep one. But now you can have a tuning option for circuit racing, drag racing, or whatever else you want. You no longer have to lose your settings because you had to change them for something else. A big new fix includes on how prize cars are distributed. In GT3, you can only win a prize car once for certain events, no matter how many times you race that event again. Now, you can clear your wins, and earn another prize car. But some thinks that this kind of ruins the game a bit, as you can go back to some short rally events, and keep winning the same 250,000+ cr. car over and over again. Then again, to fully modify a car that's worth 80,000 cr. or so, you'll need close to 200,000 cr.. So, you could do it if you want, or don't, it's up to you. I'm sure there's other improvements I'm not thinking of, but this should give you a good idea on what has improved.

The Same Or Worse, But Not Better

Now we get to the part where we look at the bad parts of GT4, mor or less what hasn't changed, what was forgotten, and what changes were actually made for the worse. The things that remain the same in GT4, over from GT3, is the fact that cars still sustain no damage. Now, perhaps we didn't care so much in GT3, but there have ben many racing games since then that have included car damage that sometimes does alter driving performance. In GT4, you can still drive as wrecklessly as you wish, and not trash your car. Now, I hear that with over 650 cars, it would be quite a task to do damage modelling for all cars. But is this really a cop-out? I mean, Polyphony has had three years to develop GT4. 3 years! In that time, I think they could have added minimal physical modelling for cars, just to show that these cars aren't industructable. And the whole song and dance about auto manufacturers not liking their cars damaged in games is becoming old hat. How is it that Bizarre Creations could get away with showing damage modelling on Ferarri's and Porsches in PGR2, and yet Polyphony can't show a scratch on a frickin' Hyundai? I think in all fairness, Polyphony isn't the only company still making indestructable cars. EA is still doing this in Need For Speed Underground 2. But, in a game that claims to be the "real driving simulator", it's not too realistic in showing a car slamming into a wall at 173 mph and not show any effect afterward. Does it destroy the game? Not really, and it's something that could make the game more frustrating to play for some, but it's an option that really could have pushed the franchise forward.

The things that have gotten worse include the arcade mode and the listing of cars in your garage. Let's start with the bigger letdown, the arcade mode. Now we shouldn't expect a whole lot in the arcade mode, but what was done here just plain sucked, and really seems to be against the standards of Polyphony Digital. The arcade mode is a really stripped mode that consists of single race, time trial, 2-player battle and LAN play. Unlike past GT games, there's no real unlockables in the arcade mode, and that really gives you no reason to play it, except for multiplayer gameplay. In a way, I'm not even sure why an arcade mode was even included if there isn't much incentive to use it. Then there's the car listing in your garage. What a confusing mess this is. I preffered the old way cars were listed in GT3, where it was just one long list. Here, there's about 10 cars per page, and it's ordered from the last time you drove it, not by when you acquired it. I just don't like it the way it was done in GT4.

Now as for what's missing, the first thing that would come to mind is online play. Originally, GT4 was supposed to have online play, but back around September 2004 (around that time), Sony and Polyphony decided to axe the mode. It was perhaps due to the fact that this was an inclusision that was a last thought, and it wasn't as good as they would like it, or perhaps it was too big and Polyphony and Sony didn't have it the way they wanted it. Now, like I usually say about games that support online play, I don't play because I don't have the means to do so. But in the case of GT4, wether or not you do decide to go online, you do have the feeling like something is missing. Sony has said that there would be a version of GT4 to be released later in the year that has online play (probably doing what Sega did when they re-released Sega GT 2002 with online play in 2004, with some extra cars and features). At least you'll have a lot of practice until then.

Another thing that's missing is something that was included in previous GT games. For some reason, the descriptions and background history of each car is missing. Why? That was one of the best things about the GT games was learning about the history of each car, albiet a brief description. Here, it just seems like the developer got lazy and didn't want to write summaries for 650 cars. Funny, you did it for GT2! If there were car information included in the Japanese version, then I'm pissed at the team who localized GT4 for the American market. That seems to me that they wanted to rush GT4 by the date Sony had pinned down. It's not like they had to meet a critical holiday deadline, so if this was left out during localization, I would really like to know why. If it were never included to begin with, I'd still like to know why. Like I said before, you did it for GT2, why couldn't that be done here? You had three years!

Other missing things that could have been included involve certain car models and manufactuers (namely, Ferarri, Porsche and Lamborghini). Yeah, there's over 650 cars, but there are always certain cars you'd like to see. For instance, the Mercury section could have included the '99 Cougar, the Pontiac dealer could have had the new G6, the Nissan dealer could have included the Frontier and Altima, and so forth. You get the idea. And I think there are some key courses missing. While I'm glad to finally see Suzuka and Circuit de la Sarthe included (Le Mans), I would still like to see the course used for the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach, Surfer's Paradise in Austraila and a couple of other real-world race courses. At least replace the often-used Trial Mountain or Grand Valley Speedway. And the rally/dirt courses could have more of a spilt between circuit courses and actual rally stages rather than just circuits. And lastly, I would have liked to have seen some weather effects such as fog, rain and snow, that would really change the dynamic of the race.

Finally, I have to say that I am highly disappointed by the manual provided in the game. By far, this is the worst instruction manual for the GT franchise. In the first two GT games, you would get two manuals, one on how the game is played, and one on driving technique. GT3 was just one manual, but went over driving technique pretty well. Here, there's hardly anything on driving technique except for a few paragraphs near the end of the manual. Why did the Japaneese audience recieve GT4 with two manuals exceeding 160 pages, and we get a crappy 20-some-odd page manual that doesn't even tell you what the A-spec or B-spec points are for (oh, that's another new thing, you can earn A-spec or B-Spec points from races). I was expecting something big, and when the sales associate at the store from where I pre-ordered my game from handed me the game, I was disappointed by how light it felt. As one of the biggest games to be released in Sony's line-up, they sure did half-ass the presentation on where the manual is concerned.

The Look And Sounds Of GT4

Well, now we finally make it to the visuals and the audio portion of GT4. Let's begin with the visuals. A lot of critics have been saying that this is one of the best looking games ever made, and it's the best looking game on the PS2. I agree with the later statement, but not so much with the former. This IS the best looking racing game on the PS2, and it's really pushing the hardware to it's limit. The car models offered in the game are second-to-none in terms of detail, and I'm pretty sure this is why GT4 took so long to make. You'd be hard pressed to find any other racing game on the market that has cars that look better than the ones offered in GT4. The courses in the game are fairly detailed as well, and seem to have the right sense of scale. But the look kind of varies from course to course. Some courses look very sharp and clean with fairly detailed textures, like the Tsukuba Circuit and Seoul Central. Then there are some courses that seem a bit off in color, like the Fuji Circuits. The New York city course features some nice detail on the skyscrapers, until you hit Times Square, where the signs are horribly compressed and washed out. This is what I meant when I said disagreed with the statement on how this is one of the best looking games ever made. GT4 does look good for the most part, but like the New York course, I've seen better in Project Gotham Racing. And for roadside detail like trees, they seem too outdated, where they look like they were made out of cardboard. Games like RalliSport Challenge 2 have shown trees with actual detail, and show some animation to give the illusion like wind is blowing.

But overall, the game has a clean and detailed look. The lighting effects are great, and the bloom lighting has improved greatly over GT3, where it seems more like the bloom lighting effects you would see in an Xbox game. The sense of speed has also improved greatly over GT3. In fact, when I first played GT3 three years ago for the first time, I felt that it moved a bit too slow, or slower than it should be. Not any more. When you hit high speeds in excess of 200 mph on the Test Corse or the long stretch of road on the Circuit de la Sarthe course, it does seem like you're traveling 200 mph. It was actually a bit overwhelming when I hit those speeds at first, because I thought I would lose all control and spin out from the slightest twitch in steering. The only game that's faster is Burnout 3 and F-Zero GX, so Polyphony did pretty good on improving the sense of speed in the game. And like GT3, GT4 has a smooth framerate running at 60 fps. I wish one problem was fixed, though, and that's the weird jittering at the beginning of some races. It goes away when you start a race, but it's a bit distracting. Other than that, GT4 holds up fairly well visually, and is the best looking PS2 game to date.

On the audio side of things, it's a pretty familliar package. While this sounds something like a negative, it's not, as GT3 had great audio. Again, no two cars sounds alike (at least until you tune them, then there are some similarities with certain cars). There are some new changes to the sound, however. For one, there's now the sound of wind when you reach high speeds, and the sound cuts out when you slipstream another car (which it should). This is actually pretty helpful in knowing wether or not you're actually being sucessful in slipstreaming. There is now Dolby Pro Logic II support (the first time a GT game has ever had Dolby Surround support), which allows for a richer sound experience. The soundtrack almost seems similar to GT3 in the selection of songs ranging from current recording artists, techno remixes, classic rock and more. It's not nearly as bad as the EA Trax offerings, either. But I have to say this also isn't the best soundtrack I've heard, either. It falls right in the middle. You'll find songs you like, and others you won't. I'm suprised that they somewhow successfully made Yello's "Oh Yeah" not seem out of place here, and used it rather humorously when you fail a driving test. There's one other song I want to point out, and that's the remix of Earth, Wind and Fire's "Getaway", which sounds like something that seems more suitable in an Old Navy store than in GT4. It's just kind of the weird way on how some songs work while others not so much. There also still seems to be the problem of the sound effects drowning out the music during races, like GT3. At least now you can adjust the sound levels individually, so you may actually be able to cut out the music or tone down the effects. That option was long overdue. Overall, no real gripes about the audio other than the fact that it does seem somewhat familliar, but like I said, that's really not a bad thing.

Finish Line (aka, The Final Thought)

So, what all of this comes down to is wether or not GT4 is worth buying. If you're a fan of the series, you already own this game, so I guess you already know the answer. To those who are "on the fence" or are interested in getting the game, then the answer is "yes", most definitely. Are there radical changes over the last GT4? Not really. While we could have expected more from Polyphony (like car damage and weather effects), I think what was given here is more than acceptable.

I find it funny that critics seemed to be a little harder on GT4 than they should have been. Yeah, the game was in development for three years, and the expectations were high, but I think Polyphony more than met them. I think that some people had to knit-pick on some deatils that might not matter so much in making the game better (like car damage, which is a double-edged sword, since it would make the game much tougher to play). Out of every gripe I've read, the only thing I could full agree with is that the AI really doesn't show much initative, just like GT3. They don't seem to take aggressive manuvers all that much (like in Burnout 3), and the AI is much more about "staying the course", than actually putting up some fight (although there were some cases when I was playing the game where the AI was gunning for me). But that's really not enough for me to totally knock the game on.

I've got a question. Why is it when EA keeps releasing Madded year after year, critics keep kissing the company's ass on how much the better the game keeps getting, while many gamers see that not a whole lot has changed? How much can a game of football change year after year? I ask this, because GT4 does in fact do many things of past GT games, yet it just makes it better. Racing really doesn't change that much, so why should we expect a fully different offering in GT4? I think for fans of the series will find that this is the best GT yet, even if it does have some shortcomings (like the arcade mode and lack of online play). The replay value is very high (I think I've put in at least 50-60 hours gameplay time since I've owned the game), there's a lot to do and see (I spent the first 30 miuntes of inital play just looking at all of the cars offered), and it's a franchise that's still #1 in the genre. I do agree that Polyphony Digital could have offered a little more, but as it is, it's a very fully-loaded disc that's very hard to put down. Buy it, or people will laugh at you.