Review by Denouement

"Packed in the Suburban, screaming outlaw, running on the curb"

Gran Turismo 2 is the kind of game you choose to take along if you’re planning to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life. (Be sure to remember the Playstation. You’ll also need some kind of machine to convert coconuts to electricity.) The depth built into GT2 is nearly absurd, almost as if, once finished with their product, Polyphony jammed the remaining space on the disc with extras until the CD was completely full. This depth is couched in a beautiful package that is both easy to learn and difficult to master, the perfect curve of gaming erudition. The only flaw is that, while the game itself is deep, the gameplay is not so varied. If you are not a great fan of racing games, you will most likely grow bored with this game before you come close to completing every last corner of it. Still, it offers a solid hundred hours of entertainment for even the average player, and for the racing lover, it is an achievement of stunning proportions.

The first thing you’ll be astonished by is sheer variety of cars; the number I’ve heard tossed about is around four hundred. But more stunning than the number is the strangely encompassing selection: at the used-car market, you can find minivans, compacts, low-class Japanese and Korean cars -- the kind of stuff you might have on your garage or parked out on the street. But at the same time we have rare birds like the Lister Storm, Dodge Viper, and TVR Tuscan; these are powerful automobiles topping 500 or even 1000 horsepower. It’s a crazy combination of everyday vehicles and supercars that lends the game a feeling of verisimilitude and completeness. It’s also a joy to drive in a video game the car you drive in real life, and unless you’re very wealthy or drive some kind of rally vehicle, the Gran Turismo series is probably your only chance to do so. Notably missing from GT2 are the big three European sports-car makers -- Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche -- but their lack is not really felt due to the inclusion of equally excellent but less well known manufacturers and tuners from countries as diverse as England, Belgium, Australia, Japan, and the United States.

The arcade mode allows you to enjoy racing many of these vehicles on any of the game’s more than twenty courses. However, the real meat of the game is the simulation mode, and it is here that racing fans will spend hundreds and hundreds of hours. Beginning with just 10,000 dollars and no car, you work your way up the ladder, racing to win money and buy new cars. You can also take your current ride to the shop and upgrade it with all kinds of performance-enhancing parts: turbochargers, tires, new brakes, and suspensions, virtually anything you can dream up. There are a vast number of races to be won to complete the game, many of which require specific cars, so you’ll get experience in tons of different models and probably, if you complete the game, learn quite a lot about rare automobiles. Most races also require special licenses, which are acquired by passing time-trial tests. The license tests themselves can be quite difficult, but if you can’t pass them you’re probably not ready for the game’s most challenging events anyway.

The racing itself is nearly flawless. Precise handling is present throughout the lineup of vehicles, but the way in which cars handle around tight corners or hairpin bends differs significantly. When you switch from one drivetrain type to another, i.e. real-wheel to front-wheel drive, it’s almost like having to learn the game all over again. Nevertheless, the game is well-designed to encourage skilled power-sliding and early braking, just as in real life. The only problem here is the fact that while the best times come from running a technically perfect lap, you can often win a race by just riding the wall, especially if your car is too powerful for its own good -- the Pikes Peak Escudo is the great perpetrator of this. This happens mostly as a result of a wider issue, however: the fact that there is no vehicle damage in this game. Not only does this hamper the realism, it also makes skill less of an essential for winning. Supposedly, there’s no damage in the game because some of the car companies refused to participate if players were going to be dinging up their creations, even virtually. This reason doesn’t quite ring true, though, and I suspect the bona fide reason to leave out realistic damage was to give poor players a chance to succeed: they can, if they want, just hop in the Escudo and complete about 40% of the game. It also allows the creators to use a fairly single-minded AI which often ignores your presence completely; if you’re in its way, you’re liable to get broadsided. This makes it difficult to go through a long race without sustaining a lot of bumps, so perhaps its for the best that vehicle damage didn’t make the cut.

The music here is nothing spectacular, mostly a collection of thumping rock tunes along with some synthesized electronica. It’s often drowned out by engine noises and tire squeals anyway. The main problem, though, is that in a game of such length it’s impossible for a soundtrack not to grow repetitive. On a disc packed tight with cars and courses, one can hardly expect the inclusion of enough music to accompany a hundred or a hundred fifty hours of play. It’s purely forgettable, but it serves its purpose well enough -- music is not an essential part of what Gran Turismo is trying to create. At least while you’re racing. More memorable than the racing tunes, in fact, is the menu theme, a light little synthesized piece that doesn’t get too boring as you make vehicle modifications and buy new cars. The whole audio realm is certainly the weak point of the game, but it won’t ever get you down.

The whole experience of GT2, the skyscraper of lifelike simulation that has been built floor by floor, beginning with the cars and continuing with the racing physics, is surmounted by a great radio antenna with the amazing visual presentation it brings us. On courses almost too beautiful to be real, some leafy and green with trees, some amidst the bright lights and deep shadows of urban environments, yet others on racing ovals surrounded by packed grandstands, you’ll be racing cars that simply steal the show from these amazing environments. Full of color and grace, they are truly amazing even as you’re driving, and in replays and menus they look spectacular. Perfectionist details like smoothly curved side mirrors and slightly mirrored headlamps, the soft curves of voluptuous vehicles like the Tuscan Speed 12, and the shining grilles of Mercedes and BMWs accentuate the car bodies, each of which is rendered carefully and uniquely despite their vast number. Truly, these are some of the best visuals on the Playstation, and stack up well against some of what was seen even on the Dreamcast and PS2.

Gran Turismo is a series that has built its reputation on realism in every facet -- graphics, racing, and car selection. The failure to include vehicle damage is a strange clash with this, but otherwise the series prides itself on being true-to-life. Once again in GT2 the creators have succeeded in this goal, creating the most realistic racing simulator yet developed for the Playstation. In terms of pure fun -- and by “fun” I mean the nearly epileptic degree of action and speed demanded by some racing gamers these days -- there are better games than Gran Turismo 2 on the market, certainly. But for the single player looking for a deep, engrossing experience that will truly take over his life for a month or so, Turismo 2 is the tops.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/05/04


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