marino's Gran Turismo 4 (PlayStation 2) review

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The Legacy Continues

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Since 1998, Gran Turismo has been the epitome of simulation racing.  By constantly pushing the hardware's graphical potential, whether it was PS2 or PSX, Polyphony Digital lured gamers in with the pretty pictures and then assaulted the dazed gamers with some of the best physics and production values ever seen in videogames.  Gran Turismo 4 brings more of the same in that respect, alot more.  With over 700 cars and 100 tracks, this is the most stacked racing game ever.  For any racing sim fan, this is the last game you would ever need to own.     
It's amazing what Polyphony has milked out of the PS2 by comparison to GT3.  GT3 still looks amazing four years later, and yet they've somehow made the fourth installment even better.  The real-time reflections on wet roads or even on the left-rear quarter panel of the car you're attempting to pass are just astounding.  The painstaking hours they must have spent translating these real-life locales into the game is amazing.  Not only do they have a slew of real-life tracks (Laguna Seca, Fuji Speedway, Nurburgring Nordschliefe, etc), the game also features many fictional setting like the classic Deep Forest Raceway.  Even the crowd has been improved by implementing 3D models that not only move, but in rally races will run out on the track to take a picture and dive back into the crowd at the last second.  The game is an incredible sight to see.  I also must say that I simply love the new interface.  It's stylish and much easier to use.  Oh, and the game also runs in 1080i. 
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Right off the bat I'm going to suggest that if you love this series, get the Logitech Driving Force Pro steering wheel.  There's nothing like it.  I've spent a decent amount of time using it as well as the regular controller, and although the controller works perfectly fine, the Logitech wheel adds another layer of realism to a game that bills itself as "The Real Driving Simulator."  Not much has really changed in terms of innovation, but that's by no means a cutdown.  Every car has its own unique feeling.  Learning how to take a hairpin turn with a Skyline is not going to help you at all when you're thrown into a Mini Cooper.  While the control and physics are pristine, that does require a bit of patience.  The learning curve for new players is a bit higher than what gamers are used to these days.  The only real drawback isn't with the actual controls, but with the AI of the other drivers.  Their lines seem to be more varied, but they still seem to race as if you aren't even there.  Unlike games like Burnout or even NASCAR, other drivers won't hunt you down for driving like you're in a bumper car.  You can still take corners at full speed and "bounce" off your opponents for easy, yet underhanded, way to pass.  For a game that does everything else as real as possible, the AI is a little disappointing.  The actual physics and control of your driving though is unmatched.  The game will punish your for your mistakes, but also greatly reward you for your skill.     
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GT4's soundtrack is an eclectic mix from several decades.  The opening video evolves from an orchestral opera into Van Halen's "Panama."  No, I'm not kidding.  The real star of the sound design are the effects.  Every single car has not only been recorded for engine sounds, but when you switch the camera from inside to the hood of the car to the 3rd person view, all three views have a different sound to them.  So if you're in first person, it sounds like you're in the car.  If the camera is behind the get the point.  One of my favorite things is when you get above 150mph or so on a straightaway, there is a wind effect that sounds like it's whipping past the windows and drowns out the radio.  It amplifies the overall sense of speed that the game projects.  The amount of effort in the sound effects department is astonishing.     
Replay Value 
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The sheer amount of stuff to do here is incredible.  Now, granted, all of it involves driving a car (or some type of vehicle), but the game still offers a hefty amount of variation.  You have Arcade Mode and the simulation mode now simply known as Gran Turismo Mode.  Arcade mode lets you just jump in and race any of about 300 cars in single races, time trials, 2-player, and LAN parties.  Most of your time will be spent in GT Mode where you will start on the daunting task of acquiring licenses, purchasing cars, tuning your cars, and inevitably winning race money to repeat the process.  Luckily, if you played GT3, you can import up to 100,000 credits as well as your A and B Licenses to save you some time.  The license tests are similar to the past games, but a bit longer.  They also include a "Coffee Break" test in the middle that serves as a bit of a stress reliever.  The license tests will kick you ass repeatedly if you have little patience.  But once you gain a license, especially if you got all golds, you truly feel like you've accomplished something.  The races are all separated into regional categories, which is convenient, and figuring out what requirements your car needs to meet for each race is easier to figure out than before.  The game also has a new mission mode where you'll have to pass specific challenges.  You can also buy different wheels, spoilers, and wings for your car.  It's not NFS Underground with neon and vinyl, but that's not necessary.  Even the damn car wash actually improves your aerodynamics if you've gone a few races without doing it.  The game also introduces B-Spec mode, which is available at the beginning of every race, and allows you to basically play in coach-mode by giving instructions as to when to drive aggressive, cautious, etc.  You don't actually steer the car.  It's nice if you need a break but still want to keep earning money.  Also, the Rally mode now has ice/snow tracks in addition to the regular dirt. 
With all of this stuff, it should get a 10, but there's one thing missing.  Online play.  We were promised it, as well as many other online options, but they were pulled.  It's disappointing to say the least, but with everything else that's available in this game, the glaring omission of online play can't hurt the score too much.  Any fan of this game will still be busy for months.     
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Gran Turismo is definitely an acquired taste for most people.  If you like Need for Speed and Burnout, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll like GT.  Personally, I've been a fan ever since the beginning.  I remember going back to the store to buy the first Sony analog controllers (before they had rumble) to play it.  Gran Turismo 4 is not a massive leap over GT3.  Don't get me wrong, because the game definitely has a crap-ton of new bells and whistles that make the game even more unbelievable, but at the game's core, not a whole lot has changed.  I believe that it won't be until Gran Turismo 5 on the next-gen PlayStation when we will finally see the implementation of things such as superior AI, real-time damage modeling, and of course online play.  With all that said, Gran Turismo 4 is still the best racing sim ever made.  It pushes the PS2 to the limit and the seemingly endless delays have paid off.  Gran Turismo 4 is one of the most engrossing experiences you can have on today's consoles.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***

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