Gran Turismo takes the checkered flag for racing games

I used to always think that racing games were pretty shallow. Sometimes they had too few tracks; sometimes they don’t have enough cars to choose from. Some are too hard, some are just too easy. But still, racing games are very popular in the States and in Japan. You can’t go into an arcade without seeing at least one, or two these days, racing sims in operation.

Consoles also have their share of racing sims. There are the shallow arcade style racers such as Ridge Racer, and the realistic sims such as NASCAR Racing. But until now, no racer was deep enough to satisfy my specific taste. Polys’ latest PlayStation masterpiece Gran Turismo finally provides me with the most realistic virtual racing experience I have ever seen.

Not only is Gran Turismo a racing simulator, it basically simulates a full racing career! Players start with $10,000 to buy a car to race with. Since this is not enough to purchase a new racing car, it is necessary to start off with a used model. Fortunately, GT makes it easy, considering there are 166 CARS available from 11 different manufacturers (Mazda, Nissan, TVR, Aston Martin, Mitsubishi, Acura/Honda, Chevrolet, Subaru, Toyota, and Dodge).

However, one cannot compete with an official racing license. Three licenses, B-Class, A-Class, and International A-Class licenses all provide access to the different racing events available. While it is very easy to acquire a B-Class license, higher licenses take a lot of practice, and a lot of patience, to obtain.

It is almost like getting a real driver’s license to me, since I had to take my test four times to get my own license. But in the course of getting my license, I had to memorize every part of the course, and the same thing applies to the license tests in this game.

And when it is time to actually race, there are more races than you can shake a stick at. With 11 tracks (each with their own different track configurations), and various race types available, the possibilities are endless. International competitions (US vs. Japan vs. UK), high speed vehicle competitions, endurance races, tournaments for untuned and modified cars, and world cups are just a few of the many contests available.

After each race, winnings can be used to upgrade cars, and purchase newer models. New parts, such as mufflers, engine parts, tires, transmissions, even a new racing conversion paint job, can be applied to each car. It’s involving and fun to add on to your car and see how high you can get the horsepower going.

That’s where the machine tests come in. Just to test out the speed and abilities of your new upgrade, tests can be done on a 400 meter course, a 1000 meter course, and an oval track to determine the highest top speed. It’s like you’re adding on to a real car, and when the back of the case says, "the car seems to be an extension of yourself," they mean it!

Opponent AI is unbelievable, and they seem to react well to the race settings, swerving away from pileups and braking at the right time between tight corners. It can be quite a challenge to beat the rest of a pack with similar cars.

However, the best opponents I know of are humans, and that’s what I think is GT’s best attribute. A second player can bring in his memory card and race against you. I had a chance to experience this last week, when my fully optimized Acura NSX Racing conversion was challenged to a friend’s Toyota Chaser. In our matches, I noticed that his car specialized in cornering stability and top speed, whereas my car had powerful acceleration and a light frame. Now this is how multiplayer gaming should be, and I see potential for a Gran Turismo tournament where competitors bring their modified cars in to be challenged.

Gran Turismo is just unbelievable in all aspects. This is to me the best racing game ever made, even surpassing classics such as Daytona and Sega Rally. I have heard that Gran Turismo 2 is in the works, but I have to wonder how they can beat something this good?

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