As far as
I can tell, there is only one difference between a Gran Turismo addict
and a heroin addict: their definition of track marks. Think about it:
neither one eats, sleeps, or bathes on a regular basis. Both walk around
with bloodshot eyes, mumbling incoherently. Their jobs, their
girlfriends, all things are sacrificed for a quick fix. If I could
synthesize the Gran Turismo formula into an injectable form and sell it
on street corners, Id be a rich man.
Gran Turismo 4 was a showstopper at E3 this year. Sony assembled an
impressive stage complete with drivers seats, big screen monitors, and
a balcony view for spectators. They even hired a commentator. All this
so fans could compete for GT supremacy, and walk away with a T-Shirt. I,
being all business, bypassed the endless line of frothing GT fans and
went to the stand up displays to get some first hand experience with the
The floor demo had three levels available: a course that ran right
through Times Square, NYC; a sprawling rally race along the Grand
Canyon; and the Tsukuba Circuit. There were dozens of cars, and all of
the usual control and transmission options to choose from.
things became apparent after I chose my sporty little Honda Prelude and
headed onto the streets of NYC. First, while the cars remain graphically
very much the same as the last game (there are little refinements, of
course), the background details have improved dramatically. Hanging
flags blow in the wind, the windows of buildings are reflection mapped,
and shadows move across the ground. All of Times Square has been
rendered with incredible clarity, from street signs to billboards to the
MTV offices. It really is uncanny. The crowds have been brought to life
as wellno more static bodies and pixilated faces. Oh, and second, I
realized how long it has been since I last played Gran Turismo. I got my
ass handed to me. Over and over again.
Equally as impressive as Times Square is the scenic beauty of the
Grand Canyon as presented in the game. The depth of field and
intricately rendered landscape is a wonder to behold. While certainly
less awe-inspiring, but nonetheless finely honed, the Tsukuba Circuit
offered a taste of checkered flag racing, another staple of the series.
The car physics have been tweaked a little, but retain the solid,
albeit tricky, GT dynamics that we have come to expect. The gameplay
will remain much the same as well, with a cash-for-cars commerce system,
a garage, and intricate customizing options. There will be upwards of
five hundred cars to attain and fifty courses to unlock. Sony promises
better, more human AI as well, but they always say that. If this is all
I had to report, I would pass GT4 off as same thing, different year.
However, I havent gotten to the best part.
Not one to fall behind the curve, Polyphony has made GT4 online
playable. This is what will take the GT series to a whole new level. All
of those courses, all of those cars, and you get to use them in an
online multiplayer to race your friends, your family, your arch nemesis
from Uruguay whom you have never metthis is what we have been waiting
for. The main complaint I, and many like me, have with the GT series is
that after a while the computer opponents become too predictable. They
stick to the optimal driving line for each course, without fail. And to
me, better AI only means that they will be better at driving that line.
But imagine finally getting to race, Gran Turismo style, against nothing
but human opponents. The game will finally come alive. Say what you want
about the AI becoming "more human;" living, breathing opponents will
always be more fun. After all, what could be more human than human?
(Forgive the replicant reference from a Gen-X sci-fi buff. "I've seen
things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the
shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the
Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in
rain. Time to die." Roy Batty)
There is no word yet on how many players the online multiplayer will
support, or what racing options will be available. However, players at
the four floor displays at E3 had the option to compete with each other
in an online race, and it performed flawlessly. The human element really
is all that Gran Turismo has been lacking. Two-player split screen just
cant compare to the scope and possibilities entailed in online gameplay.
With no release date planned as of yet, expect Sony and Polyphony to
take the time they need to get it right. They havent let us down so
far, have they? Fans of Gran Turismo prepare, sometime in 2004 we will
all meet online with GT4. Hopefully I will have gotten some practice
time in by then.