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by Infogrames

Formula One racing is fast, exciting, extremely dangerous, and very alien in the eyes of most Americans. Either you watch it and love it, or you just don’t understand it and loathe it. F1 racing most certainly does not appeal to everyone, nor do F1 racing videogames appeal to everyone. While Grand Prix 4 is a good racing game and a great representation of Formula One racing, it definitely isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Grand Prix 4 features everything an officially licensed F1 sim needs. For the record, all 11 teams and 22 drivers that participated in the 2001 F1 Season are included in the game as well as all 17 of the official tracks. Of course, unless you know who Jacques Villeneuve or Michael Schumacher are this won’t really matter to you, but they’re in here. Because the game follows the 2001 season, any changes in course design for the 2002 season are not included—neither is the introduction of the Toyota team. It is worth mentioning because GP4’s main competition, EA’s F1 2002, features all of these changes.

The meat of the gameplay in Grand Prix 4 is in the championship mode where you compete for the Driver’s Championship and Constructor’s Cup. The game faithfully recreates the driving conditions and even starting grids from the 2001 season. Other modes include Quick Race and a time trial mode called Quick Laps.

There is also a mode called Gpaedia. This is a huge reference guide filled with information about everything and anything connected to F1 racing. There is enough good information featured in the Gpaedia to make even F1 novices an expert on the sport. It is an interesting addition that provides excellent background on the 2001 season. While it isn’t necessarily required reading, it is worth checking out.

The game play in GP4 is everything you should expect from an F1 racer. Tight, twisted tracks crowded with 22 cars fighting for position. Knowing when and where to brake and accelerate is immensely important. If you crash or do anything that has a drastic effect on your speed, kiss your chances of winning goodbye. Even if you run a perfect race, it is still a mighty difficult task to actually win a race. Pit strategy and catastrophic mistakes, either by you or by the AI, are what typically determine the outcome of races. It takes quite a bit of dedication to get your car to victory lane, but knowing that you actually earned the win is extremely satisfying.

You can improve your chances of winning by changing the settings on your car. Brake balance, gear ratios, suspension, wing angle, and many other things can all be adjusted and even the slightest change will have an immediate and very noticeable impact on the car. Advanced options are clearly marked so you can’t screw your car up too bad, and anything you change can be reversed by a click of the mouse. If you don’t want to mess with the settings on your car, there are also several driving aids like assisted braking, acceleration, and cornering. Of course, not having to brake and take corners correctly on your own saps all of the fun out of this type of game, so use these options only as a last resort.

One thing that has been lacking in racing games these days are realistic crashes. Thankfully, this isn’t an issue in Grand Prix 4. When you cut a corner and end up in the grass, you spin out. When you bump another car, there is a good chance that one or both of you are going to end up with quite a bit of damage. This ranges from body damage to a wheel breaking off to a complete breakdown where your car slowly rolls to a stop, never to move again. If you hit a wall, your car breaks up into a million pieces and your day is over. The computer is also far from perfect and creates its own fair share of crashes.

Actually controlling the cars is a frustrating endeavor at first. The default keyboard setup is far from optimal, and setting up a controller pad is an enormous pain. I had to search around the less than intuitive menu system for quite a while before I figured out how to adjust the controls. Once you convince the game that your control setup is superior (it seems to fight you every step of the way), the game is easy to get into. Keyboard and controller pad setup is difficult, but the control layout for steering wheel peripherals is actually petty good. That fact alone is a pretty good indication of who this game was intended for: Hardcore race fans who already have steering wheels for their PCs.

Graphically, GP4 is a nice looking game. The cars are highly detailed right down to the spoked wheels, and they look fantastic. The backgrounds, aside from occasional pop up, are very nice looking as well. The textures on the race track itself are pretty bland and ugly, but when you turn the bump mapping option on, the roadway looks much more realistic and adds a great sense of speed. There are other graphical effects you can toggle on and off including a heat wave effect. You can also choose how much detail is included in the side mirrors of your car. This can range from just the background flying past, to just the cars behind you, to the full-monty of the entire environment appearing on your tiny side mirrors. I love little details like this. It takes a pretty beefy system to display all of these extra effects while maintaining a good frame rate, though, so unless you have the latest and greatest, it is best to play with most of these effects off. The graphics can be as nice as your system can make them, but at a heavy cost to the frame rate.

The sound in GP4 is also very well done. The music on the menu screens adds a dramatic feel to the game that suits it very well. The engine sounds are perfect. These cars have the high-pitched whine that F1 fans have grown to love. The engine noises are also very loud in comparison to the rest of the sounds, which adds to the realistic feel of the game. The sound in Grand Prix 4 delivers on every level.

Overall, Grand Prix 4 is a fun game that is a very realistic representation of Formula 1 racing. You can tweak and tune the cars as much as you feel comfortable with, or you can take the easy path by using driving aids. I would have to say that the game is a much more enjoyable experience when you tune the car yourself, so if you want a fast and easy arcade racer, look elsewhere. The whole point of simulation style games is that they are much deeper experiences, and you have to be very dedicated in order to enjoy them fully. Once you get the controls set up the way you want them, the beautiful graphics, great sound effects, dramatic racing and realistic overall presentation will keep you coming back to GP4 again and again. If you know what you are getting into when you pick up Grand Prix 4, you will probably enjoy it quite a bit. If you aren’t a fan of Formula 1 racing to begin with, or the prospect of tuning, testing, re-tuning, testing, tuning, testing, etc. doesn’t sound very fun to you, I would suggest skipping this title, but Formula 1 fans and fans of simulation style racers will love Grand Prix 4.

Eric Qualls   (10/04/2002)


Ups: Great F1 sim for hardcore race fans; Gpaedia gives lots of info on sport; nice graphics and good customization.

Downs: Casual or arcade race fans probably won't dig it; keyboard and control pad controls need to be reconfigured.

Platform: PC