Review: Gran Turismo (Playstation)

In this review, we play Gran Turismo for the Playstation. We find out if this racing game is able to take the checkered flag.

This game was released in 1998 and would start a very well recognized series that continues to this day.

There are two major modes in this game. The first is arcade mode which basically pits you against the computer in a single race. First one to cross the finish line wins. The other mode, which is where we spent a bulk of the time playing, is simulation mode. This is more or less the main mode of play for the game.

A major feature in this game is the large plethora of cars you can gain access to in this game. These cars have numerous attributes including whether it’s a front-wheel drive, all wheel drive, or rear wheel drive. They also feature many other attributes including the make, country of origin, and type. To further make things complex, many of these cars can be “modded” with all sorts of improvements ranging from changing the tires and modifying the suspension to enhancing the turbo, polishing/grinding the ports, and even inserting an improved crank shaft.

You start out with 10,000 credits and a menu. This menu features options, the race menu, your garage, the car wash (does that even really serve a purpose other than making your car more shiny?), vehicle tests, license tests, and, of course, numerous car dealerships willing to sell you one of the many cars available both new and used.

As you’ll quickly find out, 10,000 credits doesn’t go very far as you’ll likely find yourself perusing the used cars sections, picking up a comparatively old clunker and hoping for the best.

If you try to access any of the races, you’ll find out that you’re locked out of everything at the beginning. This is because you need to at least pass one of the drivers licenses tests. The first test will test your basic starting, stopping, and cornering abilities. One thing to note in this game is the fact that this game goes for the more realistic style of driving. You’ll also find out that passing even the first set of tests isn’t quite as easy as you would think because the time limits and restrictions ensures that you need to get a near perfect run to pass (as far as the new driver to this game is concerned). As there is no ghost to follow or much in the way of instructions other than the basic hint in the starting screen, it’s basically up to you to piece together what is required of you (outside of looking these tests up in a guide of course). If you pass a lesson, you’ll be assessed based on your performance. All you need is a pass to get one step closer to the license. Of course, if you really want to challenge yourself, you can also try and go for gold. Passing nets you a bronze medal. Silver meas you’ve done particularly well in the lesson. Gold means you’ve aced the lesson and you can earn new cars in the process by earning gold medals.

Once you’ve earned at least one of the three licenses, you’ll be able to challenge some of the races in the game. The ones that net you more credits are the Grand Turismo sanctioned tournaments and the special events. As I found out the hard way, you’ll want to challenge the first Grand Turismo championship if you want a fair chance against the competition, not any of the special events at the very beginning.

Tournaments and special events have many attributes that change throughout. However, they all have some things in common. For one, each race starts you off with a one lap “qualify” race. The goal is to get the fastest time out of your competition. If you get the fastest time, you’ll be able to earn the “pole position”. There’s two advantages to the pole position. The first advantage is that you’ll earn a bonus amount of credits just for getting that pole position. The second advantage is the fact that you’ll start the race closest to the start line. A small head start, but even a small one is better than none.

Another attribute that all the championships and special events have in common is the fact that (with three exceptions) you earn championship points based on how well you do in the main events of each race (after the qualify race). The most you can earn is 9 points while coming in last earns you 1 point. The winner of the championship or special event is determined by who has the most championship points after all of the races. You can earn gold, silver, or bronze. If you win gold, you’ll earn a championship bonus which is basically a prize purse with a large number of credits. You’ll also get a trophy icon appearing above the event to indicate that you’ve earned a top 3 finish (gold for 1st, silver for 2nd, and bronze for 3rd).

A great defining feature in this game is the fact that you are not required to win in most events to earn credits. For most events, placing in any position will net you a certain amount of credits (with dead last typically earning you the least amount). This is great because you can gradually hone your skills in this game as you earn credits at the same time. As you earn more, you’ll be able to sell your clunker for a better clunker. Eventually, you’ll be able to afford some of the games more fancy cars which makes races gradually easier. For a good portion of the first half of the game, the main goals are to earn your licenses and build up your reserve or credits so you can keep building on your credits for better upgrades and even better cars.

There are a total of four Gran Turismo sanctioned tournaments. Two of these can be accessed wit the first license. The third requires the upgraded license while the fourth and final tournament requires the international license.

Once you’ve gotten yourself a half decent car, you can also begin challenging some of the special events (a good measure is the fact that your car has at least 350HP behind it as that’ll give you a fighting chance on some of the earlier events).

Special events are just like the tournaments, only they all have different attributes and restrictions associated with them. The first four have to do with your car configuration. They are all limited to where the power is going into your tires or how heavy your car is. Which one you’ll qualify for with your first reasonably upgraded car does depend a fair bit on which dealership you get your car from. Some dealerships generally only sell rear-wheel drive cars. Other dealerships sell mostly four wheel drive cars. Which car you have can be seen while you are purchasing your car (or simply seeing if you get rejected by trying to enter the race). Perhaps the trickiest one to figure out is which car qualifies as a light-weight car. This is probably a case of trial and error (unless you simply reference a guide instead to save time and money).

The next three races found in the first batch have vehicle restrictions based on the county of origin your car is. The country of origin for all cars are either Japan, the UK, or the US. So, if you are participating in the Japan vs. UK race, you can’t enter with an American car. If you try to play the US vs. UK race, you aren’t allowed to enter with a Japanese car.

The second half of the menu features generally more advanced events for players who have been playing this game for a while and have built up quite a stock of cash and a garage of vehicles. A great example is the high speed car event where it’s not unheard of that cars here can have over 900HP (!). There are no restrictions, but if you don’t feel like losing, you’ll probably want a high powered heavily modded car just to have a chance in this event.

Two other events in this menu are the normal and hard tuned car. Normal cars are simply stock-commercially available cars. While the restrictions are quite steep, this also means that the competition faces the no-modding rule as well. The hard tuned event simply has no restrictions, but the competition also has heavily souped up cars waiting for you to challenge them.

That leaves the final three events. These three events feature only one race, but if you enter it, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll literally spend hours trying to complete these three events. These are the endurance events. One of them simulates a whopping 300km of distance on the course. As far as I’m concerned, this event takes place on one of the games most difficult course and asks you to complete a whopping 60 laps. The other two endurance courses are the highway course. One goes in the normal direction while the other requires you to race in reverse direction. One of them features the limitation of no sport vehicles (which can be considered the final upgrade to the car with all the fancy decals on them). Both of them also requires to to run 30 laps on this particularly long course.

The one thing all three of these courses have in common is that the tire durability comes into play (you have to pit sometime). As you race, your tires will gradually get wear and tear on them. This is indicated by the little tire indicator on your screen. Dark blue means that the tires are brand new while deep red means that those tires have gone completely bald. As you race, the tires traction will also decrease. So, while you are racing around for an exceptionally long time, the grip on your tires is also constantly changing. How fast your tires wear out depends on what kind of tire you have. Soft tires means you get better grip on the road, but they also wear out the fastest. Meanwhile, hard tread tires offer less grip, but also are more wear and tear resistant. Choosing which tire can prove to be a critical decision to how well you do on these races.

To add to the challenge of these races is determining when is a great time to pit. The more trips into the pits you take, the more time is lost swapping out those tires. Obviously, the fewer trips you take to the pits, the more time you have on the road to try and either make up time or gain distance on your nearest rival. You get to try and answer questions like, “Can I get away with one more lap with one red, one orange, and two yellow tires or should I just pit now and get it over with?” One thing is for sure, nothing is more distressing than seeing your car in the air while the tires are getting changed and having your position go up to 2nd, then 3rd, and returning to the track while the 4th place contender is passing you.

On the bright side, you can quit at any time. You should know by the 20th lap whether or not the race is winnable or not. Just be warned that these races average about an hour. On the 300km track, I won with a total eye popping time of over an hour and 40 minutes.

The event that wins the game is the fourth and final Gran Turismo tournament. While you don’t have to really win any other event to win the whole game, it certainly is worth winning at least most of them to get some huge credit bonuses in the process.

If you go for winning every event, you’ll generally have at least a half a dozen cars in your garage (excluding all the prize cars you end up with as well). By the time you get through most of the events and at least half of the tournaments, you’ll find out which car suits your driving skills the best. For me, the 4wd cars fit me best with their ability to handle corners better than other cars. Little wonder I stuck to the GTO Twin Turbo car to win as many events as possible. While there is a short list of which cars are best, there’s no real “best” car in the game necessarily as it depends on your racing style and which kind of car makes up for what weaknesses you have as a racing driver.

One additional thing of note are the race tracks themselves. There is a small number of tracks, however, most of these tracks contain multiple routs. Each race only has one rout open, but the different routs you take can help keep things interesting. One exception is the test track (found in the high speed special event). That course only appears once and is just your standard banked corner oval perfect for pushing the gas pedal to the floor. I think the high speed ring also only has one rout, but not sure. All tracks can be played in normal or reverse to my knowledge.

You’ll also have the option to race these tracks in a single race or time trial mode (generally practice modes).

On a final note is the cars themselves. Different cars handle differently. If you find yourself struggling to control one car that is heavily modded, a different car that is also heavily modded will handle differently. So, if you are power sliding around a corner, different cars will react differently to, say, what happens when you tap the gas pedal. For some, you can easily just spin completely out. For others, you just increase your rotation in the middle of the slide and not necessarily suffer a devastating spin out. As a general rule, it’s harder to spin out in a power slide if you are not touching the gas or breaks, but if you get behind the wheel of another car, you’ll find yourself re-learning how the car handles on corners, off the start, etc. A huge amount of variety to be had in this game, that’s for sure.

When I was researching this game, my first impressions prior to playing was that this was just another racing game. Even though the scores were high, I’ve seen my share of overrated games in the past. So, my expectations weren’t all that high even though this was a big name. My expectations were also that I’ll probably spend all of two or three days playing this game just like several other racing games I’ve played in the past.

For one, I liked this game a lot more than I thought I would. For another, this game ended up being a much larger time sink then I thought it would end up being (thanks partly to those later licensing levels, figuring out which event is the best event to start out with, and those endurance races).

What really works well for this game is that it’s not a racer that forces you to either win the race or lose even if you are in second place. One such example is Road & Track Presents – The Need for Speed. Instead, this game takes a dramatically different rout of actually rewarding incremental amounts of success. If you take fourth place, you still earn a small amount of credits. Essentially, the game will throw you a bone even if you fail to place in the top three. As a result, the race doesn’t become a total waste as far as concrete progress is concerned. You get more than just mere practice.

Another major positive is the general variety you encounter in this game in terms of cars. After earning some cash, you can buy other cars (used or new) and try them out. If you don’t like what you get, you can sell them. If you like how the cars start off, you can drop hundreds of thousands of credits tricking them out with upgrades in just about every conceivable way imaginable. As long as you have a cash cow somewhere along the line, you can at least keep milking it for cash as you get a good footing in this game.

This game doesn’t have a whole lot of negatives surrounding it, but I must say, there is one major downside to this game. The learning curve is quite steep for beginners. This goes for the licenses, figuring out where to shop for cars, upgrading, and getting a good handle of your vehicle. What would have been great is to have an option to see a demo in the licensing stages. The point of these stages is to learn, right? Why not offer a demo on how it’s done while you are getting an explanation? The learning curve also extends to car shopping and buying. It takes quite a bit of learning if you are not a car enthusiast already to figure out what car is great and what car you want to skip over. You’ll also have to sort out which parts to get in what order based on technical specs. The only thing that might be helpful to newer racers is seeing the horsepower go up, but that only tells part of the story of what’s going on under the hood. You could spend thousands of credits on upgrades only to find out one of them greatly reduced your acceleration. I found out after the fact that upgrading something will cause my acceleration to drop so badly, that I needed almost the entire intro and countdown just to get the needle into the red at the start of the race. While I couldn’t figure out which upgrade specifically caused this, I did figure out most of the upgrades that didn’t do this (likely something with the gears I think). Again, something you’ll know to avoid if you already know cars inside and out. You can also find yourself entering the wrong event when you first start out. I learned too late that the ideal first event was the easiest Gran Turismo cup, not the Rear Wheel drive special event (you should tell by how badly the opponents beat you even when you are making few mistakes). Even if you’ve played a number of racers created before this game, you still might find yourself in the beginner category like me. So, the learning curve in many aspects is a huge problem in this game. Fortunately, I think this is the only complaint I would have in the overall gameplay.

Overall, this game is quite long, but highly enjoyable once you get the hang of it. The credit system makes the game rather addicting in the first two thirds of the game and completing the last few events makes you want to finish the game off. You’d be surprised how many hours you can sink into this one.

Graphics was probably a big weakness for this game. It might not entirely be the games fault, but rather, the limitation of the Playstation itself. By this time, there are plenty of console racing games that are miles ahead of the texture warping found in this game. Examples include Top Gear Overdrive and Mario Kart 64. This doesn’t even cover other games in other genre’s that simply leaves this game in the dust in terms of graphics for a console game. Still, this game does hold its own anyway. The chrome effect on cars, the night lights, scenery, and efforts to make that warping texture effect less noticeable do help make this game a decent play as far as graphics are concerned. So, decent all around, but there are better console games to be had.

Audio was a bright spot in this game. The engine sounds and the sound effects in the menu worked quite well. The music in the races were very nicely done. My only complaint here, and this does prevent me from giving this game a perfect score here, is the fact that the music can get a little repetitive in the races partly thanks to how much racing is involved. More music and more music options would have been great to hear in this game (such as track selection and ability to shuffle during the longer races). Still, I liked what I heard here.

Overall, this game ended up being a pleasant surprise for me. It was much more addicting and long running then I expected. The credit system and the fact that this game does toss you a bone when you don’t place high in a race really made this game work quite well. The huge variety in this game and the upgradable cars were all great to see. The steep learning curve in the beginning did set this game back unfortunately. The graphics also made this game hold its own here, though it was a bit limited compared to other console games released by this time. The audio was great, but some additional options would have been nice to have. It would also been nice to hear more tracks to keep this game from sounding repetitive after a while. Overall, this game is probably one of the best Playstation games I’ve played to date.

Furthest point in game: Beat two races in arcade mode and beat all special events and championship events. Favorite car: GTO Twin Turbo (fully modded with racing upgrade).

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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