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Up until last year, PC racers might have felt like they were having sand kicked in their faces by their console-owning cousins. Despite a handful of decent driving games, the PC had nothing that could really stand up to the likes of the PlayStation 2’s Gran Turismo or the Xbox’s Forza Motorsport, so if you were a fan of serious racing sims, you either made the best of TOCA Race Driver 2, or sat in a corner waffling on about the golden days of Grand Prix Legends. Pity the poor bloke in the corner of the pub mumbling about how Need for Speed was better before EA spoiled everything. He had good reason to be so sad.
FIA GTR Racing changed that overnight. Suddenly, the PC didn’t just have a decent serious racing sim, it had arguably the most sophisticated on the planet. No matter how much Kazunori Yamauchi spouted on about the realism of Gran Turismo 4, nothing on a console could hope to match Simbin’s real-world physics masterclass running on a high-end Athlon 64. GTR Racing felt scarily real, its handling so fiercely demanding that it made you understand the gulf between racing a supercar on a TV screen and trying to keep the beast on-track in real life. Playing Gran Turismo was tough, but you could scrape by after a couple of hours. Playing GTR and winning took real nerve, real concentration and days of mastering driving technique.
And this – its biggest strength – was ironically its biggest weakness. For every motorsports fan that found in GTR the answer to his or her prayers, several others found it just too much like hard work. Where Gran Turismo and Forza were welcoming, easing you in with slower cars, easy championships and generous driving aids, GTR sent the message “get good or get out”. Sadly, the PC’s finest racing game was also its least accessible.
No longer. GTR 2 comprehensively addresses the accessibility issue, while doing nothing that might displease the hardcore following. It’s a tighter, better, more enjoyable game all round, and one that can stand up tall with any racing game on any platform. Maybe taller.
Its first major addition – lessons – is hardly a new idea: Gran Turismo has been boring novice players with a range of ditchwater dull tutorials for years, forcing you to play through them and win a license before you can really start racing. GTR 2 does things differently and much more enjoyably. The lessons aren’t compulsory – though you can’t access custom championships without completing some of them – and they’re actually short-lived and entertaining. In most cases, you’re simply asked to chase or beat an instructor’s car through a section or series of corners, and you’re rewarded with a Golden Gear when you do particularly well. As later challenges in each section are surprisingly tricky, the desire to beat each one in turn is surprisingly strong, resulting in tutorials so compelling that you don’t feel the pain so usually associated with learning. Better still, after the basics are over, you know everything you need to and can get to grips with the game itself.