Here’s the Gran Turismo 4 dilemma: on the one hand, we have a sequel that – to the casual observer – looks and feels very much the same as its predecessor. A sequel that does something to fix key criticisms of the series, but not enough to halt them. In fact, we have a sequel that feels less like the next game in a series than a new, improved, feature-enhanced iteration: Gran Turismo 4.0, if you will.
On the other hand, it’s one of the best – some will say the best – driving games ever. Where do we even begin?
We could just start with the specs, because those big numbers just keep on getting bigger. For example, GT3 had around 160 cars to choose from, but Gran Turismo 4 makes that look puny with around 700 different models from just about every major manufacturer, the only big exceptions being Ferrari and Porsche. That figure includes a host of new and current models, some superb 1980’s and 1990’s models (available second-hand for the budget-conscious novice), a wide range of classics and some great concept cars. This alone should make GT4 irresistible to the leather-jacketed goons who line up for a place in the Top Gear audience, but it’s worryingly good news for the less car-crazy gamer too. You find yourself wondering how a classic Alpine sports car would fair against the modern Mazda equivalent, and who can resist taking a Plymouth Cuda for a drag race along the Vegas strip, or the Land Rover Stormer on a quick jaunt through Yosemite. This is nearer than most of us will ever get.
Tracks? We’re up to 52 now, with many of the old favourites – Autumn Ring, Deep Forest, etc – still hanging on in there. But GT4 benefits hugely from a strengthened line-up of real world tracks. We already had a chance to sample the Grand Canyon, New York and Cita di’Aria tracks in GT4: Prologue, but Paris, the Swiss Alps, Seoul and Le Mans are now included, along with the terrifying Nurburgring: an epic raceway of sudden twists and dives, deservedly legendary amongst the educated motoring enthusiast.
Yet even these numbers can’t really prepare you for exactly how big GT4 really is. The arcade mode is just about manageable, but enter the Gran Turismo mode proper, and the map of options is simply bewildering. Leave the safety of the garage, the license tests, and the initial beginner competitions, and there are championships and tests in Europe, Japan, and America, manufacturers with their own challenge cups, extreme races, endurance tests, speed trials, drag races, dirt and snow races, custom parts shops and probably a whole lot more I haven’t managed to take note of. You don’t even have to drive if you don’t want to. The new B-Spec mode means that most races can be played from the pits, with you advising the driver on how fast and how rough to play it.
Basically, If GT3 was an automotive sandbox, then this is the whole gas-guzzling, pedal-pushing playground. But then, like a playground, it’s full of swings and roundabouts.