previews\ Sep 16, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Gran Turismo 4 - PS2 - Preview 2

Combine 30,000-50,000 photos of courses, 150-200 photographs of automobiles, and sound from both the engine and exhaust sampled at 1,000 rpm intervals and what do you have?

Gran Turismo 4, the latest in the line of the GT series of race games for the PlayStation2 from SCEA and Polyphony Digital Inc.

The title was showcased at Sony Gamers Day 2003 in San Francisco Tuesday, but more than just a cursory glance, this was a full-on demonstration replete with hands-on driving time.

While the game is still slated for launch in Summer 2004, it is very evident that Sony is excited about this title, and with good reason. Consider first the improvements to the series embodied in this title. The AI has been tweaked to allow for more human-like behavior.

The game features a new physics engine which boosts the level of realism, and also improves the handling. This, in turn, allows for tighter courses. This represents the first control adjustment in the history of the series.

There are more than 50 courses available, more than 500 cars, and each vehicle contains more than 4,000 polygons. All vehicles are fully customizable, and the opponent AI in single-player mode has an improved AI to replicate more human-like emotion. Crowds that were static in previous incarnations come alive in GT4.

Visually, GT4 is one of the most realistic driving simulations found anywhere. From the reflective surfaces of the vehicles to dynamic lighting and shadows, to distant environments and skies that are photo-realistic, this game is represents eye candy to the extreme. The course through New York is awash with neon signs and represents the way the area of the course through downtown actually looks.

The sound is subtly amazing. Anything less would have stood out immediately, but this game sounds so authentic as to almost be taken for granted in the audio department.

But the real joy of GT4 is the driving. Ok, you can’t really hurt these cars, but who would want to? It is enough to journey through the history of the automobile, driving classic muscle cars or strapping in behind the wheel of racing vehicles, without having them bend and break as you slam into a barricade at 121 miles per hour after failing to negotiate that sharp 90-degree turn in New York City.

In spite of the improved handling, GT4 is still a solid challenge. Sony had handheld console gamepads hooked into several machines and it took a light touch to keep the car on course. Logitech wheels with pedals were hooked up to other network games and while the force feedback was definitely a nice feature, this was not much easier to control.

And there lies the lesson about GT4. With the tight corners on the tracks, it is not always the speed that matters, but rather the control. This is a game where handling matters most.

Gran Turismo 4 has quite a legacy to live up to. The original title sold more than 3.8 million units; GT2 had sales of 3.5 million units; and GT3 sold almost 5 million units. But based on the look and feel of GT4, those other titles will be relegated to also-rans. Simply stated, GT4 is an amazing ride.

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