Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: January 23, 1999
Let me get something out in the open before I start this review. As a general rule, I don’t enjoy racing games. With the exceptions of Rad Racer on the old 8-bit Nintendo, and the first three Top Gear games on the SNES, there have been very very few racing games that I truly enjoyed.
I’m also not much of a car guy. You know the guys I’m talking about. They’re the ones who have subscriptions to Car and Driver, and who can actually understand what the articles are talking about when they start discussing how many pound-feet of torque an engine puts out and how a naturally aspirated engine compares to a turbo charged one. I live with two guys who fit perfectly into this category, and on car trips with them I have quickly learned that I should bring along a book, because all conversation between the two of them invariably becomes focused on whatever car is foolish enough to try to pass them, and my eyes completely glaze over at the first mention of a “torque curve.”
That is, they used to glaze over. Thanks to Gran Turismo, I’m a changed man, and this is why.
Gran Turismo is, without doubt, the all together best racing simulator available today. Sony went out of their way to license 160 different real life automobiles from Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda/Acura, Mazda, Subaru, Aston Martin, Dodge, Chevrolet, and TVR. Then, they went on to create a physics model that rivals any racing system out there, and made each of the cars act and drive as similar to the real thing as possible. When Sony advertises Gran Turismo as “The Real Driving Simulator” they’re not just spouting ad copy. This is as real as it gets without having to pay for gas.
The game starts you out with $10,000 in your pocket and the shirt on your back. You choose one of the game’s 10 major auto manufacturers, pick out the shiny used car of your choice, and head for the garage. Once there, you have a wider range of options and configurations that you can change on your car than has been offered by any console racer ever before. You can loosen or tighten the suspension, adjust the gear ratios, tweak the brakes, and basically do anything to your car that the real pros would do. It seems a bit daunting at first to have this huge array of options all laid in front of you, but there is no problem with racing with the default configuration, and tweaking things as problems arise. To help those of us who aren’t as car savvy as the average NASCAR mechanic, the game simply explains the effects of any change you could make to the car. In addition to tweaking your car’s existing specs, you can also spend money on upgrades, such as different tires, engine tune-ups, or transmission parts. The usefulness of each part is explained to you before the purchase, and parts that you own can be swapped at will. In case this seems like a bit too much reading to have to do just to race around a track, it is easy enough to just look at the parts and see which ones will add the most horsepower to the engine, and then hit the road.
Before you can race in any real races, however, you must acquire a license. This is done by submitting yourself to a series of driving tests. These tests consist of a small portion of a track that must be completed in a certain amount of time, and under certain conditions. One test may require you to go around a curve without dipping below a certain speed and while staying on the track, while another one may require you to get up to a certain speed and then stop within a required distance. These tests can be extremely difficult later in the game, but getting the first license isn’t too Herculean of a challenge.
With your new, freshly laminated license in hand, you head for the track for your first circuit race. The competition is pretty stiff, even in the first races, so you shouldn’t expect to win on your first time out. Rather, you try to do as well as you can in order to earn prize money to outfit your car until you finally can take top honors. After mastering the early circuits, you go for the next license above that, and the process repeats itself.