It’s been 3 1/2 long years since Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec came out. After numerous delays where Polyphony Digital added and subtracted many things, Gran Turismo 4 (henceforth GT4) has finally come out. With over 700 cars and over 50 courses to drive on, GT4 is easily the largest of the Gran Turismo games. Having such a vast variety can be both a blessing (lots of things to play with) or a curse (total overload with too many things in the game). We’ll have to see which side GT4 sits on.

For purposes of this review, I am using the Logitech Driving Force Pro wheel that was released when GT4 came out. Logitech was nice enough to provide one to go along with this review and the control section of this review will go into both the wheel and the standard Dual Shock controller.

It honestly doesn’t get much better than this from a graphical perspective for the PS2. Yes, there are still jaggies in the replays, but they are far less prominent than they were in Gran Turismo 3. I don’t have any sort of HDTV, so I am unable to check out the 480p or 1080i at my home, but I was able to find a friend I could play those on and I have to say it is pretty incredible and amazing that the PS2 is able to push out a 1080i signal with no slowdown.

The beauty of this game comes with a price. Unlike some other racing games, GT4 is still locked into having only 6 cars on a course at once. You also drive in a rail where you hit an invisible wall if you travel too far outside of the boundary in contrast to a game like Rallisport Challenge 2 where you can go far off-course without hitting a wall. This keeps the polygons in the game pumping at a steady rate since the course and cars themselves are pretty static in the grand scheme of things.

The cars and courses are meticulously detailed, not a big surprise coming from Polyphony Digital who always strive for perfection. There are also fans in the rally races that will come out on the track to take a picture and dash out of the way before they are run over. The fans are also animated and drawn in 3D whereas many games would leave the fans in a 2D map in order to keep the framerate going.

There is no damage model in this game, but anyone who was picking this game up would have already known that. Many manufacturers out there don’t like to see their cars get smashed up on the television screen for some reason.

One of the biggest noticeable graphical upgrades from GT3 to GT4 is the lighting and reflection sections. As I was watching while playing the game and in replays I could have sworn I was playing Project Gotham Racing 2 on my Xbox. The reflections and lighting were just that good. Never would I have dreamed that the PS2 could do reflections off of cars like this. Many games have attempted, but they rarely exceed. If they do, it is at a far lesser degree than is present here.

It’s no surprise that Gran Turismo 4 sets the standard once again for graphics on the PS2. Every iteration of the series has proven itself as a benchmark for the technology contained within the system it is on. It would also be no surprise if Gran Turismo 5 continues that feeling into the next generation for Sony.

The sound is phenomenal while the music has both great and okay tracks. The Gran Turismo series has always prided itself on pushing the sound field envelope and GT4 is no exception, especially if you have Dolby Pro Logic II. Granted, DPL2 is not as great as Dolby Digital, but since it is the only thing the PS2 is capable of from a non-cutscene perspective, it sounds darn good. Every car has different engine sounds and obviously every time you tweak the engine that also has a different sound. I am not as much of a car aficionado as some people out there, so I cannot say if the engine sounds are dead on or not, I’ll leave that to the pros. From my perspective the aural presentation in this game is spot on.

On the music side of things it turns out okay. The songs in GT4 are not as grossly horrendous as the rap-heavy Electronic Arts sports games, but some of the tunes could have been left out and some probably could have been added. Luckily you can turn the music selections on and off.

The control is simply phenomenal with the Logitech Driving Force Pro. Granted, you have to spend $150 (or $100 at a few places like Amazon) in order to enjoy it, but it is a worthy upgrade if money is no object. A force feedback wheel where it pushes against you as you go into a turn at high speeds is just spot on. With its 900 degree turning radius, you are given quite a bit of movement. It also comes with a nice vice grip so you can clamp it to a table. The pedals are also very nice with the brake giving a little more push against you than the gas pedal. The shifter is also conveniently located to the right of the wheel itself, although you can only go up or down a gear instead of the manual moves into the different gears.

The control on the Dual Shock controllers are also still excellent, although you obviously don’t have quite the control you do with a wheel. The majority of GT4 players out there will be playing with their controllers, so it is no surprise that the controls are nicely tweaked for them. The Driving Force Pro just allows that extra bit of realism to suck you into the game itself and make it more like “The Real Driving Simulator” that the series has always proclaimed itself as.

The two key elements of Gran Turismo 4 is the Gran Turismo mode and the Arcade mode, staples for the series over the years. Gran Turismo mode is basically your career mode. One of the great things about GT4 is that you can import a saved game from GT3 and get up to 100,000 credits as well as your A and B licenses that you may have acquired. Unfortunately for us, the A and B licenses are not the only ones in this game and the majority of the races will be contained under the iA and iB licenses, which you have to go through the stages in order to get. The license tests, as always, become more and more difficult as you go through the stages. I’ve always found the license tests to be unnecessary in this game, but it’s a necessary evil that Polyphony Digital doesn’t look like they’re going to drop anytime soon.

If you have your A and B license along with (hopefully) 100,000 credits from GT3 entered into GT4 you should have no problem getting a pretty good car with which to use and go through the A and B license sections without having to go through the other license tests straight off. If you aren’t so lucky as to have a GT3 save, you’ll have to go to one of the older car lots on the map and pick up a car with which to race in order to get money so you can buy the cooler and better built cars. In many ways it is like starting Gran Turismo 2 (the one with the most cars until now) from scratch.

There are a variety of car makers from different countries, each of which is found on the map (USA, Germany, Japan, Sweden, etc.). After entering the country you can see the makers of the cars, clicking on one of those you can then enter into seeing and buying cars. There are also some used car areas on the map as well where you can buy used cars, some of which can be an absolute steal as you move through the game.

In each corner of the map there are the racing sections where you can make money by winning races and stages like you could in the other Gran Turismo games. There are also events in each geographical location found on the map as a stadium in each geographic section. Basically there is a ton of stuff to do in this game, but Polyphony spent a lot of time on this game and in order to offset the planned, but scrapped, online mode they probably went that extra mile to add more overall substance to the game.

All of the menus in the game are top notch and colorful. As you go through your garage and tweak your cars (with the parts you can buy from major manufacturers) everything is understood better by those that may not be as car literate as other people.

With all the greatness contained within Gran Turismo 4 there are also a lot of potholes, ones that have crept up in every game in the series so far. Although I have noticed a little less of it, the computer AI will still stick to a set path. They do deviate from time to time from the straight lines, but they certainly aren’t going to be moving to the outside in order to go around you, they’ll plow right into you if you’re on their set path or within the area around it. It’s very unfortunate that Polyphony spent all the time making the game a graphical, aural and tweak pleasure and still leave this glaring problem that has been there since the original Gran Turismo.

Another problem is that there are still a lot of cars that you will probably never touch because they simply can’t handle the races against the computer opponents. Sure, you have over 700 vehicles, but unless you plan to spend days on end getting money you won’t be buying a lot of cars except for a select few in order to pass sections of the game. It’s fantastic that Polyphony made the game so big, but sometimes the pure openness of it all has to be ultimately contained in some way, shape or form.

The exclusion of an online mode outside of local LAN play is also a travesty, but this has been pointed out countless times since this section of the game was cancelled. In many ways, the Gran Turismo series is one of those that rises above criticism or is, in effect, indestructible from reviews. There is a way around local LAN play though with the help of Kai’s Xlink software. This will allow you to play over the internet with other people (up to 6), but it’s an extra step that didn’t need to be there in this case. Xlink tricks the PS2 into thinking it is on a local network and will therefore let you play with people thousands of miles away. From what I have played via that it has been excellent, I’m just sad that they couldn’t have put at least a bargain basement online section into this game. If they come out with an online upgrade and charge a lot of money I think many will be up in arms about it.

This is Gran Turismo, the amount of value is totally up to you and how long you play the game. This game has so much packed into it that you will spend weeks and months just tweaking your car in order to win the next match. The series has always had that “one more time” feeling whenever you fail. Soon enough you find that it is early in the morning after you started playing after dinner. The game just sucks you in and doesn’t let go unless you allow it to.

There is also a Photo mode that will allow you to take high resolution pictures of your car(s) at different locations. You can then save them to a USB drive (like one of those flash ones), put them on your computer and print them. There is also support for Epson printers straight from the game itself if you hook in the USB cord for it. Of course, that demands you have an Epson printer, something you may not have. This is just a nice addition to GT4 along with the 480p and 1080i support with no slowdown.