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Gran Turismo 4 Preview
game: Gran Turismo 4
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
date posted: 09:10 AM Thu Jun 5th, 2003
last revision: 07:01 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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As far as I can tell, there is only one difference between a Gran Turismo addict and a heroin addict: their definition of track marks. Think about it: neither one eats, sleeps, or bathes on a regular basis. Both walk around with bloodshot eyes, mumbling incoherently. Their jobs, their girlfriends, all things are sacrificed for a quick fix. If I could synthesize the Gran Turismo formula into an injectable form and sell it on street corners, I\'d be a rich man.

Gran Turismo 4 was a showstopper at E3 this year. Sony assembled an impressive stage complete with driver\'s seats, big screen monitors, and a balcony view for spectators. They even hired a commentator. All this so fans could compete for GT supremacy, and walk away with a T-Shirt. I, being all business, bypassed the endless line of frothing GT fans and went to the stand up displays to get some first hand experience with the new title.

The floor demo had three levels available: a course that ran right through Times Square, NYC; a sprawling rally race along the Grand Canyon; and the Tsukuba Circuit. There were dozens of cars, and all of the usual control and transmission options to choose from.

Two things became apparent after I chose my sporty little Honda Prelude and headed onto the streets of NYC. First, while the cars remain graphically very much the same as the last game (there are little refinements, of course), the background details have improved dramatically. Hanging flags blow in the wind, the windows of buildings are reflection mapped, and shadows move across the ground. All of Times Square has been rendered with incredible clarity, from street signs to billboards to the MTV offices. It really is uncanny. The crowds have been brought to life as well-no more static bodies and pixilated faces. Oh, and second, I realized how long it has been since I last played Gran Turismo. I got my ass handed to me. Over and over again.

Equally as impressive as Times Square is the scenic beauty of the Grand Canyon as presented in the game. The depth of field and intricately rendered landscape is a wonder to behold. While certainly less awe-inspiring, but nonetheless finely honed, the Tsukuba Circuit offered a taste of checkered flag racing, another staple of the series.

The car physics have been tweaked a little, but retain the solid, albeit tricky, GT dynamics that we have come to expect. The gameplay will remain much the same as well, with a cash-for-cars commerce system, a garage, and intricate customizing options. There will be upwards of five hundred cars to attain and fifty courses to unlock. Sony promises better, more human AI as well, but they always say that. If this is all I had to report, I would pass GT4 off as same thing, different year. However, I haven\'t gotten to the best part.

Not one to fall behind the curve, Polyphony has made GT4 online playable. This is what will take the GT series to a whole new level. All of those courses, all of those cars, and you get to use them in an online multiplayer to race your friends, your family, your arch nemesis from Uruguay whom you have never met-this is what we have been waiting for. The main complaint I, and many like me, have with the GT series is that after a while the computer opponents become too predictable. They stick to the optimal driving line for each course, without fail. And to me, better AI only means that they will be better at driving that line. But imagine finally getting to race, Gran Turismo style, against nothing but human opponents. The game will finally come alive. Say what you want about the AI becoming \"more human;\" living, breathing opponents will always be more fun. After all, what could be more human than human? (Forgive the replicant reference from a Gen-X sci-fi buff. \"I\'ve seen things you people wouldn\'t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.\" ?Roy Batty)

There is no word yet on how many players the online multiplayer will support, or what racing options will be available. However, players at the four floor displays at E3 had the option to compete with each other in an online race, and it performed flawlessly. The human element really is all that Gran Turismo has been lacking. Two-player split screen just can\'t compare to the scope and possibilities entailed in online gameplay. With no release date planned as of yet, expect Sony and Polyphony to take the time they need to get it right. They haven\'t let us down so far, have they? Fans of Gran Turismo prepare, sometime in 2004 we will all meet online with GT4. Hopefully I will have gotten some practice time in by then.