on 12 April 2011
Some games in life are just brilliant. Some games are just so well made that they maintain their addictiveness and playability years and years after their initial release. The original Gran Turismo on PSone is a perfect example of what I mean. The game maybe 13 years old, but this racing sim is a work of art that is just as much fun to play now as it was when it was first released to the gaming world back in the late 90's.
Gran Turismo was published by Sony, and developed by Polyphony Digital. It was first released in Japan in December 1997, and then made it to UK shores in May 1998. The game changed the face of the racing genre forever. No more blemishes were acceptable, like stiff handling or hexagon-shaped tyre barriers. If you wanted in on the racing game business you had create something that was nigh on perfect; and that's EXACTLY what Gran Turismo was.
The game is split into two modes. First up is the Arcade Mode, racing at its simpliest. You just select a difficulty level, a car, and choose from one of four tracks. Then you just go off racing. If you continue winning races on Hard difficulty you'll unlock other cars and courses, and then eventually the end credits. Not exactly the grandest of prizes that last one, but if the Arcade mode was all GT had to offer it would still be good enough to warrant 5-Stars.
But this mode barely scratches the surface of what "The Real Driving Simulator" has to offer. Now we move onto the other mode, the "Gran Turismo" mode. At the start you're presented with a city map. You have your own garage, a car wash and a machine test area. At first there is a strong temptation to select the chequred flag icon and go racing. Whoa, Nelly!! There are far more important things to do at this moment in time.
In real life any driver will tell you that you need a licence in order to drive a car, and in GT it's the same thing. Head to the licence place and you'll find three different licence exams: B, A, and International A. Each exam has a series of tests which you need to complete in a set amount of time. Successfully completing those tests you get you awards, which come in bronze, silver and gold depending on how quick you are. Once you've successfully completed all the tests you'll get your licence and the right to race in certain competitions. The licence tests are pretty fun to do, especially if you've never played this game before. Not only do they provide realism, but also there are nice rewards to obtain for getting all gold awards on a single licence exam.
So now that we've got our licence, it's time to buy a car. You've got 10,000 credits to start with, and there are ten different manufacturers to look at, which include the likes of Honda, Mitsubishi and Toyota. However, after a quick look around you soon come to realize that your cash is not enough for a shiny new motor; so for now you'll have to make do with something from the used section.
OK, we've got a licence and we've got a car. FINALLY we can go racing. There are four racing categories to choose from, with the big two being GT League and Special Event. Each cup competition (some have car restrictions) has a series of races you need to complete, with points available depending on race finishes. You race; you win the cup; you win prize money and a car; you head out to the garages; you upgrade your car or buy a new one; you compete in another competition; the whole cycle starts over again. This all sounds rather repetitive, but actually it's a lot of fun. There's always a big level of excitement when you win a race, and then realize that you've won enough cash to buy faster cars with better handling, or buy that level 4 turbo upgrade for your current car.
There are over 290 cars available to choose from (according to the back of the game case); and whilst that's not as many as later GT installments, it's still a very big number. Each car comes in different shapes, sizes, engine powers, and handling abilities. To give a few examples, the Demio A-spec from Mazda is slow, sluggish and acts like a mule when it comes to cornering. Stubborn. The Toyota Supra is more meatier in power and can corner better. My favourite car is the GTO Twinturbo '92 from Mitsubishi. The car can be upgraded to over 900 horsepower, and once you've got the right equipment installed it's virtually unstoppable in races.
As implied in the previous paragraph your quest for racing domination doesn't stop with just buying cars. Using your earnings from race wins you can also upgrade your current cars with better parts, and therefore make races easier to win. Each upgrade does have a noticeable impact on your car. Upgrading it with turbos will make it faster; upgrading the brakes will improve braking power, especially in tight corners; and weight reductions will also have a positive impact on your car's acceleration and handling. To put it simply this game is a mechanic's heaven. But novices shouldn't be too worried. Each upgrade is explained in detail with onscreen text. The text is not that big though, so anybody with vision issues may need to lean in towards the screen in order to read it.
The graphics are old and scruffy by today standards, but they're still the best on any PSone game ever made (barring Gran Turismo 2, of course). As you drive around your chosen track in your chosen car, you can't help but admire what a great job Polyphony did with the graphics back in the day. The road surface, the stands, the trees, the cliff edges, and the cars themselves; everything looks brilliant. But the most impressive part of the graphics is how you can clearly make out the sponsorships and manufacturers' logos, both on the advertising boards around the track, and on some racing-modified cars.
The eleven tracks on offer are a joy to race on, with each of them having their high points. My two favourite tracks are the High Speed Ring, which is a super fast track with barely any turns to slow you down; and the Special Stage Route 5 with it's beautiful nighttime city scenery looking like something out of The Fast & The Furious. To add icing on the cake, the music you hear in the races is great too. Most of the rock tunes are provided by Cubanate and Feeder, but the stand out tune is "As Heaven Is Wide" by Garbage. Once you've heard it you'll be desperate to get your hands on the download.
There are a couple of downsides to this game. It's not possible to damage cars, which does take some of the realism out of the graphics. Also some of the big car manufacturers are absent, like BMW, Ferrari and Ford. But when a racing game is this great such flaws are very minor and forgivable.
As a guy who loves his PSone games it's virtually impossible for me to name my all time favourite game on this console; but Gran Turismo is definately a challenger for the number one spot. If you never sampled the delights of the PSone back in the day, then boy you missed out on a racing gem! But you know what? It's never too late to start sampling its delights, if you know what I mean.