This is probably the first and last time you'll hear me say this about a Playstation game, or any other game for that matter, but Gran Turismo 2 is perfect in its concept and execution, and is a game that no car lover should be without. Now, those of you who didn't care for the first game for whatever reason will want to skip the rest of this review, as I really have nothing bad to say regarding the import version of the game. I'll compare it to the U.S. port, whenever it comes out (darn delays!), so perhaps I'll do an "upgraded" review soon. The opening movie, which shows the pure spirit of racing in the 20th century, using vintage film footage along with some amazing CG images of the cars in the game, is beautifully done, and sets the tone for all the excellence to follow.
First of all, the number of cars in the import version of the game has been upped to well over 500 models from a great many popular manufacturers, and if you don't find a favorite car somewhere in the game, you'll have to make your own game! Of course, not all of them are available at the beginning, and gaining access to them will take weeks, if not months (if you don't cheat!), but that's the thrill and in fact, the challenge of such a massive game as this. Polyphony has definitely done their homework, as well as listen to countless requests about which cars to include, and there are dozens, if not hundreds of surprises in store for skilled players (watch the replays for some hints!).
There are also at least 22 tracks in the game (as far as i can tell), and possibly double that number, or more, if you count the requisite backward, and short versions of some tracks that are bound to show up with the increase in your driving skills. Most of the old favorites have returned, such as the High Speed Ring (good for winning quick cash for upgrades in the GT Mode), but there are also some real-life tracks and locations as well, and a lot of you will be pleased at the inclusion of some important courses, Like Laguna Seca and Grindelwald, and the difference in skill that's involved in sucessfully negotiating them. Rally racing also gets its own tracks this time out, and they are truly amazing, and hard as hell to race on, due to the realistic controls and car handling. In fact, the whole game is extremely difficult, and I wouldn't settle for anything less.
Spread out over 2 discs, Arcade and Gran Turismo (simulation) Modes, you'll probably need a couple of blank memory cards to save all the data, in order to study replays and take note of your mistakes. Each car in the game handles differently, and it's rare that you pick one that performs the way you want it out of the box. You'll be constantly fiddling with the numerous options and parts in GT Mode, until you make that cheap hardtop you shelled out for a super turbocharged powerhouse, winning enough races to buy and/or unlock the better cars. As in the first game, don't underestimate the little car at all, they often do the best, in terms of pure acceleration and cornering- far more important than a high top speed! But you'll need a whole new set of licenses, in order to race, and the 60 new license tests range from extremely simple to really, really frustrating. But again, GT2 is the type of driving game that absolutely demands, and rewards effort, patience and concentration.
The Arcade Mode is deep as well, but a lot more fun, since you can just play with the wide selection of cars available until your fingers are sore (it's hard to type this review, just so you know...). The controls have been improved a great deal, and there are some great inclusions in order to assist novices like me, as well as experts. If you haven't driven with the analog stick before, you'll want to now- the difference is that great, and well worth upgrading your old digital pad! Especially when you "feel" the track and ground effects in this game! Only TOCA 2, released a few weeks ago, comes close to replicating this great effect. You can also turn the damage level on or off to suit your tastes, adding more realistic handling (but again, no visible damage). This is great for those of you who didn't like the way cars were able to bump past each other on turns in the first game. I can't even begin to go into detail at most of the other features, since I'm still learning them over from the last GT, and I still haven't talked about the graphics...
When you consider it, GT2 is such an impossible game for the Playstation to do, and yet, a company with only four other games under its belt (Motor Toon GP 1 & 2, Gran Turismo, Omega Boost) has maximized the potential of the system, and basically made every other car game out there obsolete. The car models are amazing, and look true to life from any angle, and I still can't believe that they got all this done in less than 2 years! The tracks I've seen are just incredible, with just a hint of pop-up in some of the more detailed backgrounds, but hell, the game has dozens of tracks, so i can forgive this completely. Besides, the only time you'll notice it is when you're a spectator- while playing, you'll be busy keeping your eyes on the road, and the other cars! Sound effects are also perfectly done, and you'll be trying out car after car, checking for distinctive engine rumblings and other sound effects.
The music in the game is more of what made the first GT import a lot more palatable to me than the US version. Simple, jazzy and light- PERFECT for driving. I absolutely hated that tecno-alterna-pop nonsense that polluted the US GT, but I'm sure that I'll be getting my ears blasted by more "choice" tunes from Garbage, Blink 182, and most likely, Rob Zombie (I'm guessing on these artists, by the way)... I'd rather have a choice between original selections, and the newer ones while I'm driving, rather than feel as if I were playing Twisted Metal, or a game that "needs" that sort of musical edge, but I'm sure that the suits here didn't even think of adding that option. But then again, I'll have to play both games, so the jury is out on this until later this month...
There's a little counter that tells you how much of the game you've completed, and I was at a paltry .017% of the game, before my eyes grew too heavy to continue any further playtime. It took me almost a year, on and off, to finish the first game, so I could probably post weekly updates for quite some time (yeah, right!). And I have NO idea what hidden goodies are in the game this time out, but I'm sure that Polyphony has thought of many. Right now I'm laughing out loud thinking that Sony made the PS2 backward compatible for a reason- you'll probably still be playing this game when the next one arrives!
All in all, Gran Turismo 2 is the ultimate in realistic racing for any console system to date, and watch for other developers to try and capture (on the PS and other systems,) some of what makes it so special. I doubt that it can be done any time soon, since what's here can only be bettered by the dedicated team that put this game together. Sure, the Ridge Racer and Need For Speed games, and Sega's great arcade racers have their place in videogame history, but GT2 gets its own 500+ car garage in my book.
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