Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo titles are widely perceived as being the best driving games for the Sony PlayStation and PS2, and Gran Turismo 4 is no exception. I harboured an unhealthy obsession with its predecessor (Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, rather than the blatant piece of profiteering that was GT4: Prologue), and the same is becoming true of this new version.
But that doesn't mean that you will, too. Personally, I don't care that car damage is non-existent and collision physics are totally unrealistic. I'm not in the least bit bothered by the absence of an official online racing mode (I hate losing in public, anyhow). And, while the game's driving license tests have had the neighbours complaining about my loud, late-night profanities, I actually relish the sense of achievement I get from finally passing the godforsaken things. You may feel differently.
With no experience of performance car driving, I can't say if the new car physics model is realistic or not, but it's certainly engrossing. Cars have a greater impression of weight, momentum and speed than before. Roads can be bitty, bumpy and horribly unforgiving, exemplified by the game's rendering of Germany's infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife, and it'll take even veteran GT players a while to adapt.
But while the increased depth of the game is a major selling point (over 700 cars, 50 tracks, hundreds of events, driving missions etc), it's also a disadvantage in some ways. The interface is unwieldy, making it a chore to find what you're looking for among the morass of countries, showrooms and manufacturers - not to mention having to keep tabs on the second-hand car market. Annoyances from previous games persist, too. Car resale values still disregard the vast amount of credits you've spent on car parts and tuning, and minimal pre-sale information often forces you into buying a car before you can see if it qualifies for the next race on your list. Despite claims to the contrary, the AI also shows no real signs of improvement. But none of this stops the game from being both challenging and compelling.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm quite taken with the quirky new photo mode, and I know that it's just a matter of time before a glossy picture of my favourite car makes it onto my PC's desktop. The B-Spec Director's Mode (which lets you direct, rather than drive a car) is also a little esoteric, but will be welcomed by most because it represents an easier way to generate income than having to drive the car yourself.
Put simply, Gran Turismo 4 is (much) more of the same, only better - which is no bad thing for a winning formula. The track graphics are among the best you'll see on a PS2, the content is vast and the gameplay is flexible enough to appeal to petrolheads and arcade gamers alike. Fans will hold it up as the best racing simulator on the market, but while I'm happy to ignore GT4's faults, newcomers to the genre may not be so forgiving. Aussie "petrol heads" will especially love the inclusion of famous muscle cars such as Ford's F6 Typhoon, GT Falcon and Ford Falcon XR8, and Holden's Monaro CV8 and Commodore SS.
Visuals: Pure automotive eye-candy; beautifully-detailed car and track models
Audio: Eclectic rock-based background music; effective engine noise
Gameplay: Utterly compelling, though sometimes frustrating and restrictive
Developer: Polyphony Digital