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When I read a professional reviewer cite a new book as 'important', I think "Please do get your head out of your ar5e."
Every other week there is a new movie out heralded "the greatest of our time.
Almost as common are music albums held aloft as "the defining music of a generation".
Now this game was important. It is undoubtedly the greatest racer of our time, and it helped to define the Playstation generation!
Damn, now I have to kill myself.
GT was over 5 years in development.
Not just development, but men-locked-in-a-secret-bunker-and-sworn-to-secrecy development! Yep, THAT kind.
They finally got it on the shelves in 1998. An unplayable demo of the game (so, a video of what the game MIGHT look like) had only been leaked the previous year as the project was top secret. Most of the magazines assumed it would be another mediocre racer - god knows the Playstation had its fair share of 'em.
Then they got their review copies through the post and it all changed.
As a subscriber to two game magazines at the time I had two opinions of the game thrown at me. After the initial doubts, the magazines scored this game 95% and 97% respectively, and a year or so later the sequel would score even higher!
This intrigued me, but I didn't yet own a Playstation and it really didn't look like my sort of game so I skipped past without too much fuss.
This game pushed the Playstation console to its absolute breaking point! The developers had taken the frame of a racing simulator (borrowed from the super realistic F1 series, stripped down and rebuilt) and turned it on its head, crafting a fun driving game which required skill and finesse rather than another 'heavy on the gas, easy on the brake' racing game like Ridge Racer.
It left a highly polished driving game which tightly hugged the line of arcade or simulator.
On seeing the game cover (this was advertised as a racing sim) it still didn't appeal much to me. I hated the F1 games, they required lots of concentration, a steady hand and as much focus on the braking as the 'GO' button. Usually all it takes is one mistake and you're off the track, never to recover beyond a low finishing position, usually dead last. No, a racing sim using that engine was a losing proposition.
The first time I spotted a demo of this was one Saturday lunchtime in Toys R Us. I was 16 years old, looking at consoles and games and there was a playable version of this game loaded up so my friend and I took the helm and loaded up Arcade mode. It was fun, just a normal driving game but with superb graphics and far more playable that its more serious cousin, Formula 1.
We played for half an hour before hitting the main menu and having a look at 'Gran Turismo' (Simulator mode)
Rather naively I had imagined that Arcade was the main game and that the sim mode was a bonus. How wrong was I?
We were thrown into a dealership screen with $10,000 and free reign on which car to buy to progress through the game. Half a dozen 'dealerships' were available with a handful of affordable cars. Once we'd selected one, there was a massively detailed tuning menu where upgrades could be bought and the car tweaked and tuned. There is then an opportunity to take it to a test track to further fine-tune before racing!
The initial races are fairly easy, then the next grade is locked. We discover that the game can only be progressed after passing a driving test! It's just another a small detail which sets this game apart from its competition. The 'B' license is relatively easy, a dozen simple challenges to prove you know how to handle your cars, this unlocks a few low budget races. The 'A' license is a challenge, more advanced driving techniques are introduced and harder to control cars. Beyond that, International driving licenses are required to compete in the really tough (but big money!) races. These are a challenge for me even now, and I've had a relationship with this game for almost 15 years!
Every time you win a race there is a prize. Usually this is just cash to spend on upgrades for your main car or a new one to stick in the garage (which holds up to 200 cars).
Occasionally you'll win a new car by winning a cup or racing series, but they are mostly rubbish so can either be mothballed in the garage or more likely sold.
Of course, slowly you'll wish to upgrade to better vehicles and tune them to compete with the real competitors, but the difficulty moves along in sensible levels, meaning that we're never totally outclassed but rarely head and shoulders above the competition.
The AI is superb, although the computer cars follow a standard racing line and never deviate which is a little boring.
The game boasts an almost unbelievable 180+ driveable cars, each with unique handling characteristics and an infinite number of modifications. You could start a new game every day and never quite take the same path twice!
Add to that the 11 race tracks, all with long/short versions, night versions and reverse versions, and you are looking at an enormous choice and near endless playability within the capabilities of that little shiny disc.
To complete this game 100% is nigh impossible. It means winning every race series, every trophy and all of the endurance events. You also need a 'gold' ranking in each of the license tests. I never got beyond 90% or so.
The endurance events are amazing, a real life 'le-mans' anyone? These races last hours and are a serious challenge even for the hardcore gamer!
As the game was already bulging at the seams with features, the idea of showing damage was simply beyond possible. Don't you worry, it's been worked on since! The endurance events in the first game came close though, with tyre damage showing on a little side-screen and car control suffering if you don't make a pit-stop to get them changed.
Another great idea was to have different race series' open to different cars.
In racing games we usually sway towards one car (best looking, easiest to control etc) and stick with it. Here, though, there are races for different engine layouts (rear wheel drive/rear engine, mid engined, front wheel drive/front engined etc) and for cars from different countries like the USA V's JAPAN cup.
It's a cool idea to take us out of our comfort zone and force us to try and master something new.
The thing which really blew me away, I mean totally blew my mind, was the sound.
Engines revving, tyres screeching, the crash of metal on metal - I'd never experienced anything quite the same in years of mega-drive and Sega Saturn gaming.
The music, too, was divine! This was a computer game....with a professional soundtrack!
I'm not talking about the moody background score from Tomb Raider, or the silly made up songs from Grand Theft Auto from the previous year, this was a REAL soundtrack. Music specially recorded by Ash and the Chemical Brothers, along with licenced music from Feeder and dozens of other artists, made this game really jump off the screen!
It was a theme continued from Wipeout 2097 (Chemical Brothers again!) and one which has thankfully stuck. While now we can run our own music through a game, back then a real soundtrack was a godsend (I played most of my games on silent with a CD on in the background).
Yes, it's safe to say that this game made an impact and I decided to beg, steal and borrow to get my hands on a Playstation because this game was something I NEEDED in my life!
Lucky for me, Santa brought me one a few short months later and wouldn't you know, it came with an original copy of what would become the best selling racing series of the decade!
That game sold over 10 million units worldwide and I'm proud to say I still have my 1998 copy. This game inspired a generation of game designers who would later put out cutting edge software like Project Gotham Racing and Forza Motorsport.
Oh, and 4 sequels to itself! I almost forgot.
GT is still going strong, with a '6' in the pipeline and 70 million copies sold across the franchise.
I've played and owned all but number 5 so far and enjoyed them all. If they'd marketed them for the x-box I'd still be playing the new games now, but for the time being I'll have to settle for the classics!
Until I catch a preview copy on the demo machine in Toys R Us....