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The PC has always been an excellent platform for driving games of the more realistic sort. Console controllers are generally not particularly well suited for the sort of precise feedback required, and even the steering wheels you can get for some of them now tend not to feel right when you are lounging on a sofa in front of the TV rather than sitting up at a desk in front of a dedicated monitor. A few years ago, before consoles had become quite so powerful, the gap was wider still, and it was then (in late 2005) that GT Legends was released. The game is based on real-world racing series, to be precise the FIA Historic Racing Championships for sports and sports racing cars of an era roughly centred on 1970.
== Gameplay ==
If I were simply to say, "You must win races by driving faster than everybody else," I doubt that would go down too well with people reading this! So, a little elaboration would seem to be in order. The object of the game, at least in its official incarnation (more on this later), is to progress through increasingly difficult races, starting with lower-powered cars and gradually working your way up to the fastest machines. With each success you gain points (you get more on higher difficulties) with which you can buy more cars.
This really is a game for which a well-made force-feedback steering wheel is nearly essential, since at this level of simulation it is essential to be able to use all your senses - not only sight, but hearing and, especially, *feel* - to control your car. A few people can be competitive with a good analogue joystick, but you're not going to get anywhere with a digital control method such as joypad or keyboard. It doesn't have to be a very *new* wheel, though: my trusty (and ancient) Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback wheel works very well.
== Tracks ==
Unlike, some other classic-racing games this game is not actually *set* in the past, but instead at the 2005 season of the historic racing series mentioned above. That means that the circuits you race on will look much as they do today, with modern-standard safety features such as chicanes and huge run-off areas. Inevitably that does mean that you lose a little of the sweaty-palmed excitement of the likes of Grand Prix Legends , in which walls and ditches are frequently mere inches away, but on the other hand it makes GT Legends just that bit more accessible.
The range of circuits is reasonable, if nothing startling. At first the list looks quite long, but in fact there are only 11 different locations; it's just that some of them contain several smaller track layouts within their full area. All the circuits are in western Europe, which isn't too much of a restriction as there's a pretty decent choice, including the likes of Monza, Spa-Francorchamps and Anderstorp. The only British track included (and the only one in the game I've visited in person) is Donington, in its pre-abortive-F1-bid incarnation. It's recreated very nicely, with plenty of attention to detail.
== Cars ==
There is an excellent and very varied range of cars to drive, but unless you cheat (see below) you will have to start with just two low-powered machines - the Mini Cooper and the Lotus Cortina. Even these can be fun, especially on the short, tight tracks such as Mondello Short where a large and unwieldy machine can be a decided hindrance. One thing you learn very quickly is that you can't drive the front-wheel-drive Mini in the same way as you do the rear-wheel-drive Cortina unless you want to spend a *lot* of time in the gravel. Fast cornering, in particular, needs entirely different approaches for the two cars, and later on you will find that a big, heavy muscle car such as the Ford Mustang simply cannot be thrown around like the nimble Alfa Romeo GTA.
Once you've managed to expand the selection of cars available to you, whether by fair means (winning lots of races) or foul (cheating!) you will find a very satisfying selection, with 27 cars in all. They are grouped into three classes: in the lowest (TC65) class you have the smallest, slowest cars such as the two already mentioned; in the intermediate GTC65 class you can drive such things as the Lotus Elan 26R (ny personal favourite) and the Austin Healey 3000; in the top GTC76 class you must tame beasts of the order of the De Tomaso Pantera and Porsche 906. Game publishers SimBin managed to get a very good selection of licensing agreements in place, which means that there are no "fantasy" cars here.
When you have chosen your car, it's time to move on to getting it just right. There are default setups provided for all the cars, and those are relatively forgiving but good enough to give you a competitive machine at the lower difficulties, though if you want to succeed at the highest levels then you will need to delve into the minutiae of car setup. Three basic adjustments - over or understeer, long or short gearing, and hard or soft suspension - can be changed quickly, but you can also alter much more fiddly stuff such as anti-roll bar settings. Make sure, too, that you have a sensible amount of fuel on board: taking 40 gallons for a five-lap race just means a pointless weight penalty!
== Racing ==
This, of course, is the main point of the game! Well, I say that, but a surprising number of people do spend a lot of time testing themselves in one-lap sprints against the clock ("hotlapping") and of course this sort of dedicated practice is necessary if you really want to become an accomplished GT Legends racer. Again comparing with the mighty Grand Prix Legends, it's not quite as hard as *that* to get yourself around a lap without crashing, but the physics are fairly complex: you certainly can't treat this like an arcade game and simply engage full throttle from the start and ignore the brake pedal!
You can choose to drive from either a behind-the-car view or a more realistic in-cockpit one. Given the relative realism of GT Legends, I would *strongly* recommend choosing the latter. You don't get as much in the way of pretty graphics telling you your lap times, but frankly in the middle of a six-car scrap for fourth place you won't have time to worry about that! You also feel much closer to the action in the cockpit, which makes judging when to go for small gaps (a vital skill) that bit easier. You can alter the field of view somewhat, which can be useful as in some cars it's hard to see the LCD which shows lap times etc.
There is, in theory, an online mode. I have to add that qualification because the official servers are no longer in operation, publisher attention having switched to more recent games, so if you want to race against other human drivers you'll have to set it up yourself. This can be done, and isn't impossible by any means, but it's an extra layer of complexity. A shame, because my experiences with online racing were very positive: although there was not quite the rigid code of ethics Grand Prix Legends encouraged, it was still rare to encounter wreckers and online racing was often very close and exciting.
== Presentation ==
The game's cover art is very nicely done, with a slightly retro, washed-out look to the main picture of some of the faster cars duking it out on the track. The colour scheme of orange and blue stripes will also raise an immediate grin of recognition from dedicated racing fans, being so reminiscent of the classic Gulf livery seen on so many sports cars over the years. The one niggle is that the mention of the game using the slightly controversial (because its drivers were not deleted automatically when the game was) Starforce copy protection system is buried in very, very small print on the back of the case.
It must be admitted that GT Legends' user interface is not the best I have seen. At first glance it looks wonderful, sharing the Gulf-alike colour scheme of the cover, but there are so many menus and settings that it can be quite easy to get lost in them, even if you have played the game quite a number of times. It's also a bit of a pain loading in saved setups for particular cars, as unless you have remembered to give them a detailed name you may be at rather a loss to recall whether they're qualifying or race setups, or what driving style you chose them for!
Graphics are very reasonable indeed for the date, and though in places they look just slightly simplistic when seen on a modern-day large-screen monitor, that isn't something you notice once you're immersed in a scrap for the lead. Weather conditions sadly do not include wet racing, but you can alter the levels of cloud cover and time of day, so that night races are a possibility - this adds another factor, in that if you break your headlamps you're in big trouble! Sound is also fine, with all the cars having distinctive engine notes. I always turn the menu music off, and I suspect most people will do the same.
== Cheats and extras ==
Many, perhaps the majority of, GT Legends owners will install just one cheat: a very simple one, which unlocks all cars and tracks from the start but leaves the rest of the game unchanged. This is immensely useful for those who aren't particularly interested in the arcade-style "unlocking" procedure but simply wish to enjoy driving where and how they like. It's so simple that I'll give it here: create a blank plain text file called tg2001.dyn ( *not* tg2001.dyn.txt!) and store it in the main game directory. Then, start a new driver profile; this will then have access to all cars and tracks.
GT Legends had, and to a certain extent still has, quite an active enthusiast community online, and this has led to there being a good number of extra cars and tracks to download. The best place to find these is at NoGripRacing (a Google will bring it up) and although you have to register, this is free and causes no hassle. There is a very wide range of new circuits, some of them as well made as the originals: Silverstone, Watkins Glen, Monaco and the classic Nürburgring Nordschleife are all there. New cars proved much harder to make, but there are a few: the Triumph Spitfire and the awesome Porsche 917, for example.
== Verdict ==
I am a big fan of GT Legends, and though I do mourn the passing of its official online mode (this is the main reason I am not giving it five stars) it still retains a place in my top three PC racing simulations of all time (the others being Grand Prix Legends and F1 Grand Prix 2). It's a very good choice for fans of historic racing who can't quite spare the time or effort required to master Grand Prix Legends, but who are frustrated by games which tilt too much towards arcade smash-fests. It's pretty cheap nowadays (well under a tenner) and will run like a dream on any modern PC, so I eagerly recommend it.