Saturday, October 07, 2006

GTR 2 Review

GTR 2, developed by SimBin and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Superb physics, tons of cars and tracks, three levels of realism, aggressive and challenging AI, multiplayer, excellent graphics with time of day and weather effects, debris is dangerous
The Not So Good: Driving school lessons are repetitive, minimal changes from the original outside of the graphics, default setups make it hard to be competitive
What say you? A fine continuation of the realistic racing simulation for dedicated drivers: 7/8

Quality race simulations have become a mainstay on the PC. While other simulations have fallen out of favor, driving cars really fast seems to hold a high level of appeal with the PC crowd, culminated in many superior titles. A scant 18 months ago, GTR was released to the masses, emphasizing realism in its approach to the grand touring racer. Developer SimBin is back with the sequel to that game, coincidentally titled GTR 2, a game that features lots of expensive cars going too fast around really tight corners.

The most noticeable area that GTR 2 has made improvements in is the graphics. GTR 2 looks really good for a simulation racer and is full of nice, subtle touches to make the game’s tracks even more lifelike. First, each of the game’s 18 cars are exquisitely detailed and shine in all of their reflective glory. The cockpits have also undergone some improvement, closely mimicking their real-life counterparts. In addition, the driver now responds to user input, including visible movement of feet during braking. The tracks are enhanced as well and look almost photo-realistic in places. The off-track objects are more plentiful this time around, and the track details, from the rumble strips to the braking points, correspond well to the real world locations. The damage model is also improved, as debris that has flown off a competitor’s car can independently cause damage to your car: running over a bumper is now a tricky operation instead of just a visual flair. And despite all of these improvements, the game still runs about a smoothly as before (which is to say about par for the course for PC driving simulations). The sound, like the graphics, is much improved. GTR 2 provides good audio clues pertaining to tire grip, and the shaking and rattling of the cars when traveling at high speeds is the most convincing I’ve seen in any racing game. I’ve always felt that games don’t show how precarious it is to travel upwards of 200 miles per hour, but GTR 2 makes the experience frighteningly exhilarating. GTR 2 can easily compete with the rest of the racing simulations available on the PC in terms of graphics and sound and the game ends up looking and sounding better than most of them.

GTR 2 covers the 2003 and 2004 FIA GT seasons (why not 2005 or 2006?), containing all of the cars, drivers, and tracks from those particular campaigns. This means that GTR 2 has 18 car models over several performance classes and 15 tracks (plus variants), which is more than enough to satisfy most simulation racers. New to GTR 2 is the driving school mode, a set of instructional challenges meant to help new drivers get accustomed to the game’s mechanics. The lessons are very repetitive for each subject area, asking you to complete the same task on the same section of track in progressively shorter amounts of time. The lessons are useful, however, and it’s a lot easier to learn the game through some instruction instead of just learning on your own. The driving lessons are used to unlock custom championships (a specific set of cars on specific tracks), which are used to unlock alternate configurations of the game’s base tracks. Once you’ve learned the game a little, you can participate in open practice sessions, time trials, full race weekends, 24-hour events, and official championships. A race weekend consists of two practice sessions, two qualifying sessions (qualifying can be skipped and a starting position assigned or given at random), a warm-up period, and the race itself. Each of the races can be customized in terms of length (the game provides an estimate of the race length based on the length percentage), cars, and weather. Weather plays an important role in GTR 2, as wet roads are extremely difficult to drive on (more so than most other racing simulations) and dry lines will form after a heavy rain. The 24-hour events can include accelerated time of day, as you might not want to race for a full 24 hours. GTR 2 also includes the official FIA GT championships from 2003 and 2004 to test your mettle against the full 64-car field. Multiplayer racing is also available and joining a server is easy and games are available for each of the game’s difficulty levels. Due to a lack of online participation, I did not have a chance to fully test out the multiplayer modes, but they are there if you want them.

While GTR was strongly geared towards simulation racers, GTR 2 has opened the door for more arcade-inclined racers that don’t want the steep learning curve realistic racing requires. While driving in pro mode requires smooth acceleration, braking, and steering, novice mode enables some driving aids to help out beginning drivers. While the game is still more difficult (meaning realistic) to control than purely arcade racers, I feel that the novice mode strikes a good balance between easy handling and realistic control. The physics of GTR 2 are fabulous and the cars are easier (less twitchy and more fun) to drive than rFactor, but more difficult than the less powerful cars of Live for Speed. However, the default setups are complete garbage and the game requires you to make some tweaks even on novice level to even become slightly competitive against the AI drivers (let alone experienced online competitors). Personally, I could care less about camber, wedge, and tire pressures; I just want to race. The lack of quality setups also makes learning the tracks difficult, as the corner gear suggestions are about a gear too high (at least for my erratic driving style). Speaking of the AI (well, a couple of sentences ago), the computer opponents of GTR 2 are some of the best I’ve seen in a PC racing simulation. Unlike games such as NASCAR SimRacing, the AI actually notices you are along side and will adjust their racing line and even give up positions if they feel it’s in their best interest. The AI provides solid competition, although they may be a little too good against the default setups (competitive driving for me required toning down the AI strength to extremely low percentages compared to values I’ve used in other simulation games). Not being able to find human competition in the multiplayer modes is not really an issue because the AI is strong enough and the single player portion of the game gives enough depth to keep drivers going at it for a long period of time.

GTR 2 is a lot like GTR (not surprising), but with better graphics and some additional game modes. For people who already own the original game, this is probably not enough to warrant getting this version of the game, but for everyone else, GTR 2 is an enjoyable racing game, as long as you put enough effort into the title. Even with the novice mode and the new driving lessons, the game is not that friendly to new players, especially those who are new to driving simulations. The default setups make it difficult to be competitive right out of the box, and those people who don’t like tweaking with setups will be disappointed. I imagine that custom setups will begin to appear on the Internet shortly after the game is released, but the developers should have included at least some decent offerings for new players at the novice skill level. The most apparently overhaul since the original version is in the graphics and sound departments, as GTR 2 looks and sounds great. Add in a complete single player experience in addition to multiplayer modes, and GTR 2 should satisfy most simulation racers. While the game does not offer the broad appeal advertised for this newest iteration of the series, those gamers who tend to fall on the simulation side of things will find plenty to enjoy in GTR 2.