Gran Annoioso

Tomorrow, Gran Turismo 4 will be released for the Playstation 2. And, like a good corporate drone, I am probably going to buy it, even though I don’t expect it to actually be good. Because the previous game in the series, Gran Turismo 3, really wasn’t very good, either.

The Emperor, you see, had no clothes. I’m going to buy it, of course, not only because of my well-documented obsession for playing video games, but also because I’m specifically a sucker for driving games. “I will never own these cars,” I say to myself. “I will think about buying an Evolution VIII, and then at the last moment will realize that buying a car that gets 10 miles to the gallon isn’t very practical, and I’ll get something sensible instead. I will never drive on Laguna Seca,” I say. But I can pretend. “Vroom! Vrooooom.”

Perhaps GT4, as the well-greased hype machine spins it, will really be all that and a bag of chips. Perhaps it will change my perspective on driving games forever, the way Project Gotham Racing did. Perhaps it will be the best game of the year.

But of course, they said that about the execrable Black and White. They said that about the unplayably bad Ninja Gaiden. And they said it about Gran Turismo 3, which was, in the end, just a sort of vaguely OK driving game. So I’m not holding my breath.

I’m sure there are people – most likely white wine drinkers – who will take issue with my characterization of GT3 as just sort of vaguely OK. But the game’s pathos was all too clearly on display from start to finish. The awful, anemic, and repetitive soundtrack served as the perfect counterpoint to a racing game that was so amazingly impotent that if you came to a complete stop in the middle of the race, the cars ahead of you would slow down to 2 miles per hour. Y’know. To give you a chance to catch up. Because it wouldn’t be fun if your opponents actually drove the race to the best of their abilities. (Of course, this works in reverse as well, so that if you open up a substantial lead through transcendent driving, the chase cars suddenly are able to exceed their vehicles' rated top speeds. Maybe we should put these programmers in charge of Formula 1 races this year).

The graphics, which reviewers heaped praises on, were superb in “replay” mode, and hideously ugly in driving mode: PS2 developers seem to have huge amounts of trouble providing full screen antialiasing for their games, something the Dreamcast could do in its sleep. Even when a game is so desperately in need of it as blurry, jaggy Gran Turismo 3. It’s been a few years. Maybe someone has taught Polyphony about that checkbox in their development tools. We’ll see.

Most of the reviews complain a little bit about the omission of online play from GT4, but that doesn’t concern me at all. Online play for the Playstation 2 is utterly dead. It is a nonstarter. No one who matters plays any Playstation games online. If you want to play console games online, you own an Xbox, and that’s all there is to it. Xbox Live’s user experience is so superior to the Playstation’s online gaming mechanisms that it’s just more polite to pretend that the PS2’s online capabilities don’t exist at all, just like you’d politely ignore it if someone farted at a wedding. There was a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and poor, clueless Sony showed up with a knife.

So given the somewhat lackadaisical product that was GT3, I don’t really expect much from GT4. If the Nurburgring and Paris tracks are good, and I can buy a Skyline without having to play for 36 hours, I’ll consider it an OK investment. And who knows, perhaps I will be surprised. If I am, I’ll write about it here.

And before you ask, yes, I plan on buying Forza Motorsport, as well.

Vrooooom. Vroooooooooooooooooom!