A joy to play and a real showpiece for the vintage cars it replicates, GT Legends is a great achievement and a must-have for simulation addicts.
- Best-looking cars in PC racing
- Hypercomplex, scalable physics modeling
- Enveloping, sophisticated audio
- Oodles of options
- Who knew? Vintage cars are "da bomb".
- Potential program instability
- No rain races
- Requires high-end computing power
- Car unlocking routine won't appeal to some
- Reduced damage not as much fun .
In spring of 2005, developer SimBin and publisher 10tacle Studios dragged the PC racing world back to reality with the warmly received GTR: FIA GT Racing game. In a time when virtual vehicular competition was moving inexorably in the opposite direction, GTR was a welcome respite for those who bled transmission fluid and desperately wanted to pilot authentic cars on authentic tracks against authentic competition. Less than a year later, SimBin and 10tacle return to the pavement with GTR's descendant, GT Legends, a game that benefits from SimBin's typically superb physics treatment and attention to detail. It also sports one very intriguing twist.
Rather than following the crowd and throwing drivers behind the wheel of the latest high-tech thoroughbreds, the game travels down a far different road. Effectively mimicking the FIA's current real-life FIA-GTC-GT Historic Racing Championships, GT Legends takes a cue from Papyrus' Grand Prix Legends and concerns itself wholly with vintage '60s and '70s racing machines. From tricked-out water bugs like the Mini and Cortina to growling Shelbys, slick Porsches, and a variety of madly powerful built-for-racing beasts, the game is a journey into the past on today's tracks. And it's one hell of a ride.
Unlike GPL, which initially proved too difficult for so many players, and different from other time-traveling racing games that plop you in glorified hovercrafts, GT Legends delivers a gritty, entirely believable, and eminently scalable experience. When played at the most approachable of its five difficulty levels, GT Legends is a great racing game for those who don't want to sweat the details. But when undertaken at either of its two or three most challenging difficulty levels, it's a truly impressive drive that doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat by being frustratingly impossible (hello, GPL), but rather by convincing you that you must treat your virtual car like you would a real, live hunk of machinery.
It doesn't completely follow the Papyrus NASCAR Racing formula either. Magnificent and certainly light years ahead of its competition at the time, the NASCAR Racing physics modeling engine now seems somewhat rudimentary in comparison. Case in point--any NASCAR Racing road course, where Papyrus' excellent oval-based physics engineering seemed to evaporate under the weight of turn diversification. Conversely, the physics behind GT Legends simply feels right. Everything makes sense. You don't ever feel as if you're "on rails," but at the same time you never believe the designers sneaked a little extra coding in there just to make things more difficult than they should be. And, if you're driving well and you watch the replay closely from a TV view, you'll see your maneuvering doesn't look at all out of place. In essence, GT Legends teaches you how to drive properly and follow the rules of physics. If you don't, you won't win.
Drivers fortunate enough to have driven GTR will undoubtedly feel familiar with SimBin's physics concept. However, this isn't GTR. These vintage cars are far removed from the vehicles on display in last year's effort, and SimBin has adapted well. Perhaps most exciting is the game's added wheelspin. Generally, cars from this era weren't equipped with nearly as much downforce as their modern counterparts, and you'll notice it as you drift through turns and deal with the ominous feeling that you're not quite one with the road as you blast down a high-speed straightaway. Naturally, as with any game of this caliber, a supersmooth approach and careful modulation of acceleration and braking are necessities. Moreover, you'll need to completely familiarize yourself with each circuit before you stand a chance of winning.
Of course, the depth of wheelspin varies from car to car and class to class--as do myriad other factors. Luckily, SimBin is clearly adept at differentiating between each car. Indeed, some are almost tortuous in their lack of corner-carving ability. Others are great through the turns but simply don't have the horses to compete at top speeds. But that was the trade-off when these cars ruled the road, and it is in the game, too. And if you're wondering who in their right mind would even want to drive a Cortina, think again. The truth is that the game's smaller, less-powerful sedans are some of the most fun, if just for their well-mannered behavior and engines that aren't ridiculously overpowered. Indeed, you can go a long way in the "lesser" vehicles because they don't tempt you to drive like a nutcase and they handle the turns so comparatively smoothly. Ultimately, some will prefer them to the pricey fire-breathers. GT Legends is different from GTR in numerous other ways, including its method of car selection. Race sim purists may not like it, but 10tacle has opted for an unlocking routine that keeps all but two of the game's 70-plus vehicles under wraps until certain races are won and championships championed. It's a slow process, too, which will take most drivers several weeks or months (or more) to complete. A game this good probably doesn't need this extra incentive/detraction, though each car is just so fine and so difficult to win that doing so is a very pleasant experience.
But it does limit you. GT Legends funnels you down three paths. The first is the quick race, a format that allows you to choose any of the game's 25 tracks (14 of which are variants of the 11 base circuits) and any of the game's cars. The catch? You first must unlock those tracks and cars by winning credits in GT Legends' central component, the cup challenge. Not really a career, the cup challenge consists of numerous multievent championships. These championships vary in size and scope, sometimes featuring but a couple of short five-minute races or just a single class of car, and other times taking you through a set of a half-dozen or more long or endurance events and placing several car classes in the track simultaneously, just as is they do in the real-world FIA-GTC-GT series.
The critical thing is that you'll never own and operate all or even the majority of the cars unless you first succeed here. Moreover, success is not easy. Fortunately, the game does allow you to select any of the difficulty levels each time you jump into a new challenge. So why won't everyone simply pick "beginner" and blitz through all the challenges? The answer to that is because you accumulate bigger and better winnings by choosing "semi pro" and "professional." And no, unlike GTR, GT Legends does not incorporate a straight-up arcade mode, though its beginner setting is not far off.
And that's not the only GTR staple that has been tossed in the dumper. You'll no longer have a talking crew chief/spotter. You'll no longer contend with rain, a particularly troubling bit of news for those who enjoy the slipping and sliding that results from wet pavement. And, for some inexplicable reason, SimBin has seriously scaled back the game's damage modeling. Whereas GTR cars would blow apart spectacularly in the event of a high-impact collision, GT Legends' autos lose a headlight here and there or maybe a bumper. Perhaps 10tacle will change this sorry state of affairs with a patch, but right now the sensation is rather dismal.