The arcade racing genre isn't short on classics; Daytona, Sega Rally, Out Run, Super Off Road, and Chase HQ swallowed many quarters in their time. Then there's GTI Club, the quirky racer that opted for European style over raw speed. The game was instantly addictive when it hit arcades in the mid-'90s, pitting players against one another in the winding streets and back alleys of the Cote D'Azur using a number of pint-sized classic hatchbacks in true The Italian Job style, and now Sumo Digital has updated the game in HD for the PlayStation Network.
GTI Club Plus is available for £11.99 ($17.26) in Europe, which is a little steep for what you're getting, although it sells for almost half that price at a much more sensible $9.99 in the US. The game is a faithful re-creation of the arcade game with the addition of new visuals, customisable cars, and online multiplayer. And while the latter is welcome, there are no new tracks and no split-screen or system-link multiplayer. Fans of the original will likely get a kick out of the familiar pick-up-and-play gameplay, but the overall lack of depth results in a game that offers little long-term challenge.
The original game was appealing because of its exotic setting, range of fun vehicles, frantic pace, and, of course, physical hand brake that was bolted to the side of arcade seats. GTI Club Plus doesn't come with a hand brake peripheral, but hand-braking, which is key to the gameplay, can still be executed using the L2 shoulder button. Other functions are mapped sensibly to the face and shoulder buttons. Sixaxis support lets you steer your chosen vehicle by tilting the control pad left or right, but unless you're a sucker for punishment or want a harder level of difficulty, the classic control scheme is the recommended option.
The game features five cars, including the iconic Austin Mini Cooper. It's not the fastest car in the game, but it does have excellent handling. The Fiat A112 Abarth is a good all-rounder, providing zip and decent handling, and the Renault 5 has quick acceleration thanks to its turbo-charged engine. The Lancia Delta and the VW Golf GTI are bigger vehicles, which have slower acceleration but offset this with higher top speeds on the straights. You can customise your car with dozens of paint schemes, decals, and car horns--including that whining European police siren--which makes identifying your opponents a bit easier in multiplayer races. You can also unlock new skins for your car, including Euro-style police and taxi decals. The game is instantly fun, and jostling for first place while hurtling down narrow cobblestone streets is as intense as it is enjoyable.
The best mode in the game is undoubtedly multiplayer. You can race against up to seven other people on the PlayStation Network in easy, medium, hard, and bombtag events. Customisable cars, voice chat, and PlayStation Eye support are all welcome additions that play into the online portion of GTI Club Plus. Once you've taken photos of your happy, mocking, sad, and angry faces, they'll show up on competitors' screens at specific moments. For example, overtaking someone will flash your mocking picture on that player's screen, while you'll see his sad face on your own screen. It's a bit gimmicky, but the feature can be disabled.
Returning from the arcades is GTI Club's bombtag race, which is a game of tag where one player starts with the bomb and everyone tries to avoid being left holding it when the time runs out. You don't have to worry about checkpoints; just avoid the bomb at all costs. You can play against up to seven other players in a small, medium, or large map, and while its novelty will probably wear out before that of the race modes, it's still good to see that this mode made it into the PSN game.
GTI Club Plus also includes a single-player mode, and while you can't play bombtag in single-player, you can play easy, medium, and hard races, along with Free Run, which lets you explore the city and its myriad shortcuts at leisure. One of the things that set GTI Club apart in the arcades was the open-world structure of the town, where you could explore and find the shortest route to each checkpoint, which earned you a time bonus. That remains intact, including the time limit, which seems unnecessary since you're no longer being forced to feed credits to an arcade machine.
The new HD graphics certainly look a lot better than the original graphics, running in crisp 720p. We experienced occasional aliasing problems, but other than that the game looks sharp. Some of the textures still look a bit plain and simplistic despite being high-resolution, especially rocks and trees. The cars have been reproduced faithfully, coming officially licensed from the relevant manufacturers. The original arcade soundtrack has also been included, and it's an upbeat mix that works well with the setting. The MC has also made a comeback, and while he's a bit grating at times, he's actually useful--telling you to "watch out behind you" or "you're running out of time."
GTI Club Plus is good if you're a nostalgic fan of the original arcade machine. Newcomers, on the other hand, will find that the maps, modes, and features lack the depth of modern racing games. However, if you want to try a racer that does things a bit differently, GTI Club Plus is definitely worth taking a look at.