Gran Turismo 4 Impressions

We get some hands-on time with the latest game in Polyphony Digital's driving simulation series.

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Sony had a pretty elaborate Gran Turismo 4 setup in its booth at this year's E3, with a small arena dedicated to an online mode competition. The build being shown had three different tracks--one was a track set in New York City, while the other two were circuit and rally tracks respectively. There were also dozens of playable cars in the demo ranging from the Subaru Impreza to an old Pontiac GTO. We selected the Honda NSX and the New York track and were quickly off and racing.

The biggest initial difference you'll notice between Gran Turismo 3 and Gran Turismo 4 is the graphics. It seems as though Polyphony Digital has substantially upped the amount of trackside detail for some of the courses without sacrificing the quality of the car models. The New York City track looks especially impressive with its entire re-creation of Times Square down to the MTV offices and the illuminated NASDAQ sign. The textures in this environment are especially impressive with billboards looking vibrant and crisp. It's also worth noting some of the more subtle details such as the reflective windows on store fronts and smaller objects that cast shadows out onto the track. The car models look just as good as those in Gran Turismo 3 with some subtle environmental mapping apparent on the sides of the cars, but they don't look substantially better than the car models in the previous game. The lighting is also much more defined and is successful in making the game look much more realistic.

As far as the gameplay mechanics are concerned, the driving engine just feels much tighter overall--that being said, it can be pretty unforgiving if you're new to the Gran Turismo universe. It's still incredibly easy to spin out if you speed into a turn too quickly or slam on the brakes, and it usually takes a few seconds off your track time as you try to straighten out the car. But if you're familiar with the driving mechanics in the Gran Turismo series, you'll find that braking and turning are even more intertwined with each other, with both requiring precision timing and finesse to make the most efficient turns.

Interestingly, it seems as though Gran Turismo 4 features even better force feedback steering wheel support. As you're driving through the New York City track, you'll go over these little bumps in the road that cause your arms to shake rather violently, forcing you to fight the wheel and keep control of the car. Lastly, online play seemed pretty smooth at this point, though it isn't entirely clear how the online mode is being implemented on the show floor. We'll have much more on Gran Turismo 4 later today.

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