Tourist Trophy Hands-On
We take a few laps with Polyphony Digital's slick new bike sim.
Two years ago GameSpot found itself on Japan's famed Motegi raceway, chilling with members of Polyphony Digital. The respected developer was in the midst of gathering car data to use for Gran Turismo 4, and had rented out the prestigious racetrack to do so. As the day wore on and the team went about its business, we happened to catch an odd moment on camera while we watched the bustle of activity trackside: A handful of motorcycles whizzed by. While there could have been all sorts of reasons why the bikes were there, it was clear they were being scoped out by the team, with the same attention to detail they were lavishing on all the cars to be included in GT4. Fast-forward to the game's release, which hit amid rumors that it contained motorcycles. Alas, after tearing through the game, we discovered there are no bikes to be found. Now, given how often game features shift during development, we assumed that Polyphony had opted to not include motorcycles in GT4. However, the announcement of Tourist Trophy: The Real Riding Simulator earlier this year finally made clear just what was up with the bikes. We've been anxious to see what Polyphony would do with motorcycles, and we finally had a chance to try out a work-in-progress version of the promising PlayStation 2 game.
Given that Tourist Trophy is coming from Polyphony Digital, it may be tempting to think that the game will just be a GT rehash, with motorcycles. Well, after spending some time with the game, we can say that that's not the case. TT is it own unique animal, although there are obviously similar approaches used in both games. The most significant similarity between TT and the GT series is that both stem from a creator's passion. Polyphony's president, Kazunori Yamauchi, is an unabashed car nut--which is one of the reasons the GT series exists. For Tourist Trophy, Yamauchi tapped Takamasa Shichisawa to serve as the project's director. Shichisawa's passion for motorcycle racing matches Yamauchi's car fixation, which has led TT to have the same exacting attention to detail seen in the GT games.
The version of the game we played had four self-explanatory options to choose from: one-on-one, Race, Time Trial, and two-player battle. We spent most of our time in the race mode, checking out the different tracks and bikes. The game appears to be holding back in the customization department; you won't be able to tweak your vehicles as much as you can in a GT game. Basically, when racing, you'll choose your course, select a bike from the available roster of vehicles (the game is slated to contain more than 80 bikes from more than a dozen manufacturers, such as Yamaha's TW 225E '05, Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-10R '05, Honda's CB1300 Super Bol D'or '05, and Suzuki's GSX 1300R Hayabusa '05), pick a rider and their outfit, and set your driving options. You'll have a trio of modest options--transmission, tires, and riding form. While the first two are self-explanatory, the riding form bears some explanation, because it will affect how your rider takes turns. You'll find three riding-form options, default, in, or out, which will affect how aggressive your racer is when you turn. The forms will determine how quickly you take turns, how your rider leans on your bike, and your turning arc. It's a very cool system that we didn't get to play around with enough--but we expect that seasoned riders will be pleased to see this in the game. In addition to all of the above, Tourist Trophy will feature your standard GT-style career mode. The mode will contain all the trimmings you'd expect: different tiered challenges, bikes to collect and customize, cash to earn, and more. The game will even contain most of the photo options found in GT4, although there likely won't be printer support.
Of course, our biggest question about Tourist Trophy revolves around the game's control. Given Polyphony Digital's insane attention to detail and the logistics of racing a bike in real life, we were curious about how the team would meet the challenge. Perhaps not shockingly, the game's handling is coming along well. You'll steer with the left analog stick and accelerate and brake with the right You'll also be able to work the brake independently if the need arises. The handling will take some getting used to; just because Polyphony worked out a good control scheme doesn't mean they skimped on the physics, and you should plan on more than a few crashes or tip-overs as you get accustomed to it all. As with the GT games, you'll have onscreen indicators that, if you choose to enable them, will give you a heads up on when to brake. The game will also feature the dreaded license tests. One thing to note is that Polyphony, possibly in response to countless threats of harm delivered to their offices over the years, is aiming to make the tests less brutal than before. That said, given what we know of Polyphony, we can't imagine the tests being a breeze, either. Still, challenge aside, we liked how the game played; it was certainly its own animal, not derivative of the GT games.
The visuals in the game share the Gran Turismo attention to detail and look very similar to real life. The bikes are obviously the stars of the game, much like the cars are in GT, and get the star treatment. The game makes use of a modified version of the GT4 engine, which makes the poly counts for the bike and rider comparable to that of the convertible cars in GT4. The tracks themselves look great and come from GT4 as well. You can plan on having a widescreen option, which we've seen, and possibly even progressive scan support--although this hasn't been confirmed yet. The version we played had a few glitches here and there, but nothing that took away from the overall impact of seeing it in motion; the smooth frame rate and detailed bikes look outstanding. Polyphony's knack for replays leads to an excellent job of showcasing the detailed visuals.
The audio in the version of the game we played was slim on music, aside from in between races and in menus, but the bike engines sounded fine. Though the engine noises may not sound as distinctive as car engines, TT manages to nail the nuances, and this will certainly meet riding enthusiasts' expectations.
Based on what we played, Tourist Trophy is looking like a promising start to a new franchise for Polyphony. The GT-style presentation and approach, tempered with a nod toward accessibility, may pull more people into the experience. Tourist Trophy is slated to ship next year for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game soon.
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