Tourist Trophy Updated Hands-On

Straight from Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, we check out the latest build of Sony's two-wheeled answer to the Gran Turismo series.

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If you're looking for a solid game concept, you could do a lot worse than "Gran Turismo with motorcycles." That's the central theme of Polyphony Digital's upcoming motorcycle sim, Tourist Trophy. The game has just been released in Japan and is due to hit store shelves here in the States on April 4. Today, Sony held a Tourist Trophy event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, where we got to check out the latest build of Tourist Trophy and got to speak with the game's producer, Takamasa Shichisawa (affectionately known as "Nana-san" by his peers), an avid motorcycle fan and longtime Polyphony Digital employee.

Take Gran Turismo and subtract two wheels. What have you got? Tourist Trophy, that's what.
Take Gran Turismo and subtract two wheels. What have you got? Tourist Trophy, that's what.

Tourist Trophy has long been a dream of Nana-san's, who first presented the original design document to Polyphony Digital studio head (and father of the Gran Turismo series) Kazunori Yamauchi several years ago. Yamauchi was immediately in favor of the game, but when the window of development time came, Nana-san was informed he would have a mere 10 months to bring the game from concept to actuality--an incredibly short cycle by Polyphony Digital standards. That short cycle meant that Nana-san would need to focus his efforts to make sure Tourist Trophy met the tight schedule. The most important job was in deciding the kind of bikes that would appear in the game. Nana-san freely admits that he had a dream list of bikes he wanted to create and ride in the game--a list reaching many hundreds of models. The schedule being what it was, however, that list was pared down to mostly sport bikes, with a healthy selection of rides from the 1980s and '90s for the nostalgia buffs.

Despite the necessary roster trimming, Tourist Trophy's lineup of bikes still tops out at more than 100 models from more than a dozen makers, such as Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda. Sport bikes are the biggest focus in the game, but you'll find a sprinkling of race models, dirt bikes, and even a moped or two in the bunch. Just as in the Gran Turismo series, you can expect each of these bikes to have handling characteristics all their own, thanks to the development team's strict attention to detail when it comes to riding physics.

After all, while it probably goes without saying, riding a motorcycle is a very different experience from driving a car. The biggest difference is the symbiotic relationship between a motorcycle's handling and the rider. Unlike automobiles, which more or less rely on the steering wheel to move around corners, motorcycles are far less dependent on steering input. Instead, it takes a rider shifting his weight to the left, right, forward, and back--all in harmony with the track's layout--in order to ride quickly on two wheels.

Many of Gran Turismo 4's tracks are fully raceable in Tourist Trophy.
Many of Gran Turismo 4's tracks are fully raceable in Tourist Trophy.

Because of this, Tourist Trophy feels like a very different game from the Gran Turismo series. Braking points are much earlier than they would be in a car, and there's more responsibility than ever for finding the smoothest line possible when navigating a track. One Tourist Trophy producer suggested, when asked what advice he would have for novice motorcyclists in the game, to always look farther ahead than you would when playing GT, because you have to pay attention to what's coming in order to set up not just your next turn, but the two turns after that. Weight transfer and proper throttle modulation plays a huge role in tackling corners as well--it's not unheard of to have a wheel slip out from under you if you accelerate too quickly around a sharp bend. In addition, getting off the asphalt is a definite no-no, as you'll quickly lose grip in the grass and find yourself on the ground.

The default control setup in Tourist Trophy uses the right analog stick for both acceleration and braking and also uses the R2 button to engage the rear brake, for that extra bit of stopping power. At the more authentic "pro" difficulty level, front and rear brakes can be assigned to different buttons on the controller, which is a far more realistic way of controlling a virtual bike.

The Gran Turismo influence is all over Tourist Trophy--from the menus, to the main game modes, to the tracks found in the game, Tourist Trophy is surely built from Gran Turismo DNA. The game is split between two main modes--arcade and career. Arcade is for quick pickup races using a number of bikes and tracks found in the game. In career mode, you still have to pass a number of license tests, strewn across four different difficulty levels, in order to progress through the game. These license tests range from the mundane, such as navigating a simple circle in the allotted time, to far more challenging tests that are typical of the GT series.

Tourist Trophy's driving model is challenging, to say the least. If you aren't careful on the track, you'll be doing this a lot.
Tourist Trophy's driving model is challenging, to say the least. If you aren't careful on the track, you'll be doing this a lot.

Unlike Gran Turismo, however, Tourist Trophy has no concept of money. You won't be buying new bikes with race winnings. Instead, you'll unlock bikes by competing in a number of challenges, which will typically consist of beating one or more riders on a particular track; beat the challenge and you win the bike. You won't have access to all challenges right away; instead, they are tied to whatever license you currently hold. Once you've completed a few challenges and have added some bikes to your garage, you can take them on tracks and compete in more traditional races.

Part of the fun in Tourist Trophy is in customizing not only your bikes, but your rider as well. In career and arcade mode, you have a number of different leather styles and colors to choose from, both race style and more-casual streetwear. In arcade mode, you can only choose sets of leathers, while in career mode, you can customize practically everything on your rider with real licensed accessories--from gloves and boots to helmet style. We were particularly fond of the Tourist Trophy-themed leathers that Nana-san was wearing during the demo of his real-life racing skills on the track at Infineon, and we hope that outfit finds its way into the game.

Customization goes a bit further than that, however. Because everyone has a slightly different riding style in the real world, Tourist Trophy lets you model exactly how you wish your virtual rider to sit on the bike and take corners. Everything from arm angle, to head pitch, to degree of lean is adjustable in the game. Conceivably, experienced motorcyclists can mimic their exact racing position on a bike in the game or go ahead and re-create the position of any of their two-wheeled heroes.

Because it's a Polyphony Digital game, you know Tourist Trophy is going to have some impressive graphics, and the game doesn't disappoint here--each of the bikes seem to be re-created with exacting and loving detail. Nana-san told us that because many motorcycle models feature completely exposed engines, the polygon counts on the bikes are sometimes much higher than they are for cars in GT4 to compensate for modeling all those exposed parts. Unfortunately, that graphical quality comes at a price--only four bikes are on the course at any time during a race, which can make for lonely times on the track if you get too far ahead (or behind, as was often the case in our time with the game).

How you move on the bike will play a big role in how quick you are on the track.
How you move on the bike will play a big role in how quick you are on the track.

One of the most welcome GT influences in the game, beyond impressive engine-sound modeling and a challenging driving model, is the track list, which holds its own next to even the mighty roster found in GT4 in terms of quantity. The game features 35 courses, including closed-circuit tracks, such as Laguna Seca, Fuji Speedway, and Suzuka, and city courses, like New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Fans of the fictional tracks in GT4 will be pleased to note that the likes of Grand Valley, Deep Forest, Trial Mountain, and Autumn Ring make appearances in the game, among others. Finally, there's one brand-new track, Valencia, which hosts an annual MotoGP grand prix and is just as challenging in the game as it likely is for the real riders. Many of the tracks in the game--notably Suzuka and Infineon--have been slightly reconfigured for motorcycles, usually in the form of an extra chicane or two. Sorry folks, but there's no ice or offroad courses that we could find--Tourist Trophy is all about the asphalt.

Nana-san told us he hopes Tourist Trophy will attract new fans to the sport of motorcycle racing in much the same way the Gran Turismo series has created legions of auto enthusiasts. With a refined sense of handling, impressive-looking graphics, and plenty of challenge to go around, Tourist Trophy looks like it has a good chance of doing just that. Stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks, as well as a full review when it hits store shelves on April 4.

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