Not without its quirks, 10tacle's GTR is nonetheless a supremely engrossing, painstakingly intricate sports car racing simulator that's aimed principally at the ultrahardcore simulation addict, yet it wields enough versatility and fully customizable "detuning" to thoroughly indoctrinate newcomers and even please steadfast arcade racers. Is it, as has been noted in prerelease hype, the modern manifestation of Papyrus' remarkable yet crazily challenging and PC-killing 1998 benchmark Grand Prix Legends? If played at maximum realism and graphical detail levels, perhaps. But there's so much more to GTR that the parallel must end there. Certainly the developers at 10tacle Studios have hit the ground running with this, their inaugural effort. If you have the computing speed to run it and the patience to endure its few pitfalls, you likely won't find a better, more believable non-NASCAR racer in today's market.
Unlike so many racing games, GTR does not focus on NASCAR-type "stock" cars or Formula 1-type open-wheel cars. It instead keys on the FIA GT Championship, a European-based series featuring high-end, high-level sports cars adapted for racing conditions. One of the many nifty perks of this approach is the inherent variety. The game sports nearly 20 unique drivable racecars (the box says 70, but many are simply repainted repeats of others), including a wide assortment of Porsches, Vipers, Ferraris, and Lotuses. Some are considerably faster than others, and that's why both the real-life series and its fully licensed digital peer offer different classes. You decide which car and/or class you drive.
And that's just one of a multitude of decisions you'll need to make before you hit the track. Indeed, one of the most notable aspects of this, a game that gears up primarily to satisfy the yearning of drivers who accept nothing but the most demanding parameters, is its approachability. This should not be lost on disciples of games such as Need for Speed: Underground or other like-minded arcade staples. To wit, GTR is not only one of the very best racing sims out there, but also one of the best arcade racers.
Players that select "arcade" from the main menu are presented with a stripped-down and simplified version of the game that abolishes nuisances, such as garage modifications, qualification runs, race lengths, and other event parameter decisions. Arcade mode is further subcategorized into four distinct classes, each of which delivers a slightly more authentic experience than the one before it. The racing is a bit faster and far more forgiving than you'll find in the game's semipro and simulation modes, though even at its most simplistic, arcade still manages to showcase 10tacle's glorious, road-clawing physics model. Even in the easiest subcategory of all, aptly named "Sunday driver," there's no mistaking that you're really driving a car that contacts the road at four separate points.
10tacle does, however, enforce an engine limiter throughout arcade mode that keeps you from running away from the field. The only way to rid yourself of that limiter is to leave the arcade appetizer behind and begin sampling GTR's meat and potatoes.
At full bore and with all its numerous driver aids removed, GTR exhibits one of the most taxing, complex, and sophisticated driving models ever concocted for a PC racing title. Floor it hard from the start and you will most probably spin out. Leave your braking just a tad too late and you will head offtrack. Hit a rumble strip or a rough stretch of pavement and you're jostled about your cockpit like that little ball in a baby rattle. Bump a competitor a bit too heavily and you'll feel the resulting handling issues as your speed increases down the next straightaway.
What is perhaps best about GTR is its subtlety and attention to detail. Rough pavement, wet-weather handling, braking, accelerating--it's all infused with so much intricate physics that most drivers will have a tough time even coming to grips. Indeed, the GTR physics model is so good that many may feel they need to experience the actual tactile sensations of g-forces just to be successful. This can't happen of course, so the best approach is a smooth, unerring driving style, along with total and complete concentration, particularly during the first few opening laps when your tires are cold. You'll also need to quite seriously modify your technique when moving from one car to another, because 10tacle has simply pulled out all the stops in trying to make them as distinctive as possible.
But wait--there are other answers, too. By pressing the "I" key, you can ask the game's artificial intelligence to temporarily assume your driving duties. You can also request that your helpful crew chief/spotter verbally describe any damage you've incurred. Or you can hit the Replay key and monitor what the other guys are doing out there. In fact, when you're sitting in your paddock during a practice or qualifying session, you can pretty much observe whatever or whomever you want to observe via the game's stylish monitoring system. With all these accommodating perks, combined with an incredible number of difficulty and realism adjustments and an ultracomprehensive garage facility--which thankfully offers numerous predevised setups--patient drivers who want to succeed will do so. Eventually.
Two final weapons in your arsenal come in the form of the MoTeC advanced dash logger and the MoTeC interpreter. You'll find the former right there in the cockpit with you, spitting out essential information and data that'll help you keep your bearings while you're on the track. The latter is far more advanced and infinitely more intricate. By toggling the MOTEC button while in the paddock, you'll open the external MoTeC interpreter application, where you can analyze virtually anything to do with your last lap or any other lap you've run to that point in time. Inside, you'll see a mind-bending assortment of facts, figures, graphs, and other visuals that deliver the inside scoop on your car and driver's performance. You'll also realize that opening the interpreter sometimes destabilizes GTR, thus forcing you to restart it. Regardless, serious gearheads will find much to like here, even if the interpreter doesn't seem to interpret everything it should.
And don't think GTR is intended only for those who like to play alone. The game's multiplayer mode permits up to 56 drivers to compete via LAN or Internet--theoretically anyway. In practice, we found stuttering and other frame rate problems when a dozen or more cars were on the track simultaneously, particularly when grouped together. We had much more success with a six-player game, where the only serious warping and momentary screen freezes occurred at the outset of an event.
It's worth noting that we attempted online play only after installing patch 188.8.131.52, which addressed some of the earlier multiplayer issues. Still, the current online buzz would seem to indicate that not everyone is enjoying their Internet racing. Premature disconnections, lockups, and other assorted oddities are just some of the problems being bandied about.
If it's any consolation, 10tacle does seem interested in after-sales service. For example, ours was just the latest in a rapid series of patches released for the game since its European introduction late last year. Moreover, a freebie add-on entitled "King of the Ovals" was released just last month, allowing drivers to ply their craft on a trio of imaginary NASCAR-type roundy-rounds more familiar to stock car fans. Truth is that none of the ovals deliver the same edge-of-the-seat excitement as the game's far more complex depiction of steeped-in-history road courses, such as Donington, Monza, Spa, and Magny-Cours, especially if you're driving at a low difficulty level.
Furthermore, oval driving further exposes one of GTR's more glaring evils--the inability of AI drivers to effectively handle even partial track blockades. If you create an accident or merely come to a stop anywhere on an oval (or a road course, for that matter), you can clearly see a gaggle of confused competitors slow to a crawl or stop right along with you, waiting patiently for you to extricate yourself, even though there's plenty of room to squeeze by. On a more positive note, oval racing in the Semi-Pro or Simulation levels with driver aids off can deliver some addictive bumper-to-bumper action. Certainly the constant flow of traffic is something you'll rarely see on the wonderfully rendered but somewhat limited selection of road tracks.
When not confronted with a semiblocked track, GTR's AI drivers are otherwise shockingly authentic. They'll dip and dive and move around looking for openings in an eerie mimicry of their real-life counterparts. They'll nudge and bump you--especially if you've set their aggression level to "psychotic"--and they'll dice it up with you door-to-door, as if an expert human player were behind the wheel. They don't exhibit the pack mentality common to so many other racing games, and they'll occasionally hit the grass or the sand if pushed too hard.
GTR audio is far from pretty. And in a game that professes to be "the most realistic racing simulation ever," it's a very good thing. Road noise is particularly extraordinary, barking and rumbling and effectively translating the struggle of rubber as it fights to hold your car to the track. Tire scrub is deadly authentic--varying from moment to moment and always keeping you informed. Engine notes and gearshifts are both exclusive to the type of car you're currently driving, and they're utterly convincing. Downshifts in particular have a wonderfully grating, mechanical sound, especially in some of the more esoteric vehicles.
Conversely, car-to-car contact is curiously subdued and certainly not in keeping with the damage you may have incurred. Your crew chief/spotter is also on the quiet side, though he and virtually every other segment of the audible landscape may be increased or decreased in the overall mix.
In a graphical sense, the game delivers a mix of goodies and is generally not a quantum leap forward from other recent top-level sims. That's not necessarily a condemnation, because other recent top-level sims have been pretty darn credible, but one of GTR's most conspicuous troubles is its hunger for computing horsepower. This isn't just a graphical need either, as the game also gobbles up CPU and memory for its ultrasophisticated physics modeling calculations.
Between that and what would appear to be inefficient usage of 3D acceleration resources, GTR will exhibit occasional jumpiness and frame rate slowdowns on any machine that doesn't meet the recommended system requirements. You can forget the minimum requirements--they surely must be someone's misguided attempt at humor.
Moreover, antialiasing seems to activate and deactivate depending on the complexity of the current scene. So while the game looks smoothly antialiased some of the time, it seems substantially more ragged elsewhere. These graphical hassles are most evident at the start of a race, or at any other time a large number of cars are grouped together, and the resulting impact can be sincerely frustrating.
The solution? Downgrading the number of cars into the teens or single digits is definitely one of the best things you can do to salvage a good frame rate and maintain moderately high detail levels. Or, if you have the financial wherewithal, you can upgrade your PC--a 3.0GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, or a graphics card with at least 256MB of dedicated video memory are all great yet pricey fixes. A substantially more cost-effective and realistic answer is to utilize GTR's massive number of graphical tweaks to achieve a happy medium between beauty and function, or you can signal for your artificially intelligent "codriver" to take the reigns during particularly jumpy segments. The good news is that even on "low" detail levels, the game looks decent.
No matter what you do, you won't find perks, such as pooling or reflective water, lens flare, or the highly sophisticated lighting effects of, say, EA's NASCAR SimRacing 2005. You will, however, experience variable weather, which not only looks impressive, but also plays havoc on tire selection. Pay particular attention to the degree of precipitation, because moderate rain isn't nearly as dangerous as a heavy downpour. Indeed, 10tacle's modeling of wet-weather handling is downright amazing.
Watching day turn into night and night turn into day is an equally striking event, particularly as 10tacle has effectively captured all the associated nuances. One moment you're heading west facing the gorgeous orangey hues of a setting sun, and the next you're driving into a considerably darker eastern sky. The subtle variations along the way are simply beautiful.
Drivers who appreciate racing's inherent violence will enjoy the game's approach to breakable cars. GTR cars shed parts, and those parts then bounce about the track and react with other automobiles. This is a rarity in racing games, where detached hunks of car generally lose their physical properties or harmlessly disappear. Granted, those parts break off along predetermined seams, but that's a petty complaint. Otherwise, crashes produce enough view-obscuring thick, black smoke and bright orange flames to be truly frightening.
Sadly, a far scarier proposition is waiting in GTR's interminably ponderous track-loading procedure. Indeed, it's so bad at times--particularly if you're entering a night or rain race with a lot of competitors--you may think your computer has stopped responding. That 10tacle couldn't somehow deal with this issue before releasing the game is, to say the least, perplexing. And hey guys, a printed manual that covers more than just the absolute basics would be nice, too.
Already hard at work at GTR's successor, GT Legends, and certainly offering plenty of postrelease GTR-associated goodies, 10tacle would appear to be in the racing game for keeps. And that's very good news for simulation fans, many of which continue to openly weep at the departure of Papyrus Design Group from the sim landscape. Despite its blemishes, GTR is the breath of fresh air this genre so badly needed. It is a great achievement that undoubtedly required a little more lab time yet nevertheless expertly points the way to the future of realistic racing games.