Once upon a time...
... there was Gran Turismo 4. For a car simulation lover like me, the name raises a lot of emotions. It is rare to see in the now often-apathetic videogaming community a game that raises so much love and hate, so many discussions between aficionados and people that "Oh, I would love to love it...". Gran Turismo 4 offered a lot to the car lover, from the gorgeous graphics of the photo mode, to a user friendly but true to life driving experience that has been unmatched for so many years, to tons of cars, tracks, modifications and so on. And it took a lot away from the RACING lovers expecially, what with its non-existant AI, the lack of balance in too many competitions (that you could just steamroll thru them with an overmodded car), the lack of damage and of punishment for your "bad" driving (too easy to recover from crosscountry travels, too easy to bounce off walls and opponents FASTER than you would do if you were driving clean). And so, in the end, it was a game with two halves: one, almost perfect, and the other, seriously flawed. But if you behaved, if you didn't take advantage of its limit, if you carefully balanced your car around the competition the game was offering, or if you just hotlapped the tracks, if you, in the end, played it in the way you were supposed to... it was an experience you couldn't find anywhere else. There are better simulators out there, expecially on the PC, but it is difficult to find one where the sim and the game are so much finely balanced... and yet every car feels different.
Full price mod?
Tourist Trophy is more like a mod for GT4 than a new game, when you look at the specs of the game. The tracks are mutuated by its car cousin, all but one (very good) new track, Valencia, imported directly from the Superbike championship. The menus are the same. The structure of the game is almost identical. But this doesn't care. Yes, we could have used more changes to get the feeling that this wasn't just a rehash of an older game with a big mod, but what we get with TT is so unique and different that everything else does not really matter. Tourist Trophy is all about the motorcycles. Just like GT4 was all about its cars. TT gives you the chance of driving 130+ cycles, from low end 250cc scooters you may be using to go to work everyday up to the 750cc and 1000cc monsters that can accelerate from 0 to 100 Km/H in less than 3 seconds. As you start your first lap, you have just one question on your mind, and this is... "is the handling just as good as the one we have in GT4?". And the answer, after falling one hundred of times while getting the hang of being on just two wheels, is definitely yes. No, it is "YES!". "HELL YEAH!" would be even better. The game offers a very detailed control system, that requires a lot of work by the player to fully appreciate and start mastering, but that in the end is soooooo much rewarding. The bikes seem less responsive than a car at first, expecially the big ones, but it is all a matter of understanding that here you turn by throwing your weight from a side to the other, and not just by turning a wheel. When you begin to understand the mechanics of steering a bike, when you get the hang of tucking the driver only when its needed, when you understand that a bike can fall just because you're going too slow thru a bend, when you start understanding that a bike can and will shatter all your records made on a car on some of the courses... well, you'll start loving the way you devour the road ahead you while painting perfect trajectories and doing bend after bend in a sinous and almost hypnotizing way. Then you change the bike, and you crash at the first curve, and you'll be in total awe as you figure out that in TT each bike is so much different from another, and that in comparison the cars of GT4 offer a much less varied thrill ride.
Simpler is better?
The mechanics out there will be probably less thrilled by this one than by Gran Turismo, as there are much fewer possibilities of tuning here. I'm no bike expert so I can't tell you how much this is due to the bikes itself (maybe they are just less complicated beasts when it comes to customization and tuning when compared to 4 wheelers), and how much of this is tied to the short time span in which Polyphony has prepared this next chapter. But, and this is a big but, there is also a page that allow you to configure in detail your way of riding the bike, from the saddle position to how much you lean out when you take a curve, allowing you to experience the same bike in different ways. Finding the best configuration for your driving style will need you to experiment a lot, but the time spent for this will pay off in the end. The structure of the game is simplified from the one found in GT4 and this basically means three things. First: you don't get new bikes by buying them, but you unlock them by driving challenges and races, and this means you don't have to drive and drive the same championship anymore to get the money for your next ride. Second, there are no modifications to buy for your bikes, and the only one you can mount on your bike are readily available when you unlock it, meaning customizing has a much smaller part in the game. Third, if you want to finish the game in no time it is much easier now to finish all the championship, since you just have to unlock the faster and more powerful bikes and then win the corresponding races on your top of the line bike. But just as it happened in GT4, if you can behave and if you choose the correct bike for each championship, you're up for some good racing fun, in addition to the driving bliss you're already offered. Admittedly, the competition is as always brain dead, and the fact you only have 3 opponents maximum in each race means that as a racing game this lacks something. But, it still manages to provide a good challenge, expecially since, and this is a major improvement when you confront this to its car-driving parent, now your races are easily compromised by a fall if you end up on the grass or trying to wall slam back on track.
Same old BEAUTIFUL presentation.
In addition to arcade and touring trophy mode, you get the marvellous looking photo mode which allows you to get some next gen looking screenshots of you in action, starting from a saved replay, which is strangely compelling and really time consuming, expecially if you have an USB memory key to transfer the result on your PC. This time it is possible to extract automatically some shots at te end of a session, and in the tens of shots auto-extracted it is hard not to find some outstanding pictures waiting for you to drool on.
Graphically speaking, well, its the same game as GT4, so it is good while racing and marvellous on replay and photo mode. The bikes are rendered with the care you come to expect from Polyphony, as is all the driver gear you can get (around 200 pieces of equipment, a big number that reflects the love most biker have for their gear), and the animations of the driver are really lively and realistic. The falls are more stylized than realistic, but you could expect that from Polyphony, since this is no Burnout for sure and they have a long story of undamageable vehicles. Sounds are top class too. I'm no bike expert but my girlfriend is, and she was able to recognize some bikes just from their engine sound... something that even I know is missig however is the dry clutch induced metallic sound in the Ducati bikes, even if the rendition of their engine sound is impressive. The music is so and so, but who cares... as I know of, no one races in GT with the music turned on.
A game of a lot of halves.
All in all, the game is really impressive. Harder but more satisfying than Gran Turismo, it is by far the best bike simulator I've tried up until now. That magical balance between game and sim is still there, and the game has hundred of hours of fun to offer, expecially to the driving fanatics. Sure, it has its shortcomings, the lacking AI and races, the lack of a clutch button (clutch is becoming more and more needed to make a step further in this series), the difficulty of driving a bikes thru a joypad (as it is a very different kind of input), the lack of bike-dedicated circuits (the GT ones are very well balanced and they are very fun to drive around (even if some short circuits can be tackled only by the less powerful bikes), but the real ones (Nurb and Valencia aside) are definitely more car suited, and it would have been great if these were substituted with some of the current MotoGP and Superbike tracks), the lack of LAN or online play... it is a game that could have been better, for sure. But yet, as it is, it is one of the best (if not the best) driving videogame ever produced, and the joys of hotlapping and mastering all the different bikes offered is something a racing fanatic will fully appreciate for a lot of time.
In the end, just like in the case of Gran Turismo, it is difficult to rate this. For a GT lover, it is probably a 9, maybe even a 10. For a driving games lover, depending on how much bikes interest him, and how much racing interests him, it could be a 8, or a 9. For the casual player, an heavy handed one will liquidate this as a 5 or a 6 (kinda like, I hate to admit, the EG reviewer, which failed to get the way bikes works at all, from his review), and a more feathered handed one will give it a 7 or even an 8. So it is hard to put a final mark down. Let's say just this: I'd give it a 9. But in the end giving it an 8 it's an incentive for Polyphony to make a better sequel with a little more bike dedicated content and hopefully better racing.
8 / 10