Version tested: Wii
How long is this going to go on? How often are we going to have to approach the first example of a tried-and-tested genre to arrive on the Wii - in this instance, the Gran Turismo-inspired, licence-toting driving game - with a feeling somewhere between curiosity and trepidation, wondering if it will work, if it can work? Frankly, in most cases it's doing the console no favours, and exposing some games - GT Pro Series very much being one of them - to more scrutiny than they can bear.
But it's what we all want to know, so let's get it out of the way as best we can. Yes, steering by twisting the Wii remote laterally works, whether or not you choose to use the chunky little steering-wheel surround supplied free with the game by Ubisoft. With practice it's possible to string together really smooth cornering lines, while correcting slides with opposite lock feels particularly intuitive.
But there are a few quite serious concerns about the future of racing games on the Wii. Firstly, it's tiring. With a game that uses a full, realistic steering motion like GT Pro Series, for precise control you need to hold your arms (and the unsupported controller of course) up, without your elbows resting on any surface. This isn't much fun for an extended play session, and it's easy to see Excite Truck's much more subtle and sensitive, but less realistic, tilt-style steering being more popular in the long run.
Then there's the lack of analogue controls for brake and throttle - a real setback outside of arcade racing - these being assigned to the 1 and 2 buttons. Worse, perhaps, is the lack of feedback. The remote's single rumble motor is excellent at quick clicks and jolts, but the sustained and variegated force feedback required to give information on grip and road surface - so brilliantly deployed in the Gran Turismo and Project Gotham series - seems to be beyond it. Coupled with the free-floating remote, it makes wrestling a powerful motor around a racetrack a more disconnected experience than it should be. (The implications for PS3 and Sixaxis are, of course, even more worrying.)
But there's an enormous caveat to apply to all these points, particularly the last one. And that caveat is this: GT Pro Series is absolutely, unequivocally, shockingly awful.
Like Ubi's other Wii racer, Monster 4x4, it's a quick fix, a cheap and dirty port of a title previously available only in one region: in this case, MTO's three-and-a-half year old Japanese GameCube game, GT Cube. Unlike the professionally solid (if desperately uninspired) American game though, GT Pro Series is a mess with all the brief, appalling fascination of a motorway pile-up.
Audiovisually, it must have seemed dated back in 2003, a hardware generation ago. The hilariously inappropriate cel-shading applied to the car models, doubtless to cover up their inadequacies, succeeds in the same way hiding an ugly face behind a clown mask would do. And from the neck down the game is naked: the barren, unlit environments, apparently composed from a single-figure polygon count and textured with clip-art, are more reminiscent of N64 than GameCube. The flat, weedy exhaust notes scale up and down as if they were played on a Casio organ, to the accompaniment of a selection of some four happy hardcore tracks that definitely were played on a Casio organ. We're not convinced it's in stereo, never mind surround.
The handling is just about adequate: weightless and slippery even on the 'racing' setting, never mind the scarcely controllable 'drift', but entertaining in a semi-arcade, GT-meets-Initial D sort of way. It's the lack of differentiation between the cars in the large line-up that's truly appalling. When you can scarcely tell the difference between driving a Skyline and a Daihatsu microvan, something is seriously wrong. Everything is a shade too fast, everything oversteers to some degree; modestly powered, front wheel drive cars are noticeably more driveable than other kinds, but that's about it, and if you're expecting any difference (or any detail at all) in terms of weight distribution or suspension action, forget it.
Neither does the tuning system make any sense or have any impact. You don't earn money in GT Pro Series - cars and tuning upgrades are unlocked as you progress through the races and licences of championship mode - meaning you don't have to exercise any choice when upgrading your car. Not that the vast majority of them have any impact on how it behaves, as you might guess from the inclusion of coloured headlamps, different horn tones and even (completely invisible) reclining seats in the list. As for the tracks, they are paltry in number and largely pale imitations of Gran Turismo classics, while the opposition is just a crawling line of automated obstacles.
Aside from championship you get standard quick race, split-screen and time trial options, and Drift Combo, an incongruous, aggressively arcadey and frankly unplayable mode that challenges you to string long sequences of slides together. It's here that the game's lack of focus on one driving style over another compromises it most severely and any suggestion of lasting depth or nuance goes out the window. But you can't accuse GT Pro Series of falling between two stools - a slip-sliding arcade racer and a tuner's motorsport sim - when it never got up off the floor in either instance to begin with. Dire.
2 / 10