GT4 Online details

Never heard of it.

Gran Turismo 4 may have gone to market without an online mode, but that was never likely to be the end of it - and Sony's now put an online-enabled version in the hands of beta testers.

GT4 Online, which got some press earlier this year [no it didn't! - legal team], has yet to be announced as an actual product, but rather it's being viewed, a bit like E3 2006's Gran Turismo HD, as a tool for testing technology.

According to those who've got a copy, most notably IGN, it resembles regular Gran Turismo 4 - except it has an Online option, allowing for quick races, races with your own tuned cars, and private chat-rooms that allow you to commune with your fellow petrol-heads.

That last part's interesting because it sounds a lot like what series creator Kazunori Yamauchi originally had in mind. Way way back a few E3s ago he told us: "My main area of interest is not actually the racing element of online, for instance, where people will compete against each other online. My main interest is to find a setting where players can come to share knowledge of cars - just car talk. Car talk is endless: you can talk about tyres; you can talk about oil, car parks, modification..." A virtual showroom for cars was later mooted.

That's not far off what we've got. After inputting a GranTurismo.com login/password (part of the beta-testing ritual), which is then saved, players head to an Online Hub screen offering access to a quick-garage for swapping cars, an option to edit car settings, and the facility to join race modes - wherein you'll find the Private Race option.

That's the most popular bit at the moment, apparently. You create a chat lobby, assign a password if desired, and then up to 100 people can convene and jabber - chatting (using keyboard, on-screen keyboard, pre-written messages or voice comms), checking out other racers' profiles and of course actually racing them.

Each racer has a profile, allowing them to manipulate their age, a personal comment, a friends list and an ignore list; the business of customising cars is done through the garage, and you can also select cars, colours, and view opponent details in the pre-race lobby.

Other options in the GT4 Online beta include Quick Race and Tuned Car Race. The former is pretty straightforward, allowing you to pick a pre-set race event with cars of the game's choosing and then head into a chat. Meanwhile Tuned Car Race is exactly the same, except you get to pick your own car - based on the game's proposed minimum specifications.

None of which sounds particularly revolutionary, but then that's not the point - the point, it seems, is simply to see how well GT4 does online, with a view either to releasing it as a full game or working it into the next generation of Gran Turismo, which Yamauchi reckons will be out on PlayStation 3 sooner than we think.

Whatever they decide on, we'll let you know.

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