Released in Japan on the first day of the New Year, Gran Turismo Concept 2001 Tokyo - to give it its full title - is already one of the PS2's top-selling titles in that territory. The attraction is obvious. You get to play with cars that may never even see the light of day, with all the attention to detail of last year's smash hit, Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec. Now, it's not unusual for a racing game to concentrate on outlandish and often fictional methods of transportation, but because GT Concept's collection of bizarre looking motor show prototypes are actual concept cars, there's a touch more 'reality' to it. This isn't some space-age quest to escape a dying planet, or a race to determine the next president of the universe… it's a proper driving game. It just has some funky cars in it. GT Concept isn't a true sequel to A-Spec, but it uses the same graphics engine and sound library, and is remarkably similar in terms of gameplay mechanics. The game's 51 brand new vehicles are generally based on concepts seen at the Tokyo Motor Show. GT Concept has plenty of scope, but unfortunately Polyphony are treating it as something of a stop-gap in the run up to Gran Turismo 4, so it takes a relatively short amount of time to complete. The most obvious reason for this is that it lacks a career mode, the mainstay of the previous three GT games.
What does one do, then?
In the absence of the career mode, players will be relying on a cross between GT3's arcade and career modes, Concept's single player game. There won't be a garage, nor will there be any racing leagues, test tracks, upgrades and prize purses. Instead, players race one of 11 starting cars, and securing gold in each of the game's ten license tests and 20 races (split between two difficulty levels) will unlock the other 40. Although upgrades aren't available in GT Concept, players will be able to tweak cars in certain areas. Adjusting downforce, traction, braking power can be done in-between races, but with no test track you may find it a bit tedious ducking in and out of proper races for tweaks. Sadly, in their haste to get the game out the door, Polyphony Digital have only included five tracks. These can be played in mirror mode and on two difficulty levels, which accounts for the game's 20 races, but the shocking fact is that only one of them hasn't been lifted from A-Spec, and that's Autumn Ring. Sounds familiar? It should do, it's a tweaked track from GT 1 and 2…
Owners of Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec may find themselves put off by the sound of Concept - I certainly was - but there are a few incentives to drag us over. Throughout the game there are four hidden prizes. If you don't want to spoil the experience for yourself, I suggest you skip the next paragraph. Some prizes are more useful than others. Players of A-Spec will wonder why they bothered when they unlock the GT3 opening movie (complete with Feeder soundtrack) halfway through the game. This is no doubt designed to impress first-time GT buyers. However owners of last year's best driving game will appreciate 10 million Gran Turismo 3 credits, which can be transferred to your save game… Between the two, that's a hell of an incentive to buy A-Spec, and the latter is probably incentive enough for the rest of us who already have it to buy Concept! Anyway, the only other attraction is a course especially for the Toyota Pod. It's an oval - but wait - it's got a slalom section, hairpin and more devilish obstacles. It does sound like feeble padding though, but we'll reserve judgement until we've played it. The Toyota Pod, we reckon, is the car above and left. It looks like a box on wheels. If you play with the camera just behind the car though, you can observe its tail, complete with smiley LED face. Concept cars are mad.
Gran Turismo Concept 2001 Tokyo's 51 vehicles are split into several categories; concept, new, dream, race and rally. Not too difficult to imagine. To namecheck a few of the most interesting, there's the Skyline GT-R V-Spec, the Mazda RX-8, Nissan's GT-R Concept (all from the 'concept' group), and others like the Nissan Skyline 300GT and Mazda's RX-7 Type R Bathurst in the 'new' category. Most of the cars in the 'new' category can actually be bought in Japan at the moment. Our favourite cars come out of the 'dream' class though. The Toyota RSC rally car, for instance. Mazda's Atenza LM. Cars like that. Stuff we're never going to get our hands on in real life, for the simple reason that Polyphony made most of them up. They have all been wrapped up in advertising and the like, so they appear as Japanese Grand Touring Cars. The cars in the 'race' category are actual JGTC racers, including the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VII rally car and more. Ultimately, real-life auto fans are going to love GT Concept just for doing something new. Polyphony hope the rest of us will find them enticing, too.
Gran Turismo Concept 2001 Tokyo will be released in Europe sometime in 2002, probably in the summer. We expect it to retail for about £30, because misers though they have seemed in the past, even Sony aren't going to try and pull a fast one here. In Japan the game is the cheapest new PS2 game there is, retailing for the equivalent of £15, and we expect the same here. Whether Gran Turismo 3 owners will be interested is another matter, but by the time Concept is released over here, we'll probably be itching for it.