Version tested: PC
Combat flight simulation developers have never needed much encouragement to go rummaging in the dusty steamer trunk of History; the same, however, can't be said of racing sim creators. In the last ten years how many of the 70-odd PC motorsport recreations released have looked to the past for inspiration? Three? Four maybe? You could understand the drought if the cars of yore were characterless and the races they participated in were tedious parades. When that accusation actually describes the racing of today far better than it describes the contests of yesteryear you really have to wonder why devs have been so reluctant to time travel.
To get a taste of the delights we've been missing-out on for so long you just have to spend an hour or two in the splendid company of GT Legends. The follow-up to the impressive if puritanical GTR, GTL is chockablock with the kind of tin-top automobiles that were tearing around tracks when the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, the Quo and Abba ruled the pop charts. These machines are not factory fresh Sixties/Seventies juveniles but the middle-aged preserved touring cars and grand touring cars that compete in today's FiA Historic Racing Championships. This is a tiny disappointment (It would have been great to have had true period racing with historical drivers, tracks and advertising a la Grand Prix Legends) but it doesn't change the fact that, taken as a group, they represent the most varied and character-rich car selection ever served-up in a proper sim.
There are around 90 different cars crammed onto the disc - roughly a third of that number if you don't count differently skinned versions of the same vehicle. In terms of power ('horse' rather than 'pulling') at one end of the spectrum there are nippy little bundles of fun like the Mini Cooper, Fiat and Lotus Cortina. A bit further along you'll find light English bullets like the Lotus Elan and the Austin Healey, beyond them broad Fords such as the Falcon and the Mustang. Thunderous gas-gulpers like the Chevy Corvettes, the AC Cobra and the mad DeTomaso Pantera loiter menacingly at the "This Car Eats Small Orphans" end of things. Of course a compendious garage is only really of any value if the devs make an effort to differentiate the drives through elements like sound, interior modelling, and - most importantly - handling. Happily Simbin have made that effort.
This is the sim that your cavernous subwoofer has been waiting for. The gloriously leonine growls of animals like the TVR Griffith and Cobra blended with other sounds like exhaust pops, transmission whines and tyre squeals make racing an aural delight. Hearing something like the Pantera breathing down your neck is genuinely scary. Interior views benefit immensely from visible driver limbs (GTR didn't bother with this) and accurately modelled dashboards and wheels. The beautifully sculpted exteriors are equally pleasing especially when decorated with wisps of exhaust smoke or illuminated by dancing headlight beams during the atmospheric day-night transitions. And how do these raucous works-of-art (mis)behave on the track? Extraordinarily convincingly actually.
With the possible exception of Richard Burns Rally and Grand Prix Legends you won't find a driving sim that does a better job of conveying movement, mass and the precariousness of grip. Switch-off the numerous driving aids that help to make GTL remarkably approachable for novices and the 'simple' act of cornering at speed, especially in hoodlums like the TVR, becomes a sweat-soaked Shakespearian drama. Unlike the unforgiving martinets in Simbin's last production, most of GTL's old-timers actually enjoy a little bit of slipping and sliding. Mistakes that would have meant a meeting with a tyre wall or a gravel trap in GTR, can often be corrected here with some rapid and skilful wheel-work.
Talking of unplanned encounters with scenery, one of the less impressive aspects is the lack of damage modelling progress since GTR. You'd think antique automobiles were built from Chobham armour going on the evidence of GTL collisions. Though bumpers occasionally rattle loose, headlights pop-out and panels distort, generally you can drive away from a pretty nasty prang feeling no performance or handling ill-effects whatsoever. Reading the race reports on www.fia-historic-racing.com tyre damage appears to be almost unheard of during real historic GTC and TC races which may partially excuse GTL's implausibly durable Dunlops.
Perusing those same reports it's obvious that the devs have based their respectable 11 track (with several different configurations of each) selection on a mix of this year's and last's championship venues. Among less-familiar tracks like Anderstorp and Mondello Park there's some very convincing recreations of old favourites like Monza, Hockenheim and Donnington. Sadly, though these circuits are little prettier and a bit livelier on race days than their GTR equivalents, they are always bone dry as the otherwise excellent Gmotor2 engine doesn't do rain or puddles. Disappointing.
A more likeable distinction between this sim and its predecessor is the new game-style structure. Unless you want to tap in a cheat code the vast majority of cars and tracks must be unlocked or purchased with winnings from the numerous cup competitions. Sim purists may baulk at this console-like contrivance but most solo users will probably enjoy the sense of progress and achievement. Challenge levels are highly configurable meaning novices shouldn't get discouraged. For those with more talent and experience the higher difficulty levels offers AI drivers that will almost certainly make your driving look more ragged than Robinson Crusoe's trousers.
When the offline experience is so rich, moaning about the fact that Simbin have capped multiplayer at sixteen is slightly uncharitable. Until the game hits the streets it will be difficult to assess whether GTR's MP foibles have been ironed out. So far if our limited low-headcount experience is anything to go by, the signs are good.
8 / 10