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Game Review

Do you remember the first time you got behind the wheel? I do. It was my 14th birthday—the day I could get my learner's permit in the state of Iowa. Driving for the first time was the best present I could have received. Then, about 20 minutes into my fledgling driving foray, my mom, sister and I ended up—unceremoniously—in a shallow ditch. I had forgotten to release the steering wheel after a turn. ...

Gran Turismo 4 rekindles the newness and the magic of learning to drive all over again. Just like my first real-world experiences, mastering its decreasing radius turns and proper breaking points was harder and a lot more realistic than I'd anticipated.

"May I See Your Driver's License?"
The latest entry in the Gran Turismo franchise offers an arcade mode for jumping right into the action. I wasted no time selecting a potent BMW for my first race. But the machine's brute power proved more than I could handle. I had a lot to learn about how to put all those ponies to the pavement.

After several maddening, accident-filled arcade races, it was time to venture into the heart of the game: Gran Turismo mode. Here, cars such as the one I'd just crashed repeatedly weren't even available until I learned the skills to manage them.

Instead, the game begins with a series of licensing tests to be passed before advancing to more serious hardware. Each of the five licenses (National B, National A, International B, International A and the Super License) consist of 16 different tests that honed my ability to accelerate, brake, control skids and choose the right racing line through turns.

By the time I completed my National B License (which took this lowly driver two hours), I was well on my way to understanding GT4's complex physics. One of the game's most realistic elements is how different engine and drivetrain combinations (such as front engine, rear drive; front engine, all-wheel drive; etc.) significantly affect how various cars handle. Each setup has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and much of GT4's satisfaction comes from maximizing these subtle differences. Gearheads of the world rejoice: This is the game for you.

The Ride of Your Life
In addition to relearning how to drive, Gran Turismo is, of course, all about the cars. As you earn credits by completing your licenses and participating in your first races, new cars become available. All in all, a mind-boggling 721 automobiles can eventually be yours. Almost every major manufacturer is represented (alas, famed Italian marques Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati are nowhere to be found).

Not only do you have a vast virtual showroom to choose from, but you've got important decisions to make if you want to exploit your ride's racing potential. Aftermarket suspension parts, race tires, engine mods, turbo kits, drivetrain reinforcements and barking exhausts each shave critical seconds off lap times. Pole Position this game is not!

For me, tentative initial engagement gave way to skilled braking and the thrill of cranking through corners with just the right amount of wheelspin. Diving through apexes and drafting before overtaking on the backstraights of famous tracks around the world (such as Laguna Seca, the Norburgring or the Twin Ring Motegi) is the heady stuff of Gran Turismo 4.

Bugs on the Windshield
A few bugs on the windshield of this E-rated game are worth keeping in mind amid all the adrenaline. GT4's soundtrack is an eclectic mix of rock, funk, techno, classical and hip-hop. The track list avoids blatantly explicit material and lyrics are hard to discern, but edgy rock acts such as Van Halen, Jet, Judas Priest and Papa Roach do make appearances.

Perhaps more significant that that, like other games in this genre, GT4 majors in real-world product tie-ins. In a culture already awash in commercialization, the game's parts-and-tuner bonanza strongly reinforces wannabe racers' impulse to keep dropping dosh into their real rides.

Finally, the game's racing mindset can creep into real-world driving. Gran Turismo 4 offers a virtual instruction manual for learning the techniques of automobile racing. But some players might think they can directly apply what they've learned to the commute to Monday-morning classes—where you can't just hit the reset button if you crash.

Apart from these relatively minor caveats, however, GT4 provides a challenging, fast-paced game that can be relished by young and not-so-young alike without the issues of violence, sexuality, profanity and illegal virtual activities that plague many of today's T- and M-rated games.

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Adam R. Holz David Himes

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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