Monday, 23 June 2008

Atari - GTR 2

Last year, when we first took the original GTR out for a spin on the medium (semi-pro) difficulty setting, we could have had Miss Daisy along for the ride, happily knitting away without dropping so much as a stitch. That's because if we so much as breathed on the accelerator too heavily near a corner, we'd risk careering into a slide of mad counter-steering, hence we were forced to potter along at the speed of a milk float.

Well, not quite, but it was a punishingly accurate racing simulation, even on this middling difficulty level. Happily, the sequel has been graced with new and much improved driving physics which don't leave you feeling like you're playing a vehicular version of Dancing on Ice in anything but the beginner's arcade mode.

The handling of the cars seems much more solid and appropriate: you can feel the grip of the tyres and steer against any possible slides much more easily than in the original. The whole game is massively lifted by these improved physics, but don't get us wrong; you'll still need to use many of the driving aids at first, and GTR 2 remains a demanding and accurate sim.

In a further effort to help racing novices, developer SimBin has tacked on a new driving school. This features a series of short exercises (almost 150 in total) which deal with every aspect of race driving. There are lessons on braking, taking different types of corners, wet weather handling, overtaking and more, along with tutorials for the game's main courses. Ideal lines and braking/acceleration points are clearly marked, and this provides excellent instruction for beginners and intermediates alike.

GTR 2 screenshot 2
It's a shame that SimBin couldn't extend the tutorial with instructions on how best to set up your car, as this is where it leaves the amateur virtual racers amongst us floundering. There are so many settings to tinker with and very little help is provided by the game's manual, so you tend to stick to basic adjustments such as the wing. Pop-up help descriptions or some manner of tutorial would be hugely welcome, but there's simply no guidance given.

What's worse still, if you want to tune your car with detailed lap feedback via Motec - an analysis program that came installed with GTR - you have to download and independently install it for this sequel. Getting it working wasn't easy, either, as it took us an hour of trawling the GTR 2 community forums, trying to suss out why it didn't integrate with the game initially.

All this is unhelpful, as is the interface itself on a general level. There's no context-sensitive pop-up help anywhere, and the nests of menus and sub-menus are maze-like in places.

GTR 2 screenshot 3
Let's not get carried away with the moaning, though. These issues are the only flies on the windscreen of GTR 2. The rest of the game is glorious, including the updated graphics which now feature dynamic weather and day/night cycles. The attention to track-side detail is superb, and the cars look stunning and sound possibly better, with realistic engine noises such as the distinctive Porsche turbo whine.

The 2003 and 2004 seasons can be raced, along with a host of unlockable minor championships and 24-hour endurance races. With 144 cars to drive and 34 tracks (although some are just variations), the content here is staggering.

Alongside all that, there's the multiplayer, which provides LAN or direct IP connections, as well as a built-in Internet server browser. The latter picks out appropriate races for you based on the difficulty level you're currently playing at, so beginners will compete against others new to the game. It all runs quite smoothly, too, with little evidence of lag issues.

The new improved driving model
Good Tutorials
Huge difference to the overall playability
Vast content and unlockable courses and championships

Interface issues

See also on Car Games To Play:
Mario cart wii - ready! steady! go!
The MotorStorm - all in Heat, Mud, Dust and Sweat!
wipeout - pulse
sega full auto - burnout with guns

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