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Gran Turismo 4 Prologue Signature Edition PlayStation 2

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Polyphony Digital
Released - 28th May 2004
Price : £24.99

It's rather difficult thinking of a start to this review as Gran Turismo 4 Prologue Signature Edition needs no introduction. The first two games were a sensation on the PSone and the third in the series was responsible for selling many millions of PlayStation 2 consoles. With it's popularity seemingly ever increasing the anticipation for the fourth in series has been overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact that the delay in completing the game has resulted in Sony releasing, on the 28th May 2004, a taster of what the final product should be like. We were very lucky to receive our promo copy of the Prologue version last week and have spent many hours with it in order to provide some feedback on what it's like. We aren't going to give the Prologue version a rating as the retail comes with a bonus disk that contains the film of the making of the game plus other goodies and it wouldn't be fair to score a game when you're only seeing part of the overall package.

So what does the Prologue disk contain then? Well essentially you get five circuits, a whole load of cars (over 50 in fact including the likes of the Nissan Skyline Coupe, Subaru Impreza STi, Toyota Celica GT-Four and the Honda Takata Dome NSX) and two modes. The modes on offer include School Mode and Arcade Mode. School Mode allows you to learn how to fully control the cars in GT4. Each completed lesson will unlock an additional car so completing the tutorials (and Coffee Break activities) on offer will enhance the selection of cars available to in the Arcade Mode. The Arcade mode enables you to choose one of the available cars and drive around the five available circuits. The circuits on offer are Tsukuba Circuit, New York, Gran Canyon, Fuji Speedway and Citta di Aria, which is an Italian street course. Initially you'll have no opponents but if you go to the options menu you can enable opponents (you'll race against five opponents that can be set to either easy, hard or pro) for the Tsukuba Circuit, New York and the Fuji Speedway. This Prologue version is meant to be a taster of what the final Gran Turismo 4 will be like and fans of the series will definitely appreciate the chance to polish their skills before the game is released and the online races begin.

While the Prologue version is undoubtedly impressive (and gives a very clear indication that Gran Turismo 4 will be the ultimate driving simulation on the PlayStation 2 when it's released this year), it's not all good news. The handling of the cars and the quality of the force feedback seems to have been improved, which is great. Unfortunately though the improvements are not as numerous as I would have expected. My biggest gripe with previous games in the series is that AI cars tend to be aggressive in sticking to the racing line. If you are in their way they'll just attempt to smack you out of the way. For a series that calls itself a simulation this is a major mistake. I had hoped this mistake would not have been repeated in Gran Turismo 4 but unfortunately it's still in the Prologue version and the cars will still smack into you in an attempt to claim the racing line. To add insult to injury if you attempt the same tactic you'll more often than not incur a 10 second go slow penalty, which is just plain silly. Damage modeling is still absent but given the aforementioned complaint this is probably a good thing as the AI opponents would cripple your car far too often.

Graphically GT4 Prologue looks good and is an improvement, not a major one though, over the third game. Textures seem clearer and better defined and the car models are also improved. Some of the circuits, the Citta di Aria for one, look fantastic. However there is noticeable pop-up, which is rather disappointing to see, as are the flickering textures that you'll notice from time to time. There isn't a 60Hz mode either, which will be a disappointment to some. However the racing experience is a smooth one and the frame rate remains constant throughout, which is excellent. GT4 Prologue adds another camera angle, a raised chase view of the car, but it still doesn't offer a drivers' view or a bonnet view and given that many fans of the series have asked for these, it's a disappointment. On the Grand Canyon and Citta di Aria you'll notice the animated crowd and on the Grand Canyon circuit you'll even see some of the more stupid members of the crowd momentarily stand in front of you to take a photo.

We mentioned earlier that one of the modes available in this Prologue version is a School Mode and that this mode contains driving tutorials. In Gran Turismo the tutorials where delivered via text. However, in a turn for the worst for deaf gamers, in GT4 Prologue the tutorial instructions are delivered verbally with no subtitles. You do get a brief text description of what to do before you start the tutorial (the verbal part can be skipped) but it is nowhere near as informative as the verbal information. In fact all speech that is spoken during the menus is not subtitled either. On the plus side icons inform you when you're going too fast and during the verbal introductory part of each lesson, icons show you when the car is braking and accelerating so you can kind of make out the actions that need to be performed but it's nowhere near as effective as having subtitles. Let's hope this is one area that is improved before the full game is released later this year.

Gran Turismo 4 Prologue Signature Edition will definitely by treasured by fans of the Gran Turismo series. In my opinion it shows that Gran Turismo 4 is only a mild improvement on Gran Turismo 3 but the improvements that have been made are most welcome. However it's disappointing to see that the major gripes with the Gran Turismo series are still there. Worst of all though is the AI that has to have the racing line at all costs, even if it means knocking you out of the way. This is aggravated even further by the rather nonsense 10 second go slow penalty that you'll earn if you return the compliment. I do think that in online play this penalty would be appropriate but again it should be 5 seconds and not 10 as it's too harsh. Online play is absent from this version so it's not possible to comment on what it will be like. Despite the niggles though, it's clear from this Prologue version that Gran Turismo 4 will be the best driving game on the PlayStation 2.

Finally all that remains to be said is that if you're thinking about purchasing a steering wheel for the game (and let's face it the Gran Turismo games are definitely worth investing in a wheel for) it definitely looks as though choosing a Logitech steering wheel is the way to go. Gran Turismo 4 looks like it's going to be the benchmark for driving simulations and in accordance with this Logitech have designed the Driving Force Pro (pictured on the right) to deliver the most authentic racing experience to date on any console. GT4 was obviously designed with the steering wheel in mind as it's even named as a selectable steering wheel in the controller options menu. The key features of the Logitech Driving Force Pro are a realistic 900º wheel rotation (a full 2½ turns of the wheel), state of the art force feedback (something that should really give more zest to the experience for deaf gamers), optical sensing for precise steering control, top quality pedals and a sequential stick shifter to accompany the wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The combination of the Driving Force Pro and Gran Turismo 4 should definitely be one that's impossible to resist for racing enthusiasts.