This PC racing game is based on the FIA GT Championship, the European touring car competition sometimes compared to NASCAR in the U.S. The game has players signing on with a team and racing in their choice of over 70 brand-name autos, including several models from BMW, Ferrari, Maranello, and Porsche. Competitions take place on re-creations of ten real-life courses. Three intensities of play are offered, ranging from a forgiving, arcade-style mode for beginners and casual gamers to a challenging simulation mode for veterans and purists.
This hardcore racing sim was built by a scattered team of hardcore racing fans and mod-makers who licensed an engine to build the game they wanted to play. The subject matter is a European circuit (most of the SimBin guys are concentrated in Sweden) in which highly tuned sports cars slathered in livery battle it out for a time-based race in which he who drives farthest wins. There are no fictional slices of New York City or some idyllic countryside or an alpine road with a strategically placed waterfall near the finish line. The tracks are the sorts of snaking affairs the French might love, forcing compromises between turning performance and straightaway power, and all re-created actual tracks. GTR's official licensing is even written in French: FIA stands for "Federation Internationale de l'Automobile." You should probably throw some accent agues in there for good measure.
Like many developers laboring outside the control of large hungry publishers, SimBin enjoys the luxury of not really caring how much "game" it puts in its sim. There are very few concessions to the types of people who would find themselves hooked by Forza, much less the types of people who buy EA's brash Need for Speed games. From the get-go, you have all the cars, all the tracks, and all the classes dumped in your lap. There's no career progression and no sense of owning the cars. If you're looking for a reason to race beyond the simple desire to come in first place, you're in the wrong sim.
But if you're looking for one of the most gritty physics simulations this side of Papyrus' Grand Prix Legends, the last great game that developer made before succumbing to the commercial success of licensed branding, then GTR is a thrilling throwback. This is an overwhelmingly complex and sophisticated simulation of how a high-performance car behaves, how thoroughly you can tune it, and what bad things happen if you don't drive it right. It requires -- no, demands -- practice. There are no tutorials here. SimBin expects you're here because you already know this stuff, or because you're willing to put in the time to know as much about it as it does.
To be fair, you can scale the realism down. There are a number of driving aids, and an arcade league that caps your speed in favor of dumbing down the opposition. There are also various A.I. settings to keep the other cars from blowing past you. SimBin even created a downloadable set of the simple oval tracks NASCAR drivers prefer. If you don't want to read the in-game help for tuning your car (because the 11 pages of documentation certainly aren't going to do you any good), you can use a couple of canned set-ups for each car or go online to download other players' set-ups using an in-game browser. It all helps a bit, but it can cultivate bad habits, and it ultimately misses the point of the game which is to take advantage of the realism SimBin has provided. GTR is not competing with Forza.
As it's meant to be played, GTR is brutal, demanding, and gratifying. It's a cerebral game about learning the layout of the tracks (rally racing markers for each turn are a big help and much easier to watch than a mini-map), tuning and testing and tuning again, and even working out your pit strategies for different races. But GTR is also very visceral. The graphics, sadly, are low-rent compared to the latest games, but the sense of immersion is unparalleled. For starters, there are excellent 3D cockpits for each car. Although it's much easier to get a sense of situational awareness driving from the outside, the view from inside is really fantastic, complete with a subtle dirty glass effect for your windshield.
But what really sinks you into the world of GTR is the superlative and pervasive sound. There's a powerful sense that you're on a track with a bunch of overpowered, extremely noisy engines all around you. The growling, purring, coughing, and sputtering are fantastic. There's even an undercurrent of incidental noise, like bits and pieces inside the car rattling, or maybe gravel from the road flying up into the undercarriage. You don't get a damage display -- come on now, no one has those convenient little color-coded car outlines in real life -- but you can radio your pit crew to report on whatever damage you've taken. The radio crackles and a reassuring British voice gives you a general idea of how badly you're doing. More interaction with this fellow would have been great.
Other great touches include a robust replay feature, an A.I. autopilot, and enough exhaustive telemetry stats to make your head pop. There's also multiplayer support, but the online netcode leaves something to be desired, particularly in a game that requires so much precision. Bits of lag are likely to sabotage your hard work. It all works well enough on a LAN, but there's no way to include A.I. drivers in multiplayer games.
The bottom line about GTR is that it's not a game, but a sim. This is kind of a shame, because one of the lessons learned, and forgotten, and learned again, is that even sims can be games. Compare the excellent IL-2 Sturmovik and Silent Hunter III. They're both built for hardcore realism, but only the latter is also built to be a game. The subject matter among these games is apples and oranges, but GTR takes the IL-2 approach at a time when we need more games with the Silent Hunter III approach.
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