Grand Tour Racing '98
Racing games seem to be the current rage and everyone is looking for a way to make their game roar ahead of the pack. Grand Tour Racing '98 (GTR) seems to have found a formula that they think will make people stand up and take notice: Diversity. GTR gives you the option to chose from 40 different vehicles, three types of racing, and a ton of tracks. So, instead of being a single-dimension racer, GTR should have something that appeals to everyone.
GTR will unfortunately be compared to Need for Speed because it carries the Car and Driver license, while Need for Speed carries the Road and Track license. But this is where any similarities between the two games stop. They are nothing alike. So if you are a fan of Need for Speed, don't start crying "rip-off!"
This is the first racing title in a long time that I have been really excited about playing. Don't get me wrong: I love racing games, but most of them get boring after awhile. This is definitely not a problem with GTR. The game has so many different racing styles and tracks, that you will play for hours just to try and unlock the next track to see what it will look like. I had more than one late night/early morning episode in my attempt to unlock the tracks.
The title of the game, Grand Tour Racing, gives a pretty good indication of the tracks: they're in exotic locations around the world. The developers settled on six locations to base the tracks from. The first location is Scotland. This is raced with four-wheel-drive rally cars across winding roads. The next location is Moscow. This is a fast track that is raced in sports cars or Indy cars. Third is Egypt. This has you blasting through the sand dunes and around hair pin turns in the dune buggies or Dakar racers. Next is Hong Kong. These tracks are similar to Moscow, except without the straight-aways. The fifth location is Switzerland. This is the coolest track that will have you sliding through snowy turns in rally vehicles. Finally, you have Easter Island. This is the toughest of the tracks, in my opinion. You race in dune buggies or Dakar racers through sand, water, and lava (bad idea).
Not only does GTR do a good job with the locations, the tracks themselves deserve mention. Most racing games these days only have a handful of tracks that become repetitive. Not in GTR. The box claims that the game has 36 tracks, which is true in a way, but it is not entirely accurate. They are counting the same track that is raced by different vehicles. A more accurate count of the number of different tracks would range in the high 20s (which is still a hell of a lot of different tracks to learn). The best part about these tracks (other than the large number) is the length. These are not 30-second lap tracks. Some laps take 3-4 minutes to finish, which is incredible by today's standards.
OK, you can have as many tracks as you want, but if the gameplay sucks, who cares? Don't worry. If you spend enough time getting the hang of each type of car, you will really enjoy the game. However, if you are an impatient gamer that gives a game 15 minutes and moves on, you may not like this one. There are a couple reasons for this learning curve. First, you need to learn to race five different types of cars. Each car type is predetermined by the track—which means you can't race the Indy car in the sand dunes of Egypt (you wouldn't last 10 seconds). Each of the cars handle differently and the surface that you are racing on also affects the handling of the car. So, this means that if you master one type of car, you still have four more completely different cars to try and conquer.
The second reason for the learning curve is the way you corner by using the shoulder pads on the controller. If you try and just steer around sharp corners without using the shoulder pads, you will never make it. It does take awhile to get the feeling for this type of control, but once you get the hang of it, you will love it.
Another cool feature of the game is the season mode. The season mode is a race through all 6 locations to try and gain the most points. If you have the most points at the end of the six tracks, you are the winner. The coolest part is that when you finish first and unlock a track, the season mode will use the next available track. For example, if you finished first on Scotland 1 and Moscow 1 during your first season, you will still race on the first tracks for the rest of the locations but you will race on Scotland 2 and Moscow 2. This kept the game quite fresh.
My only major complaint with the game was in the control department. It was way too easy to lose control of your car. I had a terrible time with the dune buggies. I would roll, flip, flop, drown, burn, or just fly out of the track boundaries. Also, if I was in complete control of the Indy car for at least half of the race, I was in good shape. These races bordered on chaotic and the races that I would win, were the ones where I got lucky instead of using skill alone.
One more thing that I feel needs mentioning was the artificial intelligence of the computer controlled cars . They did not like to let you pass and some would do whatever it took to keep you from getting by. I even had one SOB force me off the track into a stone wall. This made every race a new and exciting adventure.
The graphics were decent. There was nothing overly spectacular, but there was also nothing bad. I really like the track designs and layout, and there were some cool (yet unrealistic) crashes. The snowy tracks were by far my favorites and looked quite realistic. In some tracks, you were forced down dark, narrow corridors that were nearly impossible to maneuver through: it was so dark, you couldn't tell the road from the wall.
I really enjoyed this game. It is one of my favorite racers ever. Don't give up on it too soon—once you get the hang of the controls, it is a blast. The idea of having different types of cars, tracks and racing styles in the same game is an awesome idea. You will have your favorite style but will also find that all are fun. Good job, Activision!