Genesis. The beginning of the simulation racer genre. The original and unforgettable game that brought real world cars and racing to the masses. Who knew, in December 23, 1997, an unknown company by the name of Polyphony Digital is going to make one of the greatest games of all time. Gran Turismo took the world by storm, by showing the masses what a game can be like on the PS1. Kazunori Yamauchi, the mastermind behind Gran Turismo, is also a fan of cars and used that to bring his passion to life. Gran Turismo became a household name, all thanks to this one game. One of the most beloved racing franchises ever made and the most successful, because there was no competition (until Forza Motorsport came out in 2005!) against this game.
First off, I didn’t know much about cars before this game came out. I loved racers, because it was simple like Cruisin’ USA and Ridge Racer, but damn after playing this game, it changed everything. I learned about car control, weight distribution, car/tuner parts that I never knew existed, and the introduction to cars never seen on the shores of the USA. I not only learned how to play a simulation racer, but it taught me a lot about cars. Unless I was playing You Don’t Know Jack, games never taught you anything related to the real world.
Graphics at the time were AMAZING. Each car had a distinct look, either stock or tuned. The tracks were detailed from day racing to night racing. Polyphony Digital pushed the PS1 to the limits at the time. I was boggled at how they were able to put so much cars and the race tracks in the game, and still make this game look so damn pretty. The game had different rev counters for each car and the lighting effects were pretty impressive. The heads-up display were clear and didn’t obscure the view in any way, shape, or form. There was even a rear view mirror for the interior view…even though it would have some pop-up issues. The coolest part was the replay mode. Yes, I said replay, because it really felt like you were watching a real race on your TV. It was artfully done because of the various camera angles it provided during replay. The graphics and the attention to detail alone were good enough for me to play this game.
The sound…THE SOUND! It let gamers feel like they were really driving the cars onscreen. The sounds were meticulously done for each car, tire squeal, and even the music. The exhaust noises were music in it themselves. It helped you listen to the symphony of each car’s voice as close as real life as it can get. The game sounds really made this game as real as possible. Such simple attention to the little details helped make this game become more realistic. The music was fantastic too. I mean, it was a bunch of no namers (at the time…or for me I just hadn’t had a clue any of those bands were), but it was a good mix of music to help with the driving. But then again, the music came out in second place, compared by the sounds of the cars.
The cars obviously are what made this game stand out. Cars from the beautiful Aston Martin to a simple Toyota, filled the screen and if you kept count on the cars, there were a collection of about 180 cars. You can buy it new or used and fix it up and tune it in almost any way you want. Want that Honda Civic to be worth driving? Throw in a turbo, new tires, suspension, weight reduction, and other tuned abilities and you have a Civic that would finally embarrass other cars…until you fix up some better ones. Want to go drifting? Take a TVR Cerberus for a spin and learn some car control. There was just so much stuff to learn and learn you must to get through this game. The quarter mile time was one of the most popular modes, because who didn’t want to see how fast they can get their car down a quarter mile. The arcade mode was added, but not necessary, as most probably just skipped it so they can go fix up their cars in simulation mode.
You start the game with only 10,000 or so credits, meaning you had to buy a cheap used car. It was realistic, you didn’t just start out with a fast car, you had to prove you were the best by racing and winning. You could have won some rare cars by getting all gold trophies in the license tests…but good luck with that (no, seriously). The in-game AI (artificial intelligence for those who don’t know) was pretty bad. The good thing is, the game designers didn’t let the AI randomly have speed boosts to catch up to you or some random trick to “help” the AI actually compete with you, but then again, if you got a fast car…you pretty much have the race in the bag. When you first start, all you have to buy is a cheap car, so you can spend the remainder of the money on some upgrades. Then race your heart out on the first couple races to get some quick cash. Then you can buy some REALLY fast cars and then beat pretty much every race easily.
The physics of this racing game was so sophisticated, that you had to go through license tests to just get a feel of the game. The weight control and the importance of tires changed the whole driving experience. You need to know how to tune your car or your car could just be going straight into a wall or just spin out on every corner. The cars were so different from each other, you would need to continuously drive each car to get a “feel” on how the car handles. The brakes were important or the turn in and gas out. You really had to be a race car driver to play this game.
AI wasn’t the only problem, as for most people who are casual gamers (including me) faced. You needed more than dedication to play this game. I mean c’mon…the license tests were freaking hard as hell (and the Gran Turismo series are notorious for the license tests). Again, the game taught you about the car world, but you also had a lot of frustrating retries to become the best. I went through every license test with a bronze trophies with a couple of silvers and rarely any gold trophies, and that was the first three license tests (Class B, Class A, and International C). The last two were almost impossible for me to pass. It took me many hours of racing to finally beat International B license test, but never (even to this day) will I get that damn International A license…
There were some other issues like the lack of a paint shop or a body shop to really customize your car. Not every car company was available (no Ferrari or Lamborghini) and there were a few too many Skyline variations (and other “similar variation” cars). There was no weather effects either or any damage effects. But these issues were pretty much forgettable as the first entry game for the simulation racing genre did more than it can ever do to capture gamers’ hearts.
Gran Turismo did more than any other racer could have ever done. It had everything when it came to the simulation racing genre. Each car was beautifully detailed, from the beautiful curves of the car to the distinct engine noises. The cars were even more detailed from the actual physics such as weight, drive train, and gears. You discovered cars that didn’t exist in different markets of the world and you had more cars to drool over as a kid. It was a car lovers wet dream. The game was the most realistic racer at that time and nothing could even come close to it’s greatness. Gran Turismo was and is still amazing to play to this day. There are so many reasons why it belongs in the video game hall of fame, but it did one thing right and that was bringing simulation racers to a whole new level.