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PLATFORM PC

Grand Prix 4 Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Atari
developer: Simergy
genre: Racing

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII-400, 64MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D accelerator
ESRB rating: E
homepage:
www.grandprixgames.com/

release date: Sep 10, 02
» All About Grand Prix 4 on ActionTrip


June 29, 2002
Zvezdan "GTS" Obradovic

These days when the 2002 World Cup is in the focus of attention, the rest of the sports seem to be less than noticed. This is somewhat true, but I am still sure that the Formula 1 championship didn't lose any popularity nevertheless. And regardless of the fact that everybody already knows that Michael Schumacher will win the races and that Ferrari has to be the best team, millions still pay a lot of heed to this fastest running circus in the world.

Grand Prix 4, Formula 1 simulation by the legendary Geoff Crammond is a game developed at the same time for the PC and Xbox by Simergy (founded by Crammond himself) which closely cooperated with F1 Arrows team, and published by Infogrames. Four years passed between GP2 (1996) and GP3 (2000), and now we only had to wait for two years for GP4, which could be explained by the somewhat faster hardware development. Grand Prix 4 deals with the season 2001, (unlike its competitor EA F1 - 2002), which may bother some people, but the developers claim that they had a better chance of realistically depicting the atmosphere from the already completed event.

Whatever the case, you will have the standard list of teams and drivers for 2001 at your disposal (including Mika Hakkinen), as well as all tracks that had been used. The most appealing thing about this game is that it can be adjusted for absolute beginners, as much as for true pros, by selecting your skill level as any of the five levels between rookie and ace. You can drive the entire season using the original settings and schedules, drive a "non-championship race," or try your skills on certain tracks in the "quick race" mode. Before you get to drive the Grand Prix race, you have to go through two days of free training, qualifications, and warm-up race. If you chose to drive without qualifications, you start from the last position, and you will find it downright impossible to finish in the top six, regardless of your skills. One novelty in comparison to GP3 is the "quicklap" option, which lets up to 22 players drive the same track under identical conditions. Those of you who are a tad bit more into races will be given a chance to adjust all possible settings which determine the performance of your vehicle in certain weather conditions. Still, messing with wing downforce, brake balance and gear ratios can make your car completely uncontrollable if you do not really know what you are doing. Turning on the breakdown option will make things substantially more difficult, but also far more realistic. Less experienced drivers will be able to use steering help, traction control, auto-right, and other automatic controls, but these things will not be used by any even slightly experienced players. Still, I would advise you not to turn off the "indestructible" mode, because that would render your car a bit too destructible... every time you touch another vehicle or go a bit out of the track, you will have to get your car repaired, or quit the race completely.

Controlling the vehicle seems quite difficult at first if you turn all the helping options off, but after but a couple of laps you will get completely used to it, regardless of whether you are using a keyboard, joystick or force-feedback wheel. Your skills show on the number of charts which will be generated after the race, but I guess that only true fans and connoisseurs will be able to tell anything from those.

All tracks have been created using the GPS system, and the developers claim that they represent the best copy of the original tracks that had been seen in video games until today - you can even see the real hills and valleys on the Interlagos track in Brazil. We can but believe them, as the tracks truly seem realistic.

The biggest novelty in GP4 is the completely new, better and more efficient engine which provides higher level of detail, and more realistic effects. GP4 features for the first time completely animated mechanics, spectators and referees, which will make even your visits to pit-stop an experience to remember.

The thing that can best depict the atmosphere of driving a Formula1 is the visuals, and visuals are more than magnificent in GP4. It supports resolutions up to 1600x1200 which in turn makes the game exceedingly demanding, so I wouldn't advise you to play it with all visual effects set to maximum if you do not happen to have one of the few most powerful video accelerators on the market. The richness of visuals best shows in the most popular track - Monte Carlo. The developers had to recreate the entire city here. Advanced effects like the dynamic environment mapping, reflections and shadows, will make you feel that you are truly driving your vehicle through the nexus of gambling. You will see the buildings and trees reflect of the shiny plating of your car in a highly realistic manner. Skid-marks look great, and passing through tunnels is also an experience of its own. Vehicle interior does seem somewhat Spartan, but I guess they simply meant to make it as realistic and practical as possible. The vehicles, are, on the other hand pretty detailed and have about 3000 polygons each. The camera will let you see the race from many different angles (the most interesting is the driver's perspective), most of which are fairly impractical for serious driving, in spite of the fact that they all look very good. When the camera switches to the view that directly shows the driver's helmet, I had the impression that I could see Schumacher's or Coulthard's face behind the visor. In GP4 you can record up to 90 minutes of action, and then enjoy your own stunts or learn from your mistakes.

Weather conditions will change, just like in the real championship, so you may happen to have to drive in rain. The developers went that far that you can even see drops of rain on the cameras following the race. The particle effects are fantastic. The new engine also supports the heat haze effect which can be turned off.

AI is just great, your opponents will try to go around you, block your way, and avoid crashes. I decided to try it out by driving in the opposite direction, and was very happy when I saw each and every one of them doing their best to avoid me. Chain crashes are a frequent occurrence, and in the case of such an event, security officers will mark it waving yellow flags. The black flag (stop'n'go penalty) appears as a result of reckless driving, but you can still occasionally get rid of your opponents by pushing them out of bends. Be wary though, they just might push you out. The game features damage effects, so that you will see parts of the vehicles flying around after every crash... one strange thing was that when I crashed frontally with another car (while driving in the opposite direction), I simply remained in my place and the other vehicle flew some hundred yards back.

Sound effects are excellent, and apart from the highly realistic sound of your engine in GP4 you will also hear the roaring engines of your adversaries through a well developed 3D sound positioning system. You will also hear the audience which will cheer for its favorite team.

The game supports up to 4 players in the multiplayer mode, and it also features a small Formula 1 encyclopedia - Gpaedia which will help you grasp all the ambiguous technical terms which are mentioned in the game.

Driving can be hard and challenging, and it is far from easy achieving the pole position, but that is probably the best thing about this sport anyway - there can be only one Michael Schumacher. The game is very catchy, and each loss will but make you try again.

Every driving sim is focused on verisimilitude, and in that respect, this may well be the best Formula 1 sim, which makes you feel like you were driving the real Grand Prix race just after a couple of tracks - the only thing missing is the smell of petrol. What more could you ask for? If only it were a bit less demanding in hardware...

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ACTIONTRIP SCORE
9.2   Excellent


HIGHS
Great visuals, sound, verisimilitude, long playing time;

LOWS
Highly demanding, too heavy in some modes.

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