Gran Turismo 2 is like a Holiday Inn—it gives you more, and more is better. It succeeds in making the original PlayStation mega hit, Gran Turismo look obsolete, when in fact the difference between the two is marginal. No drastic changes have been made to the game's basic structure, there's just more of everything: more cars, more tracks, more options, more involved gameplay, more sounds and more music. Gran Turismo 2 succeeds because it's the complete package—a more comprehensive and ultimately more satisfying racing simulation than its predecessor.
While the first game relied on unparalleled realism and stellar game play to carry it through, it was the 'more' that kept me coming back to Gran Turismo 2. This new version offers more than 500 licensed cars and a seemingly endless amount of races in which to enter them. Rally racing is now represented at the same level as the Grand Touring mode, adding a completely new dimension to an already stacked deck. The game's developer, Polyphony Digital, also did a smart thing by putting the Arcade mode on a separate disk. The freed-up disk space allows for an even more involved Simulation mode.
The Simulation mode is what set Gran Turismo apart from the rest of the racing games, and it's the Simulation mode that benefits the most from all the extra features in Gran Turismo 2. The basic set-up is the same: You start the game with just enough cash (or credits as they're called in the game) to buy a decent car, preferably a used one, and you race it to win more money. The better you finish in a race, the more money you earn. Accumulating more money lets you buy better cars, which in turn wins you more races, and more money, and so on. Gran Turismo 2 makes this more appealing by giving you more choices. The list of licensed car manufacturers is staggering, with all the important names represented. A full compliment of European and North American automakers balance the scales that were once tipped in favor of the Asian sector. Big names like Nissan and Honda now have heavy competition from the likes of Volkswagen, Fiat and Ford. And while all of those companies offer a great selection of used vehicles, you can opt for a low-end, new car from one of the smaller outfits like Suzuki or Daihaitsu. It's this freedom of choice that makes playing Gran Turismo 2 such a pleasure.
The races themselves are as varied as the selection of cars. Gran Turismo 2 benefits from a more international flavor in its locations, and the competition is adjusted accordingly. France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Britain and the U.S. all have their own unique tracks, and each country's contests feature exclusive participation by their respective manufacturers. In America, you'll go up against the likes of Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge, while Italy's races are dominated by Lancia and Alfa Romeo. This arrangement works nicely in showing the different approaches each country takes to auto racing, and the same idea is also presented in the Event races. These are special manufacturer-sponsored races which require ownership of a particular car. Want a demonstration of Toyota's dedication to racing perfection? Buy a Celica and enter it in the Celica Meeting. Or save up the big bucks and buy an Integra or NSX to enter in Acura's exclusive races. Among the many other racing circuits too numerous to name here, is the Special Events category, where cars are separated according to drivetrains, engine placement or other differences, regardless of their producer. Believe it or not, this doesn't even begin to describe the variety of races offered in Gran Turismo 2.
The big addition is the Rally racing mode, which puts a whole new twist on things. You have to forget about all the skills you perfected on the paved track because they don't apply off-road. Although the experience isn't as thrilling as it was in Sega Rally Championship, Gran Turismo 2's Rally mode is more true to the actual sport. The feeling of driving over gravel is uncanny. The developers didn't just throw this into the mix to give you more to do. The Rally mode is as involved as the standard GT mode, and demands just as much attention.
Outfitting cars with high-performance parts plays a larger role in Gran Turismo 2 thanks to the expanded race format. Races in the GT circuit are now split up according to engine power. This prevents a powerful car like the Mitsubishi 3000GT from going up against a more modest racer like a Dodge Neon. But you can maximize a car's potential within its class by upgrading it with special modifications. For instance, a Volkswagen Golf would normally fit in the middle of the pack in the 197 horsepower (hp) and below class. But by equipping it with racing alterations, a Golf can be made into one of the dominant cars in the field. Or you can choose to adjust a car for Rally racing, which requires a lot of work (and a lot of money). No matter which route you choose, spending money on a car is essential if you want to race with the big boys, where the stakes are high.
What I like about Gran Turismo 2 is how it almost overflows with racing possibilities, but manages to do so without overwhelming the uninitiated. The Arcade mode helps in this regard, but the Simulation mode does a surprisingly good job in slowly introducing beginners to the fundamentals of auto racing. As in the original, a license is required before a car can be entered in most of the races. There are more licenses to acquire in Gran Turismo 2, each one representing a higher level of competition, but they're a bit easier to obtain this time around. The driver's tests have a better balanced diffulculty, and each test prepares you for the next by gradually demanding more skilled techniques. And if you have saved data from Gran Turismo, three of the tests in Gran Turismo 2 can be bypassed if you completed them in first game.
Despite everything Gran Turismo 2 has to offer, the game itself is remarkably similar to the original Gran Turismo. Its basic look and feel have essentially remained unchanged, which isn't altogether bad when you consider how good Gran Turismo actually was. All the cars are unique in how they handle, and must be driven according to their strengths and weaknesses. The physics model is very realistic. No other game emphasizes how real-life physics affect an automobile more than Gran Turismo 2, and understanding this concept is absolutely crucial to winning races. There are still no crashes or car damage during races, which kind of hurts this game's claim to ultra-realism. After all, crashes come with the territory, and a realistic racing simulator without crashes can't be very realistic can it? Perhaps the task of assigning damage points and crash animations to over 500 cars proved too daunting for the developers, but it might have made the game too difficult anyway. Gran Turismo 2 already does a reasonable job of demanding perfection in the heat of competition. Having to worry about damaging a car that you've been sinking hard-earned credits into would have dragged the game down.
Gran Turismo 2's graphics and sound are still impressive for PlayStation, but they're almost identical to the original. In fact some of the courses, like the night-time tracks, look a little better in the original. The cars still sport reflective surfaces, which give them a convincing metallic shine, but the effect is false and doesn't accurately reflect a car's surroundings. I realize that it's just a visual trick intended to add to the realism, but it bothers me when cars go through a tunnel and sunlight still bounces off their hoods. However, I liked the range in engine noise for all of the cars. Each car has a distinctive sound that matches their real-life counterpart—a very nice detail. Also, cool bands like Garbage, Foo Fighters, Filter and Beck have been added to the soundtrack, and for the most part, their songs are well suited to the game's action. It's too bad that despite the 10 or so songs featured in the game, the same four songs are recycled over and over again. I couldn't tell you how many times I heard 'Sex Type Thing' by Stone Temple Pilots while playing Gran Turismo 2. I used to like that song, kind of.
There's no doubt that hardcore racing and automotive fans will appreciate the high level of detail in Gran Turismo 2. The degree of authenticity is simply unmatched. But it's not perfect. There are a few things that bothered me, and some of them affected the final score I gave this game. First of all, some of the cars' specs don't exactly jibe with the real things. For instance, the Honda Civic is one of the more prominent small cars featured in Gran Turismo 2. The new Civic Sedan is listed as having 167 hp. While this may hold true for the two-door Civic Si Coupe (a great car that isn't even in the game), the standard LX Civic Sedan only has 106 hp—the EX has 127. There are other inconsistencies among the vehicles as well, like not being able to race in BMW's popular Z3 roadster, while several other roadsters are available from the other auto makers. And where's the Volkswagen Jetta? Why are wimpy cars like the Ford Ka or the Toyota Prius available when a speedy car like the Jetta isn't? These are minor issues that aren't likely to be noticed by the average gamer, but unfortunately the bugs that plagued the early versions of Gran Turismo 2 (the version I played) are more apparent. For some reason, Sony chose to release this game before it was ready. As a result, more than a few problems pop up during normal play. One of the more insignificant is the $5,000 car wash—which the developers forgot to change from Japanese yen to American dollars. More considerable snags occur when cars vanish from your garage without a trace, or when the game doesn't record lap times and records. According to Sony, only 98.2 percent of the game can be completed due to 'production problems.' Subsequent versions have supposedly made the necessary corrections, but the early versions are still out there.
It's too bad that the buggy release had to blemish what is otherwise a spectacular game. Gran Turismo 2 is still a racing simulation without equal. It's not the breakthrough game the original was, but it doesn't have to be. Gran Turismo 2 realizes the potential that GT planted. Is more better? I think so.