Thanks to glowing reviews and a fan base of rabid racing purists, Gran Turismo has built up a reputation as the definitive driving simulation for the PlayStation. While that proved good news for Sony's coffers, it posed a tough challenge for its developers: How can the sequel surpass the original?
For better or worse, Gran Turismo 2 has taken the Star Wars: Special Edition approach to tackling this challenge. The bulk of the game's top-notch graphics and gameplay remain true to the original, but this version is packed with extra add-ons - more tracks, more cars, more races and more secrets - that have turned the game into a mammoth two-disc experience. The sequel may not play or look noticeably better than the original, but it's certainly a bigger meal to digest. With that said, prospective buyers will fall into four categories:
* Fans who loved the original Gran Turismo and have actually unlocked all the game's secrets: The purchase of this game is a no-brainer.
* Fans who loved the original Gran Turismo but lacked the patience or skills to unlock all the game's secrets: The addition of an off-road rally racing mode won't be enough incentive to rehash a gameplay formula all too similar to the original, despite having more cars and tracks. This might not be your cup of tea.
* Those who haven't played Gran Turismo but who love cars and seek a pure racing simulation: The purchase of this game is also a no-brainer, assuming you have a lot of free time ahead.
* Casual video gamers looking for fun, easy racing entertainment (or for those shopping for a kids' gift): It's a toss-up. The skill needed to master the nuances of this game, as well as its depth, might prove too much for those looking for a less sophisticated, less demanding racer. The arcade portion of the game will still sate most gamers' needs - but a whole half of the game might go to waste in the meantime.
For an in-depth review, keep on reading.... Gran Turismo 2: Crunching the numbers
A by-the-numbers look at this pure driving simulation shows how much depth this game offers. First off, the game comes on two CDs. The first CD offers arcade-mode racing, which features one-player races and two-player split-screen competition. When a player places first on a track, a hidden car is unlocked. The second CD is the more valuable of the two; it offers the Gran Turismo simulation mode. In this ultra-realistic, one-player-only mode, you earn credits by winning races - credits that you can then use to buy additional cars and upgrades. To unlock more races, you must pass a series of driving tests (at least 50 to start) to obtain licenses. These licenses can then be transferred (via memory card) to unlock new tracks in the arcade mode; in addition, the cars created in the Gran Turismo mode can be raced head-to-head in the arcade mode as well. For those who've played the original, all this will be familiar territory. For those new to the series, it'll be an overwhelming experience to wade through.
Back to the numbers: The game features more than 400 car models from various years, covering everything from lowly compacts such as the Volkswagen Golf to muscle cars like the Chevrolet Corvette. There are also special off-road rally cars and high-performance super sports cars (for the wealthy). These are not mere graphical swaps either, as each car has its own unique performance and handling specifications. The attention to and depth of detail imprinted on each car gives this game virtually enough credibility to stand as an interactive encyclopedia on performance racing cars. In addition, you have almost 50 real-life car manufacturers to choose from (including all the big car names known worldwide), and each manufacturer has cars, car parts, and special racing events specific to its brand. In terms of car parts, you get an extensive modification list that ranges from the engine to the muffler - even hubcaps can be altered. Imagine earning enough money to buy every type of car from every manufacturer - that's the mind-boggling quest that Gran Turismo 2 lets you undertake.
More numbers: The game's ads boast more than 40 tracks, although the real number floats just under 30 - the ads count the 20 or so courses that can be driven in reverse as separate tracks. Still, 30 is a grand total most gamers will be satisfied with, given the wide variety of the tracks: everything from the streets of Rome and Seattle to the legendary Laguna Seca. A few tracks are identical to those in the original Gran Turismo, which might not pose a challenge to veterans of the first game.