Polyphony Digital had produced another winner with Gran Tourismo 4 on the PlayStation 2. Improving on its predecessors, GT4 offers an astounding 700-plus vehicles, 50-plus tracks and more races than any sane person would want to drive. With a racing simulator this involved, it’s a good thing sanity is left out of the loop and racing fanatics are appealed to instead of casual gamers.

I ruefully admit that when it comes to a “real-life physics” racing sim like GT4, I cannot drive at the breakneck, competitive level required. To be honest, I can hardly negotiate the easiest of tracks. In order to fully explore this new title, I had my good friend, Cory Goruick, act as my courtesy driver.

GT4 has the now-standard option to play in either arcade or simulation (career) mode. My first of only two criticisms of this game is about the arcade mode. In previous GTs, the arcade mode gave an indication of what the player was accomplishing. GT4 does not show players how close they are to unlocking the next car or track. It works on a point system, which is scaled up or down as difficulty increases or decreases. More points earned will open more cars and tracks, but the number of points required is not displayed. This gave me the feeling I was not really achieving anything within the arcade mode.

Thankfully, arcade mode is only a small portion of the game, the majority of it lies within the career mode.

A new feature to the career mode of the GT series is the ability to import credits and/or licenses earned in GT3. Racing aficionados might turn their nose up at this feature but, for players who want to get started quickly, the option is there. Some players may consider this cheating, but keep in mind a player can only transfer credits or licenses they have previously earned.

The stars of all GT titles are the vehicles themselves and in GT4 they don’t just shine, they are brilliant. The lighting effects are phenomenal and it is incredible to see the scenery reflected off the windshield and panels of the vehicles. The scenery itself is a huge step up from GT3. From the roadside fans, to the landscape detail, this game is highly polished except for one noticeable flaw … which brings me to my other complaint:

There is occasional frame skipping at times in the game, notably at the menu selections for race starts or in the replays. This is an issue I was surprised to find because Polyphony Digital has always taken pride in releasing a quality product and this bug should have been fixed prior to release.

GT4 not only looks great, it also sounds the way the cars do in reality. I experienced the throaty rumble of the fabled Shelby and winced at the whine of a super-charged Daihatsu. When a player upgrades their exhaust, they can hear the difference the next time on the track. The large number of audio tracks, to listen to while rocketing along the pavement, dirt, or ice and snow tracks, also helps to keep players in the zone.

The final touch added to GT4 is the photo gallery. Players are given the ability to photo shoot the car of their choice in one of many environments. This feature is not something I would ever play with, but the enthusiasts who do explore it will find it easy to master and can keep their favourite shots to show their friends.

GT4 gets the nod from me as the best of racing sims available. And the opinion of my driver, Cory?: “The most fun you can have with your clothes on.”