Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 3 and Gran Turismo 4 offer the most realistic racing simulations around, and are excellent re-playable games with many hours of racing action.
The first Gran Turismo: The Real Driving Simulator game came into stores for the Playstation in 1997, and the entire series has sold over 50 million copies since the first game, Gran Turismo. Even the first title represented revolutionary advances in graphics and driving simulators, and each successive title has continued to push the envelope and improve the performance and customizable nature of the game. The Gran Turismo series has remained on Playstation platforms throughout its production life, and titles quickly find themselves in the "Greatest Hits" category after their releases. Gran Turismo is Italian for "Grand Touring," and this highlights the ironic fact that the Ferrari is nowhere to be found in any of the first four games. Neither is the Lamborghini, although these are rumored to finally be included in the upcoming game Gran Turismo 5. Porsche, which was represented in 3 and 4 by the tuner company RUF, is also rumored to appear in the latest installment of the game. Pictured in a Tuscan TVR Speed 6, which is one of the unique playable cars within the game.
Most of the Gran Turismo game play is found in Simulation mode, which is a single-player mode. In this mode, the player starts off with nothing but a small amount of cash. If you take the time to go through the B license test (the first license test which you will need to complete anyway in order to progress in gameplay), then you have the opportunity to earn a bonus car without paying. This takes a great deal of time, however, because you must get a faster time than the "gold" score on each license test within a category in order to get a bonus car. This can prove extremely difficult on some tests, and time is often better-spent simply playing the game. Receiving a higher medal within the license tests does not affect game completion. Once you receive a gold medal in each of the license tests, you will receive a decent starting car (a Mazda Miata LS).
Game play continues in Simulation mode by racing, winning, earning cash, and progressing to more difficult races. It is impossible to run rapidly through the game however, because simply acquiring a very fast car will not allow a player to rush through the game play. There are drivetrain, tuning, size, weight, year, and nationality requirements for many races that restrict entry to a very small number of cars. One example of this is the Toyota Vitz race, which only allows the entry of Vitz cars. These vehicles have incredibly poor performance, and it can cost $75,000 or more dollars to tune the car to a degree that it can win the series.
A fast car will help to a great degree, however, and the highest performance cars in both 3 and 4 are undoubtedly the Formula 1 cars. These cars are most easily acquired through winning endurance races. Endurance races take a long time (from 2-24 hours depending upon the game and race), but their cash payouts are high if you win. Some races also are limited to Formula 1 style cars, and entering another type of car would be suicidal.
The concept of both Gran Turismo 3 and Gran Turismo 4 is largely the same. Both games feature hundreds of playable and tunable cars that can be driven, tuned, and modified. Both games have highly technical screen layouts that allow you to modify suspension, transmission, and braking performance as well as swapping out various parts. The games also have roughly the same style and feel as each other, although 4 features some refined controls and sensitivity.
Where the two games differ, Gran Turismo 4 has made some interesting updates. In the rally race section, 4 adds numerous road courses like D'Umbria, and even adds some ice and snow races! The technical ability required to navigate some of these courses is quite extreme, and includes some sharp turns and slippery terrain. 4 also requires a greater number of license tests to be passed per section (17 versus 3's 8). A "B-Spec" mode has been added, and this is probably the most innovative feature of Gran Turismo 4. B-Spec mode is essentially an autopilot section of Simulation Mode, and allows the player to set the game to run automatically. This is nice for short races, and allows you to grab a snack while the game runs on its own. However, if you change viewscreens while running B-Spec mode (with the select button) you can find an interesting feature that allows you to fast-forward the speed of the game at two or three times regular speed (you hold R1 and press the right D-pad button twice to get to three times speed).
This is a nice feature, and it can become essential for some of the longer endurance races on Gran Turismo 4. The longest of the races lasts 24 hours, and this can test the limits of fatigue (not to mention sanity). To maximize the effectiveness of the fast-forward mode, try these techniques: First, pick a car that will be superior to the competition by a significant amount. The automatic pilot is not as skilled of a driver as the average player, and the computer requires so guidance, so a superior car will ensure victory. Remember that B-Spec mode goes back to the main screen when the car takes a pit stop, and does not return to the fast-forward mode automatically. To maximize the time that your car is going at three times speed, try to time it so that you know when a pit stop will be and you can be there. Also, choose hard-compound tires (racing Super-Hard) and a vehicle with low power and high maneuverability to maximize the number of laps between pit stops. The Chaparral 2J is a good car for this purpose.
There are a few final differences between Gran Turismo 3 and Gran Turismo 4. There are many new courses on the fourth version, including the nightmare German Le Mans endurance race course, the Nurburgring. Many strange cars appear, such as Jay Leno's Tank Car, a Motor Triathlon Race Car, and a couple ancient motor carriages. An entertaining section of Simulation Mode also introduces something called driving missions. These missions are pre-set with challenging tests of skill, including Slipstream Battles, which require drivers to draft off of computer opponents. Gran Turismo 4 also features the ability to purchase a NOS tank, which is a good source of emergency horsepower.
If you've got 99.? percent of Gran Turismo 3 completed, look at the two player Arcade section for some final scenarios similar to Driving Missions and License Tests. If you have a similar completion percentage on Gran Turismo 4, then you may be having the same difficulty I am beating one of the Mercedes SLR McLaren Driving Missions on the Nurburgring. Overall, for a fun and very real driving simulator, look to the Gran Turismo series. The new Gran Turismo 5 will be hitting stores sometime this March, and will offer many new cars and new functions such as the ability to damage your car, which is one of the only knocks against the previous four titles where reality is concerned.