GT Legends Review (PC)
The premise behind GT Legends is fairly straightforward; take the excellent physics engine from GTR FIA Racing (GTR), and apply it to classic cars from the 1960's and 70's. From the Austin Mini Coopers to the Ford Falcons and the Porsche 911, the car selection is a collection of some of the greatest racing machines in historic GT competition. But the retro metamorphosis didn't end with the vehicles. The menus, the music, and the font selection in GTL positively radiate the feel of the era. Feel and nostalgia are great, but what about the game itself? I'll skip right to the part that everybody wants to know… it's fantastic. One of the best racing titles I've had the pleasure of experiencing, actually.
One of the things that almost any gamer will pick up on right away are the graphics. I had some quibbles with the graphics engine in GTR, and it's been optimized a bit more this time. Car models are some of the best in the business, and damage (which you will assuredly get on some of the harder difficulty levels) is displayed on the car accurately. Some of the track textures seem to be less detailed, but when you're racing, the scenery goes by in a blur. Your eyes are fixed on the cars around you, and they're absolutely gorgeous. Everything from the textures to the model shapes to the subtle weight shifting as the machines corner exudes authenticity. But the crowning jewel in the graphics department is the cockpits themselves, especially with high detail enabled. The windshield isn't "flawless", so you feel as if you're looking through a real windshield. The textures are extremely sharp, and the gauges function. You can see your driver's hands on the wheel (and in some cars, his feet on the pedals), and the cockpit bounces around on screen with each bump that you hit. It is one of the best cockpit views I've ever seen in a racing game. From top to bottom, the visuals allow you to be immersed and forget that it's a game. From what I've heard, it demands an extremely good system to run, and I had absolutely no problems with the game, despite cranking every slider I could find to the maximum, and enabling high detail cockpits, wheels, and even things such as swaying trees. My system is worlds better than the one I reviewed GTR with last year, though, so it's to be expected. And the night races? Wow. Headlights reflect off of the cars in front of you, as well as the track around you. It feels eerily similar to reality, with the visibility limitations and your headlights illuminating things beyond the track itself.
The audio department is no slouch, either. Each engine was recorded using the actual vehicle, so I can only assume it sounds like it does in the real world. I do know that they are all easily identifiable, as each car sounds unique. Taking a Porsche 911 through the gears at Magny-Cours is an aural treat, to say the least. Cars like the Ford Mustang and AC Cobra have the guttural growl that you'd expect, and each vehicle in the game sounds authentic. But the thing that struck me first - and remained with me throughout my time with the game - was the music in the menus. I'm not sure what it is about it that is so catchy, but it has that funky beat that was so prevalent in the 70's. Combining the authentic car sounds with such perfect menu music is a recipe for success, and GTL doesn't disappoint.
No matter how good a game looks, and how catchy the soundtrack is, it's going to boil down to how much fun you have while playing it. Thankfully, SimBin knows this as well, and has tweaked and tuned the driving model in GTL to the point of brilliance. Everything just feels right. Taking a corner too quickly and planting your machine in the gravel trap stops you cold, while slipping two wheels up onto the grass off a hard corner makes for an extremely hairy next few seconds as you attempt to regain control. To further improve the game's playability, 10tacle and SimBin have made it one of the most scalable experiences in PC racing. The game has 5 default difficulty levels (Beginner, Novice, Amateur, Semi-Pro, and Professional), and each one noticeably alters the game's playability. On the easiest level, it's actually hard to get the car off the track, let alone do anything to hurt your chances of winning. I actually made it through an entire race without touching the brake (on a track with two hairpins) and won by more than a minute. It's that easy. Conversely, when bumping the difficulty up to Professional, you will have a very hard time even keeping the AI opposition in your sights without a good setup and a thorough knowledge of the track that you're on. The entire spectrum is covered with the settings in between, so there's literally something for every gamer who tries GTL. You'll find a difficulty level that you're comfortable with, I guarantee it. You can make the game as easy, or as frustratingly difficult, as you want it to be.
Part of what makes it so flexible is the opponent AI. The CPU will race each other as much as they race you. Upon one occasion, I was racing an AI car hard for third place. I cut up underneath him and pushed it a bit too hard, driving his outside wheels onto the grass. The next corner, he cut down on me and gave me a nice nudge, bouncing me off of the curb. While not being overly aggressive, the CPU car made sure to not give me an inch to complete the pass. Coming to a hard chicane, I broke early and watched the computer car really push it deep into the corner… so deeply that he locked the brakes, "bicycled" the car off the curb and spun it into the gravel trap. That was an incredibly tense racing moment. Another is watching the AI duke it out amongst themselves. In one race, I was sitting in third, chasing down first and second, and watching them bang back and forth, until second place actually got too aggressive and managed to take both cars out. I casually motored by while the former leaders flipped and spun, dropping to the rear of the field. That's good stuff right there… really good stuff.
The garage is back, and it's as good as ever. Gearheads can spend hours in the garage tweaking and tuning their setup, but SimBin has also added a "quick fix" feature (for lack of a better term) to the main monitor window. When you are not on the track, yet not in the garage, you'll see three sliders below the monitor screen: understeer/oversteer handling, soft/hard suspension, and short/tall gearing. Moving the slider in either direction produces a substantial adjustment to how the vehicle reacts on the track. Most "quick fixes" I performed in a session had to do with moving the understeer/oversteer slider in one direction or another. If the car turned like a pig, I would increase the oversteer and it would become a whole lot looser in the corners, acting as a Band-Aid to an ill-handling racecar. If you don't have time (or the know-how) to spend countless hours tweaking and re-tweaking car settings, the three quick-fix sliders will have you tweaking the car in no time. The online garage is back as well, so getting a stable or fast setup is as easy as registering your game online and browsing the online setup directories, then downloading an applicable setup. It was brilliant before, and it still is.
A problem that I had with GTR was the lack of modes. You had a rather mundane season mode, a quick race, and online. Knowing that most gamers would take the title online and have it out over the Internet, SimBin largely ignored the single player racer. That has changed in GTL. There's the all-new "Cup Challenge", which takes its cue from any number of console racers in the past, where you'll start with a slow car and a series to run in, and then build up both your bankroll and stable of vehicles as you play through the game. The Challenge is played through a series of Tiers (A through E), with multiple series inside of each. Unlocking all of the series (winning a trophy in a series renders it "completed") in a tier will unlock the next tier up, and so on. It's pretty standard fare for console games, but it hasn't been very prevalent in the PC market. Whether that's a good or a bad thing would depend entirely upon your tastes. I know some drivers that want the entire game unlocked as soon as they buy it. They paid their money, and if they want to take a Porsche 911S out as their very first experience, they should be allowed to do so. However, I also know many people that like to get that satisfaction of completing series, earning virtual cash, and buying that 911, making it more gratifying personally. I can't say which group is right or wrong, but I do know that GTL caters to the latter. Take that however you choose.
Considering the Cup Challenge is about the only mode with any substance to it in the single player, it's a good thing that it's all-encompassing. If you want to run a season, for instance, you can just go back and re-race a series in one of the tiers. The final series in any given tier is usually the "GT" series, with longer laps, more races, and more vehicles on the track. It's kind of a compilation of all the previous action that you've seen in the tier, and takes longer to complete than the others.
Multiplayer received a number of optimizations as well, if my experience with GTL is any indication. While GTR was largely a laggy, stuttering mess for me, GTL has been sublime. Rarely have I had problems with warping and skipping, and more often than not I've been able to log on, hop into a race quickly and easily, and find competition that I've enjoyed running with. The servers themselves can set the difficulty, so you can actually search for servers that run on Beginner, or Semi-Pro, etc. Hopping on a beginner server doesn't mean that everybody is a beginner, naturally, but it does mean that all of the aids are enabled, meaning the racing generally sticks to a pretty tight pack. If you have the throttle buried to the floor, but the game just won't allow you to accelerate due to the driving aids, it keeps everybody clustered together. It's almost like restrictor plate racing in NASCAR. When joining a Professional server, however, you'll see the entire range of abilities come into play. You'll have the "hotshoes", the "backmarkers", and everybody in between. However, throughout the entire experience, it's usually stable and lag-free… which is a very big deal to online racers.
When all is said and done, GT Legends stands as one of the best PC racers available to date. The physics engine just feels right no matter what difficulty you play on, it looks drop-dead gorgeous, and it has stable online play. If you're into the "Golden Age of Motor Sports" (as billed on the back of the box), then GT Legends is an absolute must-have. If you're a casual racing fan who enjoys GT-style racing, then it's also a must-have. The only people I couldn't recommend GT Legends to are the gamers who have absolutely no interest in racing… or fun. It's easy to get into, there's loads of replay-ability and the online play is solid. The only things that hold it back from perfection are the occasional lackluster texture set at some tracks, and the taxing system requirements… users without a top-of-the-line system might have to do some work to get everything running smoothly. But the game is so unbelievably good, even that is worth it.