Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 Review (PC)
Grand Prix 4 is the latest installment of Geoff Crammond’s Formula 1 series, and it has quite a heritage. The jump from Grand Prix to Grand Prix 2 was phenomenal. The graphics, gameplay, and entire package improved drastically over its predecessor. Grand Prix 3 really seemed behind its time, especially since Electronic Arts had continually been building on its excellent F1 titles. GP3 just didn’t seem to be able to keep pace with F1 2001 in most fans’ eyes, simply because it didn’t compare favorably in three critical departments: graphics, sound, and gameplay. There isn’t much more to a game, folks. This year, EA has released the stellar F1 2002, and ups the ante for F1 sims again. Can GP4 stack up, or does it fall short of EA’s offering?
This year, GP4 has finally entered the 3D age. GP3 was inexcusably behind the curve graphically, and the entire game looked flat. It failed to take advantage of the latest video card technology, and really couldn’t compete with other racing simulations, let alone F1 2001. GP4 makes steps in the right direction, but still doesn’t really exceed F1 2002’s look in any way to me. The graphics seem crisp, but they’re still fairly bland. The bump-mapped pavement is nice, but overall the package still doesn’t seem as photorealistic as they were proclaiming it would be when I first heard about the graphical overhaul. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t look like raw elephant ass, but it’s certainly not going to win any awards for graphical achievement. One nice touch I must hit on is the “helmet visor” view while in the cockpit. A foreign PC game called “Warm-Up!” used this a year or two ago, and I am surprised I haven’t seen it more since. It basically makes your view look like it’s in a helmet, instead of just being there. As far as the rest of the game goes…cars look good, and textures are fairly nice throughout, but I seemed to get a lot of slowdown passing by heavily populated areas (all of this on an AthlonXP 2100+, a gig of PC2100DDR, and a GeForce4 Ti4600). That was probably the game’s biggest problem graphically for me. It would run wonderfully with cars on screen, out and about on the track, yet the minute I passed grandstands, it honestly looked like my car would slow down to 70mph. It’s not like the framerate would go into the toilet…the game simply slowed down. I really thought the sense of speed was horrible until I figured out that most of the problem was in grandstand areas. I really fault the game here…I paid decent money for a good rig, and I can run almost every other game I throw at the machine in 1600x1200x32 at incredible framerates. Why I am forced to drop the resolution and depth a few notches to run something that doesn’t look all that good is beyond me. Overall, it’s serviceable, but not extraordinary.
Once again, the game didn’t knock my socks off, but it didn’t make me wish I was deaf either. As you would expect, most of it is the sounds of engines and tire screeches, and most of it is pretty well done. The radio chatter sounds very authentic, and there really isn’t a whole lot to complain about. By the same token, it wasn’t something that left me thinking about it nonstop either. Are we noticing a pattern here? Everything about this game, from the moment I installed it screamed “average”. But wait, it gets better…
The meat of any simulation proclaiming itself to be the definitive F1 sim is going to be gameplay. GP4 once again serves up a pretty good dose of realism, yet shoots itself in the foot in a few key areas. The cars really do handle fairly well, but the game seems too easy to me, even with all helps turned off. In F1 2002, I really have a hell of a time keeping the car on the track, and pointed in the right direction, at race speed. In GP4, with no aids on, I was breaking real life track records in a matter of an hour. That should say a lot by itself. I could take turns flat out that I can’t in F1 2002, and I just felt like I was in a video game, rather than on a race track (I know it sounds stupid, but I don’t have the same opinion when playing some other racing games). AI seemed to fight me fairly well though, and novice players will welcome the “racing line” feature that EA has thankfully left out of their releases over the years. If you follow the little white line around the track, you’ll be turning quick times before you can say “track record”. That’s not bad, I suppose, just “easier”. Some people will eat it up, I’m sure.
In the end, though, it came down to fun factor for me. Was I having fun with the game? Not really. I might be in the small minority of racing fans, where I want my racing to be as realistic as possible. I don’t want it to be dumbed down for me, I don’t want helps to keep me from spinning off into a wall and shredding my car. Crammond really seems to have taken a step sideways with GP4 in my opinion…he didn’t do as much as I thought he was going to do with it. It got a bit prettier, but it didn’t fix a lot of the gripes I had before. For instance…I use a Logitech MOMO wheel, with the Act Labs Performance Pedal System. Calibration goes perfectly well, and I’m able to set everything up properly. Why, then, do I go into a race and not have any ability to move the car?!?!? I had to use the inferior MOMO pedals just to make GP4 go. I never did get the game to work with my chosen equipment, and that really irritated me. Since they had the same problem in GP3, and patched it to fix it (which they didn’t fix it for me then either, and it’s not like I’m a moron who can’t figure out how to assign an axis to a function and save the control layout), I really can’t understand why it’s still there in GP4. Small problems like that abound in the game, and I walked away from GP4 very glad that I still had F1 2002.
I can only think of a very select group of people I can recommend GP4 to; racing fans with very little time, who don’t want to have to practice for hours to be competitive, and people who just like an easier racing game. Other than that, I see no reason why a person would choose GP4 over a game like F1 2002. EA, normally known for patching a game and releasing it the next year at full retail price with a new name, continually updates its F1 series and has surpassed Crammond’s “masterpiece” by so much that it’s barely on the same track. I played the UK version of GP4 extensively, and then the US version for a while as well, and I can’t think of one thing that will bring me back to it for my F1 fix.