Review: GT Racing: Motor Academy HD
And now to the Symbian^3 'HD' games. Continuing our N8 coverage, it’s time to turn to the gaming possibilites on the new Symbian devices, and in pole position for the reviews is GT Racing: Motor Academy HD from Gameloft. I came to GT Racing with high hopes, after Steve and Rafe both praised the driving game in our editorial meetings. While it’s a step up from the majority of automotive games on previous Symbian platforms, GT Racing rather falls in the gap between “arcade” and “realistic simulation” and, as such, fails to excel at either.
Cards on the table, I am a big racing game nut, which means I’m comparing GT Racing not to previous Symbian titles, but to the bigger titles on the gaming platforms, such as Need for Speed (more on that later in the week, on Symbian), Codemaster’s Formula 1 2009, and the grand-daddy of them all, Gran Turismo. Fair? Perhaps not, but the bar has been significantly raised on mobile games since the N-gage was retired, and regular users will likely have an X-Box or PS3 in their life.
So GT Racing is going to be measured by me against all those other games, both the current ones and those in the past. And whenever I sit down to look at a new racing game, there’s always one circuit I’ll drive first, one circuit that I can use to compare the modelling of the tracks, the cars, the environment, the controls and the AI of the opponent. Monaco.
Driving round Monaco in GT Racing is… bad.
The buildings and scenery do not match real life – there’s a huge wall where there should be a swimming pool, a hotel when it should be an open space, and horror of horrors, the track is perfectly flat. There’s a famous dip at one part of the Monaco track that you need to steer to avoid. It’s not here. The track manages to be a ridiculously wide and flat four lane carriageway all the way around the principality where it should be narrowing towards the turn and have opposite camber. It’s just all wrong. Don’t even get me started on how much they’ve destroyed the run up from St Devote and through Casino.
St Devote at Monaco how it should be (above) and how it is in GT Racing (below).
I think this is down to the way the track data is stored – it feels like driving along a road made of Lego, time for a corner, time for a flat, time for a hill. that’s such an old school way of doing a racing track in a game, and it’s not suitable for a “simulation style” game that this is advertised as.
For the record, it’s not just Monaco, Laguna Seca is just as poorly modelled, especially the corkscrew chicane at the top of the hill – the other tracks, custom made for the game obviously, can’t be compared but still have that early 90’s arcade feel to their construction. While this critique of the track modelling might not seem an important point (especially if youre not used to hurling a digital car round famous racing tracks from around the world), it shows the care and mechanics of the core gameplay. From experience, if these "real" tracks don't feel right, neither does the rest of the game.
The Corkscrew - Alex Zanardi would not be proud.
So for track construction and modelling, I’m not at all impressed by GT Racing. The car handling is better, but it’s missing something in terms of accuracy. Using the tilt controls on the N8 is natural, but unfortunatly the difference between what you do in real life and what you do on the screen at different speeds does not feel natural.
At high speeds, it's easy to move around the road with just a tiny steering input (say to overtake another car). To steer round a big corner, you need a nice big turning motion of your phone. At lower speeds, that fine control to overtake is gone and you need huge steering inputs just to make a little turn. At some point these two types of steering change over. In games where all you have is a left or right button, this is compensated for in software, but even with the analogue steering input using the accelerometers, something needs to be programmed to keep it consistent and realistic. That's not present in GT Racing and in my mind that needs sorting, quickly.
Some of you will consider this a challenge to the game and a good thing. While I can take that view on board, comparing GT Racing to other similar titles, it just feels like it’s been hacked together and not given a solid testing for gameplay reasons – as opposed to bug testing. GT Racing is a solid piece of code that hasn’t crashed at all during my reviewing.
Before taking to the race track, the career mode allows you the chance to learn how to drive a variety of cars, handle braking, take various grades of curves, and how to cleanly overtake a car. All things that you'd expect to learn at a driving school (and hence the Motor Academy suffix in the game title). How vital is all this? To be honest, not that much in terms of actual racing. While the precision that you need to display here may provide a great gaming challenge for the player, it only helps a small amount in terms of racecraft. It will help you get a feel for the awkward steering, and it does extend the life of the game if you are a compulsive collector of badges and gold trophies in a game, so for that extension Gameloft should be commended.
It's just not that exciting. If you head here first you'll work through the levels, but the long time to reload after each failed attempt will frustrate you, and you will need to reload some of the later challenges multiple times.
GT Racing does have some good elements. For all my negatives on the track design, the display of the graphics around the track doesn’t lag and the drawing distance (how far ahead of the car the graphics are processed) is long enough that there is never (for example) any empty space suddenly filled by a clock tower as you get closer.
The suspension on the car compressing, the tilting of the horizon as you screech round the circuits, the detail present in the cars, it all points to a graphics engine with a lot of promise.
It’s not perfect – the cars you drive against seem to be floating over the circuit rather than on the track and where they are pointing only bears a passing resemblance to their actual direction of travel, but as I’m already in “90’s Amiga mode” while playing GT Racing, this just adds to the retro charm (or looks horribly poor from a gaming perspective, you decide).
If there’s a GT Racing 2 at some point in 2011, I'd expect the developers to be more on top of Symbian and the niggles in the car control to be sorted out. I’d love to see the tracks reworked as well, but that might be too much to demand of the current graphics engine. So it’s a qualified thumbs up from me for GT Racing with a “workmanlike effort, could do better in the future” written in the margin.
-- Ewan Spence, Oct 2010.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at