Saturday, February 5, 2011

GT racing 97

When I was a kid, I used to look through my parents's computer magazines for anything interesting. Most of the stuff was modems, connectors and all kinds of things I didn't care about until I started studying computer sciences. The thing I sought were the advertisements for game and game hardware dealers. For hours I would look for the best joystick and a game that would go with it. One of the games that always returned in every advertisement was GT racing '97. I didn't care about it and thus I never got to play it until a couple of weeks ago.

Just a man, his car and the somewhat open road...
GT racing '97 is a racing game created and published by Atari in 1996 in that period when they were called Infogrames. Where I live it was later re-released by Dice computergames as a budget-title. The game let you race a car that looked not unlike the hottest racecars from the 90's, with the difference that they couldn't licence the name. So, they let you drive an existing sportscar with a slightly warped name (like calling a Lamborghini Diablo 'the Devil') as if you are driving a cheap Chinese knock-off. They introduced a 3 point damage system which let you damage your tires when you drifted, your chassis when you crashed and your engine when you... did... stuff... 'kay I don't know how I could damage the engine, because it kept up the whole tournament without having to fix it. As expected, you could race tournaments where you had to fix your car in-between races as if you were participating in a rally all over the world. The tracks varied from everything in Europe to some tracks on the American continents. It's all nice varied and to be honest fun enough for me to play it.

I didn't play this game when I was a kid, so as an experienced adult I had no hard time getting through the game. I finished it with the difficulty to easy and didn't bother for another tournament afterwards. The game gives you a chuckle when you crash and explode, but that's the most fun you can get from it. When you get the car up to speed, which is after 2 seconds, the engine will stay in this one tone which will penetrate your ears for the coming 3 minutes it takes you to finish the track. The racing is monotone and mostly awkward to play. I quickly got the idea why I saw this game in so much advertisements back then: they couldn't sell it to anyone and were left with heaps of surplus discs.

Just one of those days in Stunts... You're off to
work and then suddenly: loopings!
The reason I chose this game to write about on this blog is because in its essence it is the embodiment of the transition games were going through in the late nineties. In plain English: This game failed for a very good reason. In the nineties, games were shifting from 2D to 3D, which had its greatest impact on racing games. The biggest hurdle for the player in racing games is taking corners. In 2D racing games it was a matter of speed if you could take a corner, but your car would always point with its nose in the way of the curve. This was because it was very hard to draw a car turning on a track when looking from behind. There were top-down racing games where you could turn, but these had the problem that you couldn't always see what was coming.

Lotus at its best: Multiplayer!
When 3D came along everything (turning and seeing what was coming towards you) suddenly was possible at the same time. There were already succesfull 3D racing games as early as 1990 like the popular stunts, but the 3D usually included a kind of graphics that were not particularly easy on the eye. As seen in another popular racing title, Lotus from 1992, other designers still preferred the 2D engines.

As a comparison, the layout does look like a 2D
racing game
The peculiar thing about GT racing '97 is that, although it is 3D, it has the layout of a 2D racer. You can't really spin your car (although you can turn and drive back), drifting has only use for damaging your tires and scenery tends to just pop up and repeat itself. It makes itself even more classicly oriented by adding a lives system to the mix and by giving the cars funny names. By 1997 Need for Speed 2 already came out, which was way more realistic than GT racing '97. GT gave us a nice laugh about an age gone by, but NFS2 already heralded what was to come. To be honest, even though its publisher has become evil, I prefer the latter approach.

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