Once in a while a game comes along that sets the standard for all other games in its genre. Grand Prix 4 (GP4), developed by MicroProse and Geoff Crammond is one such game.
GP4 was originally released in 2002. Its "no compromise" stance in the physics and graphics realism category meant many PCs were unable to play in full detail settings because of the game’s high CPU and GPU demands. Today, most if not all mid to high end gaming rigs can run this game on the maximum settings, and I think it’s fitting to introduce this wonderful feat of simulation gaming to the attention of the Meant to Be Seen S-3D community.
Due to its popularity, GP4 is updated regularly within the racing simulator modeling communities, and the current season of F1 cars and drivers is available free of charge for the casual and hardcore racer. You can race as Lewis Hamilton in his 2008 McLaren or as the 2007 F1 reigning champion Kimi Raikkonen in his superlative 2008 Ferrari prancing horse of a car.
After installing GP4, which is less than 700 MB in its full installation mode, you can go for a quick race at the default Silverstone racetrack (which I am going to visit for the first time in July this year with my son for the 2008 F1 championship round) with the leading British driver who at the time was David Coulthard. You don’t have to bother with a complicated car set-up and can get an instant feel by running the first three laps to see whether your investment was justified.
This is the fourth incarnation of the PC game, and the presentation (menus, cut scenes, etc.) has moved closer to the arcade console experience like the Grand Tourismo. It is a slick & stylish interface, and this has benefited the PC experience.
The aim of the game in single player mode against the computer is to begin as a rookie driver for one of the smaller F1 teams, and progress to be the world champion for one of the premier teams. To help you achieve this, you can practice by avoiding the championship career mode and going into any vehicle and using any driver to hone your skills from Rookie to Expert. I think this is where racing simulators tend to have the edge on console arcade racing experiences. For instance all aspects of the car set up are accessible in the animated graphical garage experience. Even the pit crew is now animated in 3-D polygons rather than the flat 2-D sprites of yesteryear. A problem with this is the garage user interface is only accessible from the in-car driver’s view and can only be manipulated with the LCD screen on the driver’s steering wheel. It’s not what I’m used to in other games, but not a deal breaker either.
Graphically this game is a tour de force and shows what is possible with four years of dedicated production time from a true racing enthusiast like Geoff Crammond. The car modeling was ahead of its time and still holds up six years later with the updates to the 2008 season racing cars by community modders. The track details have been painstakingly recreated from GPS data collected, and is said to be within three mm accuracy of the real thing.
The attention to detail, the photo realistic background and environmental representation gives Grand Prix 4 an authentic feel. The weather affects like rain, fog and diminishing light levels have to be seen to be believed. My favorite is the rain on your helmet visor, and the heat haze you see in your helmet when sitting on the grid. You can even get varying weather on the same track; raining and wet in one part of the lap, dry and sunny in another - awesome!
The one area where this game has limitations is that it doesn’t realistically represent real world issues like like visual tire degradation camber and accurate suspension modeling. It has been suggested that Geoff Crammond had wanted to include these improvements to his physics code modeling, but the publishers ordered the removal of this data as it would have kept the game from being main stream enough. It’s a shame because this could have been included as an option to switch on and off depending on your level of experience.
This limitation lead racing simulator fans to suggest that the overall physics model made the game too easy to play compared to its other rivals like "Live the Speed" and EA’s true comparative F1 Racing Simulator: "F1 2002". I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing - you just have to get used to this slightly overly grippy feel of the tires to the tarmac that some enthusiasts have compared to “driving on rails” when all the driving aids are on. The good news is these aids can be turned off one by one to achieve the level of accuracy you are after.
In multi-player mode, you just have to witness a corner accident to see how well GP4’s AI manipulates and corrects for the less experienced drivers who come unstuck and leave the more experienced drivers like the Schumacher’s of this world to take full advantage to press home their superiority by steering clear and accelerating effortlessly and mercilessly away from the incident.
Before I discuss the game from a stereoscopic 3D point of view, I would like to briefly explain what S-3D visuals can bring to a racing simulator. In a game where tenths, hundredths and thousandths of the second matter, it is advantageous to be able to judge a racing high speed corner apex, and this cannot be over emphasized. The S-3D aspects and truer sense of speed, breaking deceleration, and competitor proximity are what I will be looking for with my foray into S-3D racing simulators. I am also hoping to be able to use these parameters to judge flight simulators in future reviews.
Stereo Hardware / Driver Summary
My current system is an Intel Core2Duo D 805 (Socket 775) with 4GB DDR2 RAM (3GB seen by the OS), XP Pro SP3, and an NVIDIA 7900 GTX GPU. The NVIDIA Forceware 94.24 + 94.24 S-SD stereo drivers were used with LCD Shutterglasses.
Stereoscopic 3D Review
I must say that using shutter glasses had little to no impact on frame rate speeds and playability, a pleasant surprise indeed as this is my first foray into 3-D gaming. The feeling of distance and speed on the track from other vehicles was a pleasant visual surprise and added greatly to my accuracy in game play. With little or no practice I was starting to have an easier time hitting the apex “racing line” of my favorite tracks. This is a true validation of 3-D gaming in my opinion.
The other thing that impressed me was that the depth and richness of the colors, gamma, contracts and brightness didn’t take a hit when S-3D was switched on, something I didn’t expect as the above had suffered in another racing simulator game I used as comparison, namely GTR2.
For novices and experts, GP4 strikes a happy medium of providing a great experience in 2-D (and I hope in 3-D) PC racing simulation. With its improvements over the years it has come closer to being considered the benchmark for hardcore race car simulation fans because it is based on a solid foundation cemented from by its creator and architect Geoff Crammond. If you haven’t thought yourself a racing simulator type game player, I would recommend you dip your toe into the genre by trying this game - you won’t be disappointed.
While the iZ3D LLC drivers can’t support this game because it is too old, this game should work with the iZ3D and TDVision S-3D hardware solutions with the NVIDIA 94.24 stereo drivers by selecting the correct output solution.