Polyphony Digital is to Sony what Bungie is to Microsoft: a storied developer whose fans think it can do no wrong. As great as Halo 2 was, Bungie dropped the ball by not including an actual ending to that game. Likewise, as popular as the Gran Turismo series has been, particularly Gran Turismo 4, Polyphony Digital showed its fallibility by creating a less-than-spectacular motorcycle-racing offshoot: Tourist Trophy.
The easiest way to describe Tourist Trophy is “Gran Turismo with motorcycles.” That’s in part because the game uses the same graphics engine, in part because every course but one is ripped straight from Polyphony’s fourth automobile-racing game, and in part because, well, it’s Polyphony. The next Bungie game, even if it’s a platformer, is going to be referred to as “Halo with magical mushrooms and pipes.” It’s just the way things are.
In actuality, what’s disconcerting about Tourist Trophy is just how different the game truly is from Gran Turismo 4. The graphics, for instance, look decent but definitely show their age, with only the driver animations really standing out as “holy cow, that looked real.” The audio, too, is underwhelming, with a techno soundtrack that grates on you faster than the deafening whine of a rally car engine, and engine noises that (when in third-person, not “cockpit” view) echo so bad that it’s like Polyphony recorded them in a metal tube. Or went to the same audio school as the creators of Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus.
The biggest difference, though, and the only one that actually affects the gameplay, is the lack of vehicle customization, normally one of Gran Turismo’s calling cards. Like Gran Turismo, the number of racing vehicles (in this case, motorcycles) is astounding, with more than 120 bikes from which to choose. Unfortunately, you’ll find that you end up customizing your rider more than you do those 120-plus bikes, which goes against everything you’ve come to expect from a Polyphony Digital game.
In fact, customizing your rider is actually deeper than customizing the bikes, as you can determine not only your clothing and gear but your riding stance and leaning style. Such customizations affect your performance, which makes sense considering that braking and moving your weight effectively is more important when riding a motorcycle than when driving a car. But such weight movements are something you’d imagine could be accomplished via the DualShock’s triggers (which are underutilized) rather than by tweaking some “skill slider” for your rider. This would have opened the door to more motorcycle customization, which in turn would have invested gamers more in a bike that otherwise feels like a clone of the other dozen or so bikes in its class (125cc, 1,000cc, etc.). As it is, the mechanics of Tourist Trophy are like customizing your vehicle in a car-racing game not by tweaking your accelerator, but by telling the computer “my guy has a lead foot.” It just doesn’t make much sense.
It also doesn’t make much sense to have only four bikers in any one race, or to have those three opponents so concerned with racing the best line and getting the best possible time regardless of the competition. In games like MotoGP, for example, opponents would regularly try to jostle for position or keep you from taking the lead. In Tourist Trophy, they seem resigned to racing to the best of their “in a vacuum” abilities, and if you pass them, so be it. And it’s not like you can get any better competition online, as Tourist Trophy is offline only. At least it shares that with Gran Turismo 4.
Oddly enough, Tourist Trophy also shares something with one of Microsoft’s big racing games, Rallisport Challenge 2: the lack of much penalty for crashing. If you do a header into the wall in Tourist Trophy, or if you take a spill of grandiose proportions, you’ll get an appropriate time penalty as your character (inexplicably) gets up and brushes himself off. However, if you take just a minor spill there’s not only no time penalty whatsoever, but you’ll actually get a better line on the track once you’re re-placed. Consequently, crashing in Tourist Trophy can occasionally be your friend.
Tourist Trophy, for all these errors, isn’t entirely a bad game. It’s got decent graphics, passable gameplay, an Arcade and career (“Tourist Trophy”) mode, and more than enough “stuff” to keep motorcycle fans busy for days. But for truly great motorcycle racing, you’re just better off going with MotoGP instead. Now quit fooling around, Polyphony; bring on Gran Turismo 5.
- Gameplay: 6
- Realistic handling unless you hit the grass (glide city), but the lack of bike customization just seems odd. ANd what’s with the self-absorbed AI and lack of more than four racers?
- Graphics: 8
- It looks good in the replay and photo modes, but the in-game stuff shows its one-year-old engine’s age.
- Sound: 5
- A grating techno soundtrack complemented by the horrid echo of engines when in third-person view.
- Replay: 7
- There’s a lot of content in the game, but the lack of online play really hurts.
- Overall: 7
- It doesn’t live up to the Gran Turismo creators’ standards, and it doesn’t even live up to the standards of the best motorcycle racing games on this generation of hardware.
— Jonas Allen