Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4
The wait for Grand Prix 3 was unbearable. Grand Prix 2 had been hailed as the top Formula 1 since 1996 and fans of the series had to wait until the summer of 2000 for the series to be updated. Of course as most of you will know, the third instalment in the series let a lot of people down. It was by no means a bad game it's just that it failed to improve on so many things and had a hybrid 2D/3D game engine that already looked out of date. A host of bugs also spoilt the experience. The 2000 season expansion disk sorted a lot of the problems out and the disappointment of Grand Prix 3 soon subsided when it was announced that Grand Prix 4 was going to hit the shops in 2002, there would be no four year wait this time.
Grand Prix 4 comes with a completely updated game engine, all the tracks, which have been modelled using GPS data for total accuracy, teams and drivers from the 2001 season. For the first time in the Grand Prix series we have a fully animated pit crew that look far better than the static ones that were used in the prequels. The AI has also been improved and unlike Grand Prix 3 the AI drivers don't barge you off the road at every opportunity. All in all, on paper at least the game seems like it's a big step forward for the series but after extended play a few of the old problems rear their ugly heads.
When you head out on to the track for the first time you'll notice that despite all the cars having the correct body shape in Grand Prix 4 you're still stuck with the artificial looking steering wheel. Surely when other F1 sims have the official steering wheels you would think that Grand Prix 4 would have too. Still this is only an aesthetic problem and one that won't bother the casual gamer. The new 3D engine is rather more cause for concern. Whereas Grand Prix 3 run fairly well on a modest specification PC, Grand Prix 4 requires at least a 1GHz CPU and a decent graphics card to turn on most features. Even with this specification a wet weather race will bring the frame rate insanely low at a modest resolution of 800x600. Clearly there was no optimisations made to the game engine. Only the owners of the latest CPUs can hope to run the game at the high resolutions with all the graphical niceties turned on.
The Grand Prix series was supposed to represent the hallmark of authenticity for grand prix fans. To be fair to Grand Prix 4 it still has the indescribable aura about it that other F1 sims don't have but some elements of the gameplay have pandered to the casual gamer rather than the F1 fanatic. The Stop & Go penalty which requires a driver to pull into the pits and remain stationary for 10 seconds has been poorly implemented. Instead of pulling into the pits your speed is reduced temporarily before resuming it's normal status. This is farcical as it is possible to cut corners and not be punished to the extent that you normally would.
If you happen to be using Windows XP then you're in for another treat. Stability in Windows XP is suspect to say the least. I've had frequent crashes back to the desktop. From quick scans of fan websites and forums I can see that I'm not alone in this. Apparently though the game is stable on any other flavour of Windows (98/Me/2000). This wouldn't be so bad but Windows XP is listed on the box as being compatible with the game.
The game's interface has been improved somewhat and is slightly less awkward than the prequels. A nice touch this time around is the inclusion of the GPaedia which is a kind of inbuilt help system that explains how to setup a car properly and other F1 aspects that non-fanatics might not know about.
The game doesn't represent a problem for deaf gamers. There are some FMVs in the GPaedia but the scrollable text alongside the FMV is word for word with the verbal content in the FMV. Unfortunately the radio messages that you receive whilst driving are not subtitled but given the nature of the game it would have been difficult to read text and drive at the same time. We can't comment on the value of the force feedback because as yet we don't have a force feedback wheel. We hope to rectify this situation soon and will add an additional comment onto the review.
Should you buy Grand Prix 4 given the negative comments we have made? Well if you are a fan of the series and have a powerful enough PC then I would say yes. If you a F1 nut then I would say yes as despite it's shortcomings it still has that certain something that other titles don't have. However if you only have a modest PC or just like driving games in general then the answer isn't quite so clear cut.
Overall Game Rating: 6.7/10 Grand Prix 4 disappointingly doesn't move the series forward much at all. It is fractionally better than GP3 but the series is showing it's age and Mr Crammond needs to breath fresh life into what is growing into a stale series.
Deaf Gamers comment: The game is OK for deaf gamers but the radio messages are not subtitled.