Reviewed: May 16, 2006
Released: April 4, 2006
I thought I was going to get off easy with my review of Tourist Trophy: The Real Riding Simulator by simply copying my Gran Turismo 4 review and replacing the word “car” with “motorcycle”. The games are certainly identical enough that my nefarious plan would have worked except for one small hiccup – I never reviewed GT4!
Polyphony Digital doesn’t make a lot of games and with the exception of their 1999 shooter, Omega Boost, Tourist Trophy is the only other game that doesn’t have “Gran Turismo” somewhere in the title. When a company shows this much focus on a genre you expect them to be experts and this expertise has certainly carried over into the sub-genre of motorcycle racing.
There are plenty of racing games out there for the PS2, although motorcycle racing isn’t as popular and seldom seems to get the “sim” treatment with the rare exception of Namco’s MotoGP series. The last time we saw that game was in 2003 although there is a fourth installment coming later this summer. But why wait for what may be when Tourist Trophy is ready to challenge you with all the intricacies of two-wheel racing, Gran Turismo style.
Personally, I ride off-road MX (not competitively – just for fun) and I also own a Ninja ZX-6R, which just so happens to be one of the 132 bikes from 12 manufacturers included in Tourist Trophy. It took me almost as long to get the bike in the game as it did in real life, but now that I have it, it certainly is fun to do things on my PS2 I would never try in the real world.
Tourist Trophy will certainly have you flashing back to your GT4 racing days. Not only is the format and menus laid out just like GT4, many of the 35 international race tracks are taken from that franchise as well. This has mixed rewards in that you might already be familiar with some of the tracks, but motorcycles handle very differently from the cars you may have already mastered on those same circuits.
From the main menu your options are limited to one of two possible game modes. Arcade mode allows you to select from the available tracks, bikes, and difficulty level and race for fun, while the Challenge mode is where you will be spending most of your single-player career days racing. Thankfully, you can adjust the difficulty down a notch in arcade mode, but even at the lowest setting the game is painfully realistic.
Much like GT4 you will start off with the standard licensing tests learning how to accelerate, turn, and brake. Tests start off on a scooter you would be embarrassed to be seen riding, then you move onto the larger bikes ranging from 250cc up through the monster 1500cc engine class. As you earn your licenses new events open up for that class allowing you to race and best your previous times in the Time Trial mode.
The career mode isn’t as complex as GT4, and once you get the necessary licenses you can probably finish the entire game with four or five bikes of various classes. You’ll earn plenty of cash during the career that you can spend on all sorts of official clothing, gear, and if you wish, new bikes.
There is also a garage to tweak the various attributes of your bike, but these are built-in statistics like braking, acceleration, and gear ratios. There is no parts shop or upgrade system in place, and you must work within the limitations of each bike. This lack of customization can make it hard to identify or appreciate the wide variety of bikes included in this title, at least from a visual standpoint.
Anyone who has played a GT game can confirm that Polyphony knows their physics, and nothing has been lost in going from four wheels to two. If anything, the game has gotten considerably harder as it should. Racing motorcycles, whether on professional circuits or street courses is serious and dangerous, requiring plenty of repetitive training and rider skill.
The one big drawback for Tourist Trophy is that while you can use the fantastic Logitech Driving Force Pro it just doesn’t feel right riding a bike with a steering wheel. Maybe somebody can make a good handlebar controller, but I doubt I would trust anybody other than Logitech to do it right and this title is probably not going to be big enough to warrant its own piece of hardware.
Playing Tourist Trophy with the Dual Shock is pretty accurate. There is great analog movement for steering and the buttons are pressure sensitive for gas and brake. Both the controls and the physics engine work together to create a totally realistic simulation that might scare away fans of the more arcade MX racing games. Independent braking and manual shifting are intuitive, and practically a necessity for achieving the best lap times.
What surprised me the most was how accurately weight and acceleration were calculated. Going from the nimble training scooter to a 900cc racing bike, you can practically feel the weight of the bike in the Dual Shock. Each time you switch-up bikes there is a nominal learning curve as you test the limits of turning and braking.
As previously mentioned, most of the courses in Tourist Trophy are taken from GT4 with a few unique tracks thrown in specifically for motorcycle racing. It’s not as cheap as it might seem since MotoGP and F1 share a lot of the same tracks in real life.
Tourist Trophy allows for two racers using split-screen only – sorry, still no online racing. The Photo mode is back from GT4 and you can take screenshots and save them to memory card or even print them off on a USB printer directly from the PS2.
If you played GT4 then you know exactly what to expect from Tourist Trophy. The tracks and environments all use the same engine and look fantastic. The support for 480p and 1080i high definition modes remains and if you have an HDTV you won’t believe your eyes. Tourist Trophy borderlines on reality; especially during the replays.
The menu system is still as clever as GT4 although not nearly as complex. It’s slightly annoying that the game must switch to 480i each time you go from gameplay to menu. I’ve almost gotten used to the clicking and resolution label that appears in my TV’s top corner after every race.
Bike fanatics will really appreciate the subtle details that went into creating these exquisite bike models. You can check them out from a variety of exterior racing cameras but when it comes times to race you will certainly want to play from the amazing cockpit view where you are treated to full instrument packages and working rear-view mirrors. The sense of speed can be quite overwhelming.
Some of the best camera angles are the ones that are impossible to race from, so you will definitely want to check out your race using the excellent instant replay feature. This replay feature is also tied into the Photo Mode so you can let the computer scan your replay and capture “what it thinks” are the best moments from the race. You might be surprised at just how good its picks are. Photos are stored as 1280x960 images and you can save them to the memory card or a USB memory stick and transfer to your PC if you like.
Much like GT4, Tourist Trophy’s sound presentation is pretty much a bunch of engine noises. Naturally, motorcycles are a bit more whiny than racecars so it’s a bit different but not much. There is a definite distinction between the engine classes and when you get multiple bikes together, especially all racing down the backstretch, there is an interesting harmonizing quality to the sound.
The soundtrack is outstanding, much more diverse than GT4 with plenty of techno and alternative tracks that you probably haven’t heard before. It’s perfect racing music and you can even purchase the soundtrack on CD, which might be the only way you can hear the music unless you tweak the mixing options and lower the engine sounds.
The Dolby Pro Logic II mix provides a rich 3D soundscape that allows you to hear bikes coming up behind you and even tell which side they are on. This can be useful if you are playing in a camera view that doesn’t have rear-view mirrors.
Tourist Trophy isn’t nearly as long as GT4, from a gameplay standpoint or as a collector. 132 bikes doesn’t come close to the 700 cars of GT4 and you’ll only need a handful of bikes to finish the various racing classes in the Challenge mode. Expect 30-40 hours of solid racing action and possibly a few more on top of that for some split-screen multiplayer. Online racing would have added greatly but I guess we have to wait for PS3 for that.
Tourist Trophy: The Real Riding Simulator lives up to its name – this is the “real deal” and until MotoGP 4 comes along this game stands alone as the definitive motorcycle racing simulation. We get all the same great physics and real-world handling that we’ve come to expect from Polyphony Digital combined with the challenging nuances of racing on two wheel instead of four.
Keep in mind, this is not an arcade racer, so if you are used to forgiving physics and performing fancy stunts and combos off of half pipes and jumps then stay far away, but if you are looking for the ultimate in crotch-rocket racing, Tourist Trophy will give you the ride of your life.