Full Review: Gran Turismo Light: Half the graphics, 80% of the gameplay.
You've gotta admit that trying to deliver a quality racing game on the PlayStation 2 has a rather steep climb to overcome. When you take into consideration that the greatest pure racing simulation ever, Gran Turismo 3, is still selling like hotcakes and wowing new PS2 owners nearly 3 months after release, it's quite intimidating for sure to try and steal a bit of the spotlight hogged by GT3. And despite that Infogrames has given it a try, delivering an enhanced version of Melbourne House's exceptional Dreamcast racer LeMans 24 Hours (known as Test Drive LeMans on DC). No, it's not Gran Turismo 3. Nothing really can be. GT3 is in a league all its own. However as a stand-alone game, LeMans 24 hours is a very enjoyable racing game that is so feature packed with tracks and unlockable cars, it'll keep you busy for some time. Getting past the obviously dated graphics may be tough for eye candy fans, but those willing to forgive that flaw will find a racing game that is well worth spending 50 dollars on.
The name of the game with LeMans is unlocking ? unlocking new tracks and unlocking new cars. With every single one-player mode available, successfully completing the objectives will result in something new to play with. And there's plenty of various places to spend your time ? you can just go for a quick one time only race (wherein you can unlock more and more tracks to race on), a time trial mode (where getting the highest score will unlock new goodies), a championship mode a la Gran Turismo, complete with some grueling endurance races, and the all out LeMans championship, where you can race up to 24(!) hours at a time at the famous LeMans racetrack. If you can't handle 24 straight hours (however, please note you can save your game at every pit stop. If they didn't allow to save and take a breather I'm pretty sure there would be a few tad irritated customers knocking some doors down), you can race a 10, 24, or 240 minute shortened version of that race. Or, you can do the Petit LeMans, held at the famous Road Atlanta track in (well gee, take a guess here) Atlanta, Georgia, in increments of 10, 20, 100 minutes, or the all out 10 hour real thing.
There are tons of tracks ? most have 2 or 3 variations and different branches, but they are all very different. They're all real world too ? the afore mentioned Road Atlanta and LeMans, along with other real tracks like Donington and Suzuka. Unfortunately there is no Laguna Seca track ? that would have been quite the entertaining trip through hell itself.
As mentioned, beating the various modes unlocks brand new cars to race as ? adding, almost forcing replay. At the start you only start out with a handful of real world cars ? from Chrysler Vipers (in this game anyway, remember it's Australian, they do stuff different) to more exotic open-air machines. Eventually you get to unlock beasts like the Mazda 787B and Nissan R390 (known as Nissan R390 LM in GT3, with LM meaning LeMans, of course), along with many, many more. Most may not be recognizable to most casual race fans, but they're all the real deal.
Needless to say, there is lots to see and lots to do ? plenty to keep the hardcore racing fan satisfied for a long while. Adding in the unlockable cars and unlockable tracks creates a need to play through the entire game and unlock each and every car and track. Considering you need to complete the long endurance races, you'll be putting in well over 70 hours to complete every last thing and get a full 100 percent of the game finished (which is tracked in the options under progress). That is depth to challenge even the mighty Gran Turismo.
Of course, all this would be for naught if the game played poorly. Thankfully, this is not the case. For one, the control is completely spot on. Each car handles differently, even the various Vipers handle in some cases seem unique. However, the main theme is, controlling each vehicle is a breeze, reacting quickly to every press of either the analog stick or the old-skool d-pad. And by default LeMans offers a pair of ways to accelerate and brake ? the usual PS style, or the Dreamcast style of using the R and L triggers. Unfortunately it's very uncomfortable to use the trigger buttons, rendering the use of the normal buttons as the only real way to race with precision. Besides that, the controls are extremely pleasing and intuitive.
The challenge level is high ? yet also customizable. If you're really bad at driving, you can have it set where you'll have computer assisted braking and steering, as well as a lower level of AI skill. You can mix and match between the settings for optimal challenge and enjoyment. However the AI cars are really smart ? they don't run in a straight line, and will fight and bump you for position, and may even shove you off the road into the grass or dirt.
This game is not a true simulation, like Gran Turismo. It's a split between a sim and an arcade game. What that means is, while the strategy required borders on the simulation (and actually a bit more realistic than GT3), the game feels much less of a serious, demanding racing simulation. There's less penalty for messing up on a turn, and the cars seem a bit more drifty than true-to-life. This is not a bad thing however, because you still need to know how to drive a car, and those GT3 skills will come quite in handy for timing your turns properly, as well as finding the right racing line.
A lot of the challenge comes from strategy and preparation ? if you don't get things set properly, there's a chance you could make mistakes. Even before a race, you will be able to set a few parameters for success, such as the type of engine (for either sprints or endurance races, or a balanced, in-the-middle version), amount of fuel, and the type of tires (which can be decided on based on the weather).
And inside the races, that strategy will come into play when it's time to pit. Unlike GT3, LeMans has a small little addition ? fuel gauges. While you might be able to race through the game without changing your tires (but it's extremely hard, because turning becomes incredibly sloppy, especially in the rain), you will not be able to go through a 10-lap race without getting refueled. If you don't, you're in trouble. This adds in an element of planning against the computer ? do you pit in before they do, and let them get ahead, yet take the lead when they pit, or pit after them and risk being caught up to? That decision can mean the difference between winning and losing in a lot of cases. It's that mental game, along with the racing, that makes LeMans so great. After all, a racing game can get awfully tiring if it's just too easy to smoke through the races without thinking (*cough* Ridge Racer *cough*). Mixing in the element of planning, as like Gran Turismo 3, makes LeMans quite a fun game to play. This especially rings true in the endurance LeMans races, which are not based upon position against other cars, but how many laps you run around the track. But if you don't plan pits properly, you run the risk of blowing the race.
LeMans 24 Hours' weakest element is visuals. While they are not extremely poor (actually in some elements they are really, really nice), they are definitely below average and don't come close to matching the power of the PlayStation 2. The car models are nice enough, and the track designs are really nice (but they are real tracks so that's not surprising), but the whole thing just screams ?blah? most of the time. The colors are rather washed out, and most of the detail is completely lacking. And there is a lot of jagged edges that are extremely noticeable, even when racing around at 200 miles an hour. Normally I'd say if you see the jagged edges while racing, you aren't really playing the game, but in this case they stick out like a sore thumb.
There are bright spots that are extremely nice ? like the weather. The weather can change during the races, even if it is only rain. But the effects are really cool ? the harder it rains, the worse the visibility; making turns almost impossible if you are unsure of the track. And other times, the lighting of the sun creates a cool reflection off your car, and can even get in your eyes while driving! Also, the day to night change (during the LeMans races) is handled exceptionally well. Instead of it just being ?there? all of a sudden, the backdrop slowly shifts, with evening dusk, to pitch black, and eventually the sun rising. It's done very well. Though when you run the 10-minute LeMans race, it all happens within 5 minutes, to speed up the way it normally goes in the full 24 hour marathon.
The overall best visual element, however, is the pit crews. LeMans 24 Hours has a fully working pit crew, and it's really well done. Unlike Gran Turismo 3, where the pitting just ?happens?, you can see the entire process happen while you wait. The detailed crews fill your ride with gasoline, then pop off your tires and put new ones on, and send you off. While it's sort of useless eye-candy, it's really cool and adds to the realism value, something not even GT3 can claim.
As for sounds, there's a lot to be desired here as well. The music that plays throughout the races is that drab, repetitive techno-stuff that everyone thinks is perfect for racing cars. A couple of the beats are pretty nice ? especially the one that sounds like the theme from Knight Rider. But besides that, the music is laughably forgettable. The effects are your usual engine noises ? they vary from car to car, but are largely not really noticed or memorable. The roar of the crowd when you race past the rafters is neat, however.
While graphically un-impressive (save for the really nice things snuck in), LeMans 24 Hours is an exceptional racing game. There's plenty of challenge, depth, and mental games to be had, giving you plenty of replay value. If Gran Turismo 3 had not been released, LeMans 24 would be the best racing game on PlayStation 2. Don't let the graphics hinder your decision to purchase ? because in this case, it's unwise to judge a book by its cover.