Few sequels in the sim racing world have been as eagerly anticipated as GTR 2. The first game had so much potential, but in many regards failed to live up to it. It was warmly received by most, but looking back it could, and perhaps should, have been better. GTR 2 is somewhat similar in that it too has a few disappointing aspects. However, these are few compared to the original, resulting in a much more entertaining and less frustrating racing experience.
A Little History
When GTR 2002, the popular mod for EA’s Formula One series, was released back in 2002, it was praised and loved by nearly everyone who tried it. Yes, the platform it was based made online racing more of a headache than it should have been, but it was still an overwhelmingly great value given that it was, well, free. Then when the team of developers behind the mod turned SimBin into a commercial entity and announced GTR would be a standalone retail product, there was plenty of excitement from the fans about getting a polished and improved version of the same.
There was also plenty of animosity; plenty who felt jilted by the group having the balls to charge for something they’d previously given away for free. Despite that and despite the same sort of flaws when it came to online play, GTR was simply a great game and earned a lot of fans. So too is GTR 2, a game that delivers the same feel of being a part of the FIA-GT racing series, but does so with considerably more polished graphics, more well-rounded gameplay, and, finally, decent online playability.
On first glance, GTR 2 seems like a very minor upgrade to the original. And, in a lot of ways, it is. The game exclusively features cars and tracks from the 2003 and 2004 FIA GT series. This means a few new stars show up that were absent from the original game, like the TVR T400R and BMW M3GTR. A few new tracks are here as well, while most of the existing tracks featuring the same sort of track variations seen in GT Legends, meaning you can race Donington Park with or without the annoying hairpins.
This adds up to a total of 144 cars, almost twice that of the original game, and 34 total track variations. It’s a very good selection, but current fans of the FIA-GT series, or endurance racing in general, will be disappointed to find current series staple cars like the Aston Martin DBR-9 or the Corvette C6-R missing. Despite the newness of the game their absences can make it all feel a bit dated. It seems we’ll have to wait for a GTR game that covers more recent years for those to show up.
Nevertheless, the cars are gorgeous to behold and fun to drive. If after playing GTR the thought of the cars here being “fun to drive” strikes you as a little odd, you aren’t alone. For the most part, cars in GTR were, well, stressful to say the least, especially the higher-classed GT cars. They were great to push to the limit and were supremely fast, but cross that limit by a millimeter or two and you’d often as not find yourself off the track.
Contrary to what you might think would be realistic, it always seemed that in GTR the slower you were going the more likely you were to spin. That’s all very different here. Cars feel much more progressive and, especially at low speeds, are far less likely to swap ends on you. Whether this is an improvement or not depends on whether you liked GTR’s physics and, I suppose, how much seat time you have had in a real GT car.
I’ll be the first to confess that I have none, but I have pushed my street cars to and beyond the limit on closed courses many times and have spent plenty of time with dozens of sims, and while you could say that car handling in GTR 2 is less “hardcore” than has been seen in other sims, it makes for a very enjoyable game. Gamers who in the past may have had a hard time coming up to speed on a new track without getting beached on every other corner will now be able to complete clean laps much earlier. You still won’t be competitive right out of the box, but you can at least have some fun and actually participate in the race…instead of participating in a sand trap.
Of course, with a little setup tweaking you can make the cars as twitchy or muted as you like, and, with the returned functionality of posting and downloading online setups, if you have no idea where to begin it’s easy to get yourself a starting point. Anyone can post up any setup and now anyone can also review it and post their comments, so while it’s still somewhat slim pickings online at the moment, soon enough there should be a wealth of great setups to give you a starting point for an unfamiliar track or an unfamiliar car.
The big new online feature this year is the game’s hotlapping mode. Slightly improved since we looked at the beta earlier in the year, this mode makes the process of hotlapping much easier. No time spent on out-laps, no having to drop back to the telemetry to compare lines and braking points, and, perhaps most importantly, no having to go to somewhere like GTRank to figure out what a good time is and download a reference lap. Now you can quickly post your best times online for all to see, and download the competitions’ laps.
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite as well integrated as they are in a game like Project Gotham Racing 3 on the Xbox 360. There, your stats and times are updated and compared against the competition after every event. In GTR 2 you need to manually go and upload your lap. This is good in that you don’t have to suffer the shame you might feel should someone download a ghost lap of you spinning into the barrier. However, it also means there are many fewer laps online to compare yourself against.
That’s all well and good, but the question on many GTR gamers’ minds is “How’s the online play?” The report is both good and bad, but mostly good. The game supports just 28 players out of the box, even if you’re running in dedicated mode, and sadly there is no support for adding AI racers to online races or for swapping seats with other drivers in an online race. So, for the most part, the overall features of the game when it comes to online play are about the same, which is to say a little limited compared to more online focused titles like rFactor.
However, when it comes to how those features work, online performance is much improved compared to the original. In GTR it’d take some serious bandwidth to get a 28 player race online and actually playable, here it’s much more plausible. Racing online against opponents with pings in the high 100’s is remarkably smooth, to the point where close racing is possible and contact is handled as you might expect it to be. You can actually jump into some random 25 player online race and expect to have more fun than frustration. So, while the player count is somewhat of a limitation, overall the game is far more playable online, and far less frustrating.
Dynamic time changes and dynamic weather make for more playable race weekends, too. Adding the drama of unpredictable weather conditions to the overall stress of a simulated race weekend cranks the pressure of it all up a notch or two, and really makes for some interesting racing. Of course, if your hardware isn’t up to it rain can make for a nice slideshow too, but the game is actually surprisingly light on hardware.
No, your modest rig won’t be pushing 60 FPS in the rain with full reflections and weather effects turned on, but overall the game runs better than you might expect given the beautiful visuals it can produce. Reflections and highlighting and texturing are used to great effect here, resulting in some beautiful car models. Tracks also look good, better than before, but aren’t a huge step above what was seen in GTR. On the audio front it’s much the same as it ever was, all wrapped with occasionally more moody menu music.
GTR2 is a great game, a surprisingly solid update that many will enjoy, but some will still find reasons to dislike. The somewhat softened car handling alone results in a much more playable game out of the box, a more playable game that would-be hardcore simmers may treat with a bit of disdain. But, don’t be fooled by first impressions. The game has a lot to offer, both online and off, and those who might have been frustrated by the occasionally tricky nature of GTR should definitely give this one a go.
Is this a more realistic game? That’s hard to say. Is it a more fun? Absolutely.