Tourist Trophy – A Comprehensive Gaming Review

When it comes to Sony-exclusive developers, there is one in particular who has been at the forefront of gaming almost since its first game was released on the PlayStation. Polyphony Digital, developer of the Gran Turismo series of driving simulators, has been one of the most successful developers in the computer gaming market for years, over several different platforms. While the company rose to success by focusing on automotive racing, in 2006, Polyphony Digital decided to take up the challenge of simulating another type of racing.

Tourist Trophy focuses on motorcycle racing, a sport which the Japanese are particularly renowned for, particularly in the development and manufacturing of motorcycles. Most of the game’s 135 motorcycles come from Japanese manufacturers like Honda and Suzuki, but European and American manufacturers have some representation in the form of manufacturers such as Triumph, Ducati and Buell.

The game is built on the same engine as Gran Turismo 4, which gives a characteristically authentic feel to all aspects of the gameplay. While the game engine may be a bit too forgiving and altogether too modelled around traction control and stability management to be called entirely realistic, it’s accessible while not compromising too much on accuracy. Tourist Trophy manages to demonstrate the differences between two motorcycles of different characteristics, from the acceleration to the weight of the motorcycle, and overall gives a good perspective on what it would be like to ride a real racing motorcycle.

Of course, riding a motorcycle is not comparable to driving a car – with controls in significantly different places and the necessity to lean into the turn rather than turning a wheel, a vastly different presentation is required to accurately depict motorcycle racing. Fortunately, the GT4 engine proves capable of presenting the differences between cars and motorcycles, allowing you to imagine every shift of weight of the virtual rider. The game also gives a lot of customisation into how the virtual rider shifts weight, from MotoGP-style “knee-to-the-ground” leaning to more shallow road-style riding style. All of this gives a racing model which doesn’t unduly punish beginners, but which rewards the people willing to put effort into the game.

Like the Gran Turismo series, the game has two separate game modes, with the Arcade Mode presenting quick racing action with the available motorcycles, and the Tourist Trophy Mode, where the real substance of the game is contained. Also as in the Gran Turismo games, the objective is to pass licence tests which are aimed at improving the skills of starting players, which will enable you to unlock new motorcycles and compete in races.

Unlike the often-maligned licence tests in Gran Turismo, you’ll probably need the extra bit of training before they can become successful at Tourist Trophy, as the action of motorcycle racing isn’t necessarily intuitive to the neophyte. Thankfully, there are fewer licences to acquire than in Gran Turismo 4, and fewer licence tests per individual licence, which accelerates the gameplay somewhat and allows you to get into the business of acquiring motorcycles and winning races more quickly.

It’s when it comes to the business of collecting motorcycles that Tourist Trophy diverges most from its automotive cousins. Instead of receiving money for winning races, the game has the Challenge Mode, where most of the motorcycles in the game are acquired. In the Challenge Mode, the player is pitted against comparable motorcycles, and has to make up a gap of several seconds in an attempt to overtake them for a given period of time.

It’s a pity that Polyphony Digital didn’t use the same money-based system as they did in their preceding games. While the Challenge Mode gives the player a chance to experience their motorcycles before they use them in the races, it removes the feeling of personalisation that was present in the Gran Turismo games, where you really had to choose their cars carefully in order to avoid wasting money and where you would feel rewarded as they progressed to more and more powerful cars. With the Challenge Mode system, it ends up just being a case of choosing the quickest motorcycle in a given class which best suits your riding style. Only those desperate to collect all of the motorcycles are really going to be rewarded by persisting with the less powerful or less race-suited motorcycles.


Motorcycles like this Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R will be your mainstays during the game.

Nevertheless, the Challenge Mode can be very good fun, with some of the head-to-head battles being very enjoyable and challenging indeed. Because you compete against motorcycles of approximately equivalent capabilities, you never end up storming into the lead because of your superior power, and it rewards skill and accurate cornering.

Once you win motorcycles in the Challenge Mode, you can then compete in race series, most of them having vastly different entry requirements. It’s nice to see that the developers have taken some steps to prevent the situation found in some races in the Gran Turismo series, where you can simply purchase an car far ahead of the competition and storm into the lead by virtue of your car rather than your skill. Unfortunately, despite the game being dominated by road bikes, there are only four racing series out of twenty-two which allow the use of road bikes, leaving the vast majority of the machines in the game useless for anything outside of Arcade Mode.

The actual racing action is a lot of fun, as challenging as the head-to-head battles in the Challenge Mode, but the limitations of the PlayStation 2 just serve to diminish the impressive technical details of the racing itself. Racing-model bike races are limited to four bikes in a game at any one time, while the road bike races are merely head-to-head battles, just like the Challenge Mode, but with the potential of having a faster bike than the competition, which really removes some of the difficulty and requirement for skill in the few road-bike races there are. The limitations really seem rather ridiculous, and it negates some of the challenge of winding around rivals and backmarkers.

Perhaps the limitations are thanks to the graphics of the game, which like Gran Turismo 4, are sensational for a PlayStation 2 game. Having to simulate the rider in addition to the complex motorcycle models adds strain to an already-overworked system, and one can imagine that any more motorcycles in a race would have compromised smooth gameplay. Indeed, there are some very impressive graphical details, and the motorcycles don’t look far removed from their real-life forms. The graphics aren’t as consistent as they were in GT4, though; the over-the-handlebars view, which is really the only way to play the game accurately, is a nice addition to the game, but suffers from blocky textures lacking anti-aliasing, with low-resolution shots of the speedometers and rev counters and mirrors which don’t operate whatsoever.


The underwhelming handlebar graphics contrast badly in-game to the more impressive scenery.

The number of bikes in a race isn’t the only thing that’s been compromised in Tourist Trophy. Instead of the impressive and substantial number of options available to Gran Turismo players for tuning their cars, Tourist Trophy gives you only a few rudimentary set-up options, and no upgrade options at all for any bikes. Again, the personalisation and customisation of vehicle choices has been diminished, to the detriment of players who played the GT games for the ability to make a standard car into a fire-breathing racing machine.

As well as that, the multiplayer not only has a limit of two players, with no provisions for online play, but also limits the players to racing-model motorcycles. The graphics take a massive turn for the worse, looking about as good as the poor-resolution handlebar models all over the track. It’s hard to see why the addition of another player into the equation would cause the graphics to take such a drop in quality, particularly as this wasn’t an issue in Gran Turismo 4. It’s apparent that this was a secondary concern for the developers, and more than anything else, just looks hacked together.

Having said all of this, Tourist Trophy is not a bad game. The technical achievements of managing to simulate motorcycle dynamics as well as automotive dynamics must be commended, and the racing is both challenging and fun. However, the game often feels like a technical demonstration, more like a test-bed for future games than a stand-alone project. If this is the case, a Tourist Trophy game on the PlayStation 3, with more motorcycles per race, improved graphics, more races for road-based motorcycles and a generally improved presentation could be a fantastic game. Until then, though, Tourist Trophy is merely good – and limited.

Bottom Line: A superb technical demonstration let down somewhat by the limitations of the PlayStation 2. Feels compromised in a lot of areas, but still a fun game.

 

When it comes to Sony-exclusive developers, there is one in particular who has been at the forefront of gaming almost since its first game was released on the PlayStation. Polyphony Digital, developer of the Gran Turismo series of driving simulators, has been one of the most successful developers in the computer gaming market for years, over several different platforms. While the company rose to success by focusing on automotive racing, in 2006, Polyphony Digital decided to take up the challenge of simulating another type of racing.

Tourist Trophy focuses on motorcycle racing, a sport which the Japanese are particularly renowned for, particularly in the development and manufacturing of motorcycles. Most of the game’s 135 motorcycles come from Japanese manufacturers like Honda and Suzuki, but European and American manufacturers have some representation in the form of manufacturers such as Triumph, Ducati and Buell.

The game is built on the same engine as Gran Turismo 4, which gives a characteristically authentic feel to all aspects of the gameplay. While the game engine may be a bit too forgiving and altogether too modelled around traction control and stability management to be called entirely realistic, it’s accessible while not compromising too much on accuracy. Tourist Trophy manages to demonstrate the differences between two motorcycles of different characteristics, from the acceleration to the weight of the motorcycle, and overall gives a good perspective on what it would be like to ride a real racing motorcycle.

Of course, riding a motorcycle is not comparable to driving a car – with controls in significantly different places and the necessity to lean into the turn rather than turning a wheel, a vastly different presentation is required to accurately depict motorcycle racing. Fortunately, the GT4 engine proves capable of presenting the differences between cars and motorcycles, allowing you to imagine every shift of weight of the virtual rider. The game also gives a lot of customisation into how the virtual rider shifts weight, from MotoGP-style “knee-to-the-ground” leaning to more shallow road-style riding style. All of this gives a racing model which doesn’t unduly punish beginners, but which rewards the people willing to put effort into the game.

Like the Gran Turismo series, the game has two separate game modes, with the Arcade Mode presenting quick racing action with the available motorcycles, and the Tourist Trophy Mode, where the real substance of the game is contained. Also as in the Gran Turismo games, the objective is to pass licence tests which are aimed at improving the skills of starting players, which will enable you to unlock new motorcycles and compete in races.

Unlike the often-maligned licence tests in Gran Turismo, you’ll probably need the extra bit of training before they can become successful at Tourist Trophy, as the action of motorcycle racing isn’t necessarily intuitive to the neophyte. Thankfully, there are less licences to acquire than in Gran Turismo 4, and less licence tests per individual licence, which accelerates the gameplay somewhat and allows you to get into the business of acquiring motorcycles and winning races more quickly.

It’s when it comes to the business of collecting motorcycles that Tourist Trophy diverges most from its automotive cousins. Instead of receiving money for winning races, the game has the Challenge Mode, where most of the motorcycles in the game are acquired. In the Challenge Mode, the player is pitted against comparable motorcycles, and has to make up a gap of several seconds in an attempt to overtake them for a given period of time.

It’s a pity that Polyphony Digital didn’t use the same money-based system as they did in their preceding games. While the Challenge Mode gives the player a chance to experience their motorcycles before they use them in the races, it removes the feeling of personalisation that was present in the Gran Turismo games, where you really had to choose their cars carefully in order to avoid wasting money and where you would feel rewarded as they progressed to more and more powerful cars. With the Challenge Mode system, it ends up just being a case of choosing the quickest motorcycle in a given class which best suits your riding style. Only those desperate to collect all of the motorcycles are really going to be rewarded by persisting with the less powerful or less race-suited motorcycles.

Motorcycles like this Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R will be your mainstays during the game.

Nevertheless, the Challenge Mode can be very good fun, with some of the head-to-head battles being very enjoyable and challenging indeed. Because you compete against motorcycles of approximately equivalent capabilities, you never end up storming into the lead because of your superior power, and it rewards skill and accurate cornering.

Once you win motorcycles in the Challenge Mode, you can then compete in race series, most of them having vastly different entry requirements. It’s nice to see that the developers have taken some steps to prevent the situation found in some races in the Gran Turismo series, where you can simply purchase an car far ahead of the competition and storm into the lead by virtue of your car rather than your skill. Unfortunately, despite the game being dominated by road bikes, there are only four racing series out of twenty-two which allow the use of road bikes, leaving the vast majority of the machines in the game useless for anything outside of Arcade Mode.

The actual racing action is a lot of fun, as challenging as the head-to-head battles in the Challenge Mode, but the limitations of the PlayStation 2 just serve to diminish the impressive technical details of the racing itself. Racing-model bike races are limited to four bikes in a game at any one time, while the road bike races are merely head-to-head battles, just like the Challenge Mode, but with the potential of having a faster bike than the competition, which really removes some of the difficulty and requirement for skill in the few road-bike races there are. The limitations really seem rather ridiculous, and it negates some of the challenge of winding around rivals and backmarkers.

Perhaps the limitations are thanks to the graphics of the game, which like Gran Turismo 4, are sensational for a PlayStation 2 game. Having to simulate the rider in addition to the complex motorcycle models adds strain to an already-overworked system, and one can imagine that any more motorcycles in a race would have compromised smooth gameplay. Indeed, there are some very impressive graphical details, and the motorcycles don’t look far removed from their real-life forms. The graphics aren’t as consistent as they were in GT4, though; the over-the-handlebars view, which is really the only way to play the game accurately, is a nice addition to the game, but suffers from blocky textures lacking anti-aliasing, with low-resolution shots of the speedometers and rev counters and mirrors which don’t operate whatsoever.

The underwhelming handlebar graphics contrast badly in-game to the more impressive scenery.

The number of bikes in a race isn’t the only thing that’s been compromised in Tourist Trophy. Instead of the impressive and substantial number of options available to Gran Turismo players for tuning their cars, Tourist Trophy gives you only a few rudimentary set-up options, and no upgrade options at all for any bikes. Again, the personalisation and customisation of vehicle choices has been diminished, to the detriment of players who played the GT games for the ability to make a standard car into a fire-breathing racing machine.

As well as that, the multiplayer not only has a limit of two players, with no provisions for online play, but also limits the players to racing-model motorcycles. The graphics take a massive turn for the worse, looking about as good as the poor-resolution handlebar models all over the track. It’s hard to see why the addition of another player into the equation would cause the graphics to take such a drop in quality, particularly as this wasn’t an issue in Gran Turismo 4. It’s apparent that this was a secondary concern for the developers, and more than anything else, just looks hacked together.

Having said all of this, Tourist Trophy is not a bad game. The technical achievements of managing to simulate motorcycle dynamics as well as automotive dynamics must be commended, and the racing is both challenging and fun. However, the game often feels like a technical demonstration, more like a test-bed for future games than a stand-alone project. If this is the case, a Tourist Trophy game on the PlayStation 3, with more motorcycles per race, improved graphics, more races for road-based motorcycles and a generally improved presentation could be a fantastic game. Until then, though, Tourist Trophy is merely good – and limited.

Bottom Line: A superb technical demonstration let down somewhat by the limitations of the PlayStation 2. Feels compromised in a lot of areas, but still a fun game.

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