Ever seen the muscular profile of a Dodge Viper GTS and wondered what it would be like to slam on the gas pedal? Or are you more curious about the handling characteristics of a 1915 Ford Model T?
For answers to these and hundreds of other driving what-ifs, consider "Gran Turismo 4."
This $50, E-rated PlayStation 2 exclusive is a car lover's dream, encyclopedic in content -- and unforgivingly realistic.
There are hundreds of makes and models, from current street-legal BMW sedans to rare, historic marvels of artful engineering that would seem more at home in a museum than on the road.
The selection goes from Acura to Volvo, but there are notable exceptions: Lamborghini and Ferrari.
The physics are superb, and each vehicle handles uniquely, depending on weight, dimensions, tires and suspension.
"Gran Turismo 4" is billed as a driving simulator, not a game. It's an important distinction.
I consider myself a good driver in real life, but just staying on the track was a challenge in the game. I spent hours on individual courses memorizing each hill and every hairpin turn before I felt comfortable.
I tried it with Logitech's $150 Driving Force Pro, a nifty system that includes a force-feedback steering wheel you clamp to your desk, and a separate gas and break pedal.
While it adds to the immersion, I found the traditional controller, though lacking in as much tactile feedback, easier to use at first.
The realism breaks down in crashes: No scratches, dents or lost hubcaps to be seen.
Before you can enjoy Gran Turismo mode -- the game's true heart -- you have to get a license by passing a series of tests. More advanced licenses open more cars and venues. Though rigorous, I highly recommend taking these exams.
The artificial intelligence remains rather dumb. They'll often ram or sideswipe you rather than braking or steering out of the way.
There's unfortunately no Internet play, but I'm willing to overlook it because there's so much depth here. You can plug in another controller and compete head to head, and up to six players can compete on a local area network.
After races, you can watch a movie of your performance. It's a hallmark of the Gran Turismo series, and they're rendered with stunning clarity, the razor-sharp graphics showing my every bad decision.
If you have an racing ego and a USB thumb drive, you can use the new photo mode to save pictures of your performances for printing or e-mailing.
"Gran Turismo 4" has a level of difficulty and realism that will probably intimidate many casual gamers.
Car devotees, however, will find a deep, engaging game with plenty of challenge.
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