There’s no way to get around this: GT Motor Academy is a fantastic clone of the legendary Gran Turismo series on PlayStation. From the intro video of a new dawn and cars racing around, through the driving license tests and having to perform tasks like braking within a time limit, there are so many features copied from the GT series into this game I’m amazed that they haven’t been sued quite honestly.
Purists will laugh and scold at this blatant attempt by Gameloft to cash in on the racing simulation series, but they should hardly be surprised. Gameloft have notoriously also cloned other key genre-leading games with N.O.V.A. (Halo-like sci-fi shooter), Blades Of Fury (Soul Calibur clone), to Brothers In Arms (inspired by Call Of Duty). But credit has to be given to Gameloft where its due: customizing the games to suit the controls of the iPhone, and making it as presentable as its console peers.
Take for example the controls available on this game. I’m astonished at the range of options available. There’s the standard tilt-to-steer with brake and accelerate on screen buttons. You can change the steering to touch controls. You can then substitute the gas for a slider for analogue control. And if you want further command of the vehicles, you can opt for manual transmission, and switching up or down a gear by tilting forwards or backwards. It’s a pretty clever implementation, and frankly one that I’m a little scared of trying right now, but will dive in once I am a bit more familiar with the tracks and cars.
The tracks also take their cues from the GT series with the starting High-Speed ring very similar to GT’s, but with a couple of extra turns thrown into the mix. They’ve also licensed the legendary Laguna Seca track, and it’s the exact same one to the millimeter (Well, I haven’t measured it, but its exactly as I remember it, right down to the famous chicane). The tracks go up and downhill, which affect your velocity, so you have to know when to drift and when you need to keep the revs high to climb.
The various cars on offer from real manufacturers also feel differently to each other, and this is a fantastic achievement. You can tell that the Mini Cooper is not one for over steering, and is very nimble, compared to a thunderous Ford pickup. You can also customize the car’s settings such as suspension, ride height, brake bias, and other functions. It’s not quite as deep as GT, but its still pretty good for a smartphone game. And they really can make a big difference to suit your driving style.
All this sounds like a dream game then, and more or less it is a fantastic achievement. The game maybe a bit too ambitious for the hardware resources available, as there are some evident shortcuts made to keep the performance going. There is a noticeable amount of scenery pop-up, which can be cleverly disguised in tracks such as the Montreal Old Town. Also, the in-car dashboard view shows the drivers’ virtual hands turning the steering wheel and shifting gears, but the rev meter and speedometer are static screens. This really disappointed me, as that information is displayed in the top right corner already. Why couldn’t they move it onto the dashboard? My rational mind concluded it would cause a lot of small code changes for each car’s unique dashboard, but my heart just can’t forgive it. So I now use the bumper view instead.
There’s also a distracting behavior of the other cars, where you will see them morph themselves from clear replicas with transparent windscreens, into more block like units as it recedes into the distance. This is clearly done to reduce the number of polygons that the software needs to compute (do you really need to see the brand logo from 50 meters away?), but it is noticeable, and can become a nuisance. However, that may be a factor with my hardware which is a 1st generation iPhone. I’m not sure if faster hardware such as the 3GS would have less intrusive shortcuts activated. The long waits in loading the game and tracks would definitely be shorter on better hardware. (Editors note: On My 3GS I do not have these issues though there is a slight draw in he distance it does not disrupt the gameplay)
So what’s the verdict on this? I have to give a a full A ranking for it. There are obvious shortcuts to handle the performance, and its definitely not a new kind of game. But it is a very solid game that allows a vast amount of car setting customization. The feel of the cars is also impressively different, and that is something that its nearest rival, Real Racing, fails to offer. in cars of the same class. In that game, I found it really hard to see any real differences between the hatchback cars aside from sponsor decals, but in GTMA, the cars drive as you would expect.
I’ve also experienced the AI driving and smashing my rear end from the side, forcing me to spin out. Looking back at the replay (which in itself is impressive –- you can slide to the point of impact, and from various viewpoints, and can upload to You Tube) it looked amazing to see the Corolla spin and the car body roll sideways while the car’s wheels tried to steady the slide. It’s hard to describe, but it looked amazing. If only I had a separate You Tube account setup for game videos. It’s managed to take on my favorite racer, Real Racing, and push the boundaries further in all directions. It’s not the same kind of arcade racer as Need For Speed or Asphalt 5, but for those who have longed for a racing simulation, this is as good as it gets.