Summary: Alan, hardcore racing sim buff extraordinaire, has gotten his hands on the elusive Enthusia and written up a detailed and complete review. He points out where it surpasses the almighty GT4, and where it falls back. Along the way, he gives his insightful comments on the Logitech Driving Force Pro.
If you own the Logitech Driving Force Pro, buy Enthusia
If you own a GT Force / Formula Force GP, read this article.
If you play driving games with a gamepad, skip this game.
Any time a new driving simulator hits the gaming market, the first question to be asked if itís a Gran Turismo killer. To date, no one has been able to beat Polyphony Digital at their game. Forza Motorsport, ďwith the power of the Xbox,Ē has come close but without a force feedback steering wheel, Forza can never transcend into being more than just a game.
In a traditional game review, Iíd take some time talking about the various game modes. In fact, several pages could be dedicated to the single-player mode in Enthusia, titled ďEnthusia LifeĒ alone. Itís unquestionably complex and overly so. Only certain races are available each week, and thereís an odds system in which drivers are rewarded for winning more difficult races. Unlocking new cars involves racing against them, winning, and then getting lucky in a raffle. Sometimes youíll come in first place, but be unlucky in the raffle and end up with no prize car at all!
Iím not going to go over these details.
See, thatís not the point. No one should ever buy Enthusia over GT4, and so the only reason to buy Enthusia is if it can do something better than GT4 and this means physics.
But Iíll summarize the other parts of the game in this paragraph: Graphics are on-par with GT3. Enthusia has better geometry in the track but less sophisticated lighting. If it werenít for the aliasing, it would actually hold its own against GT4 on a standard definition TV, but clearly the reference standard is GT4 in HD. Itís possible that the poorer graphics quality was needed to allow more CPU time for the physics. Iíll summarize audio by saying itís a little worse than GT3, with acceptable engine sounds but poor road and wind noise and that the music feels like 80ís vintage Konami music.
As we have done with every Gran Turismo review, we only test using force feedback steering wheels. This is distinctly different from other reviews you may read in the traditional gaming press in which the gamepad is used. We used the 900-degree Logitech Driving Force Pro and the standard GT Force Pro/Formula Force GP in our tests.
SIDEBAR: I spent a whole page in the GT3-USA article about the introduction. Enthusiaís introduction is quite good Ė it brings together two of my favorite things: cars and photography. I donít think anyone truly understands the intro through Ö
One, itís as if Konami developed Enthusia for use with the Driving Force Pro only. The game is completely unplayable with the gamepad, and still very difficult with a standard force feedback steering wheel. Unlike Gran Turimso 4 which replicated the feel of having racing slicks, Enthusia is centered around realistic modeling of street cars exclusively with street tires.
The physics are accurate. These cars perform pretty similarly to how you would expect them to in real-life. The weakness is that because we drive far more aggressively in a game than we do in real life, controlling your car is incredibly difficult. (Although thatís realistic because many teenagers are killed trying to replicate their Gran Turismo skills in real-life).
Driving in Enthusia is a mental workout Ė unlike the leisurely pace of driving of GT4, driving in Enthusia requires you to be completely aware of everything you are doing. Slamming too hard on the brakes will lock your wheels causing you to lose control. The requirement for throttle control is significantly greater than that in GT4. Whereas I had a sense of accomplishment and entertainment with driving in GT4, it was often a humbling experience in Enthusia. One lapse in judgment or mistake with fine throttle control or braking, and the race would be over as I watched myself drop from first to last place. Even more humbling is when you see your in-game ranking drop after completing a race because you did not participate in a challenging enough race. This is part of the reason why Enthusia has received such lackluster reviews elsewhere Ė with a gamepad, you simply donít have the fine control of the throttle or braking or steering that you would need to comfortably control the car.
The learning curve of the game is incredibly steep, especially if you have a lot of bad driving habits from playing too many games. Early on, all you will want to do is to stick with slower underpowered cars. You do this hoping that the higher odds ratio will give you more points with your victories and help you progress through the game and unlock tracks, but you also do this because the weaker engines are easier to control. Unfortunately, you cannot do this for more than one weekend because you will eventually need to move onto faster cars in order to participate in competitive races and the problem with faster cars is that they can be more difficult to drive. Enthusia, however, really highlights the strengths of different cars Ė some cars have too much power for their own good while others have a uncanny balance.
Well, how do you know the physics are better and not just different?
The best measurement of Enthusiaís quality physics came when I returned to GT4. After a week of Enthusia, I had weaned myself off most of my bad driving habits that hadnít previously been noticeable in GT4. When I returned to GT4, the careful throttle and braking control that I had developed resulted in some of my fastest GT4 times ever. Whatever Enthusia is doing, it does help you become a better driver.
SIDEBAR: The Direct Shift Gearbox will likely end up being the most significant transmission development in decades.
Attention to Detail
The attention to detail for the cars that are present is superb. One of the nitpicks weíve mentioned in the Gran Turismo series is the ability to install an upgraded ECU in cars too old to have electronically controlled engines, or the fact that automatic cars arenít truly automatic. In Enthusia, the distinction between ďautomaticĒ and ďsemiautomaticĒ versus ďmanualĒ and ďshift-assistĒ is present. When you pause the game, your car turns on its hazard flashersÖ Cars too old to have vehicle stability control cannot have stability control turned on. All this makes Enthusia a much more difficult but ultimately rewarding game.
The raffle-based system makes earning new cars in Enthusia more difficult than it should be and despite playing the game for close to a month, I havenít gotten all of the cars Iíve wanted to. Although there are no Porsches or Ferraris, the car selection overall is quite good because there are more cars that Iím actually interesting in driving. Sure every game has the SLR McLaren but how many have the smart fortwo cabrio? Audi is well represented with the expected R8 and RS6, but you also get the stock A4 3.0 quattro, A8 4.2 quattro, and the allroad quattro. The exotic BMW M1 is even in the game! Jaguarís S-Type R, XJR, SKR, and X-Type are all in there. Likewise, since there are several off-road courses, you have the real Range Rover, the Touareg, the Land Cruiser 100, and even the Mercedes Benz G500L. Thereís the Japanese-version of the G35 with the 8-speed CVT along with the current generation Q45 (Cima), and the previous generation Lexus GS300 (Aristo V300) and LS430 (Celsior). The eclectic car selection is truly indicative of Enthusiaís goal of replicating normal street cars.
I think Enthusiaís tracks are among the best tracks of any racing games. The only real tracks are Tsukuba and Nurburgring Nordschleife, but as your recall from my GT4 article, those were my favorite two real tracks to begin with.
The Driving Force Pro
A few years ago, we took a look at all of the major steering wheels including the MOMO Force and ACT Labs Force RS. At that time, we gave the MOMO Force our editorís pick. In 2005, thereís almost no competition among force feedback steering wheels, but fortunately, Logitech has continued to push the technology. Anyone who is a racing game fan should pick up the Logitech Driving Force Pro.
Our old reference standard was the original red MOMO Force (not the black MOMO Racing Wheel). Although a pricey $199, the MOMO Force had an incredible metal steering wheel with a superb leather grip, excellent paddles, and exceptional multi-axis pedals that could only be beaten by specialized pedals costing as much as $300. The MOMO Forcesís wheel motion was much smoother than its other geared brethren approaching the quality of belt-driven hardware and there wasnít any of the ratcheting and cog-wheeling behavior.
The new Driving Force Pro, priced at a more affordable $150, is a worthy successor to legendary MOMO Force. Although the leather and aluminum steering wheel has been replaced by a rubber grip, the Driving Force Pro continues to use metal components internally and has a smoothness that is almost on par with the now-extinct MOMO Force. Pedals are notably improved from the previous generation GT Force / Formula Force GP as there is stronger resistance to the brake pedal and surprisingly effective carpet spikes that prevent slipping.
Of course, the greatest innovation of the Driving Force Pro is its 900 degree motion. In games like GT4 or Enthusia, the additional motion makes for a much greater experience. The difference isnít so much the ability to turn all 900 degrees (most of the time youíre staying within the 180 degree limit), but the finer control offered.
For a game like Enthusia where superior throttle, braking, and steering control is necessary, the Driving Force Pro is a must.
SIDEBAR: Do you remember the Nintendo Power Pad?
Driving Force Pro
The Driving Force Pro is probably one of the greatest steering wheels ever made. The Wingman team that produced the legendary MOMO Force should be proud that they have produced another winning product. There are still elements of the MOMO Force that we miss such as the leather wheel and multi-axis pedals, but perhaps what makes the Driving Force Pro a better product than the MOMO Force is that itís a better value. Could Logitech have made 900 degree steering wheel with an additional $50? Sure, but dollar for dollar, a Driving Force Pro offers a remarkable value for any driving fan. Without question, itís smarter to forgo a few new games so that you can pick up a Driving Force Pro to breathe new life into your existing racing games. The value at $150 is great, but with street prices closer to $110, itís hard for us not to call this a must-have for any racing game fan.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|