Grand Prix Legends
By Allen Collins
We here at Rev-mag think Grand Prix Legends is a nice game Hell we think it is a great game Shoot we think it is the best racing simulation ever made Dammit we think it is the best simulation of any kind in any genre ever thunk up. But to me, it is all those things with yet one more distinction. It is hands down the finest game I own or have ever owned, and as a game reviewer, I own a few. It is no wonder then that we are still talking about it even though much ink has been spilled on it. The reason is simple. GPL is not fading as lesser titles do in two years. In fact the already near flawless product that it was, is improving. And I mean improving.
A very brief bit of history. The one lament that many a GPL driver had was that the game that absolutely needed force feedback the most had none to be found. Sierra's excuse was that basically no FF hardware was worthy of their exacting, unparalleled physics model; all known implementations at the time would be a novel hindrance rather than adding realism and helpful feedback. Pretty bold and stuffy stuff. I must admit to shouting, "cop out". Well hoof in mouth disease not withstanding, I am glad I was wrong. Or maybe they just couldn't back down once the hardware did get up to speed (btw the early FF hardware attempts "were" little more than novelties). But many a company would have simply said, "look for it in version II" and would have ostensibly been justified; GPL is over two years old. But Sierra showed up this day. Not only did they implement FF via a patch, they implemented FF code befitting the best racing sim ever made: the best Force Feedback implementation ever written. If you are a true driving enthusiast/ gaming enthusiast then you should already know the difference between a game and a simulation, as in Need for Speed vs. Grand Prix Legends. That said, GPL's Force Feedback is not gaming Force Feedback ("we are going over a wood bridge, wheeeeeee"). Nuff said.
The FF hardware is now up to speed and GPL is up to the plate with a homer. It is practically a new game. As hardware goes, perfect solutions are tough to come by. However, with minimal energy and money a perfect solution can be had. My current FF setup is:
Logitech Wingman Force Wheel $140
CH Pedals (non-pro) $50
GPL Patch 1.2 free at www.papy.com
The good news is the Wingman Wheel is superb. They got everything right�.with the wheel anyway. I think it is the best of the FF wheels; I know it is the lowest priced. Go figure. The wheel feels great with thick rubber grip, perfect spoke placement, perfect shifter size, placement and action, and ample but subdued forces that are eerily realistic. If you want a wheel that will tear up your desk, the Wingman is not your horse. They weren't going after effect; they were going after realism. Consequently it is the smoothest wheel of all the FF wheels thanks to the cable driven force as opposed to gear driven. This is absolutely critical in GPL. The gear driven wheels (Microsoft, Act Labs etc.) are simply too notchy for GPL. Subtle steering inputs are all but impossible. The footprint of the Wingman is also the smallest of the FF wheels with a righteously simple, robust and effective clamping system. This wheel feels better than sex, or perhaps something just like it.
Now the bad news which you have probably already guessed from my setup. The pedals are unusable for GPL. They work just fine in less demanding titles where little precision is required, but GPL will send you packing off to the local computer store (in my case to CH Products). It is painfully evident that Logitech ran out of resources by the time they got to the pedals; all the goodies went into the wheel. Take my word for it, if you want to get busy in GPL you must either hack the pedals (a marginal solution) or buy a dedicated set. In brief, the pedals are too small, the throw is far far too small, and the pedals travel directly down into the base. The result of this is an infuriating tendency to walk your feet up the pedals every time you lift and press. Not good to brake with your heel in GPL sonny.
More good news. The CH pedals are the perfect solution. All the stars lined up, the ducks got in a row and the clock struck 12:00am 2000. Force Feedback Perfection was achieved in GPL. All this had to happen because as easily as this setup is implemented it could have fallen flat ten different ways. What makes it fly is this combo: GPL recognizes somewhere on the order of 2 million different axis' (well a lot anyway; more than any other driving game), the Wingman is USB and the CH pedals, standard gameport, and finally windows doesn't bitch at all about running both together and the wheel and CH pedals don't bitch at each other. And there was much rejoicing. The CH pedals are heavenly compared with the Logitech and any others I've tried for that matter. They may not be entirely realistic as they were designed for flight sims; they pivot. But the control is unequaled and the comfort, a sheer joy. Purist�.shut the hell up. We're keepin it real here and making do with what's available.
So how you livin baby? The first time you brake too late in Curva Grande and loose the tail at 160 m.p.h. and feel the wheels castering trying to help you straighten out, then before you can even react, the car recovers by itself from the momentum against your FF induced, instinctive steering input, you will shout, "I'M LIVIN LARGE BABY BOI". Watch! You'll see. I don't know how they did it but the FF code in GPL has made the car far easier to drive. It is, for once, exactly what we dreamed of. The cars absolutely talk to you now. Weight transfer can be countered with your eyes closed and used to maximum benefit in the curvy tracks. It is just that subtle. Bumps that used to send you skittering can now be felt and reacted too. In short, where we used to handle all the myriad problems with nothing but visual queues, we can now feel the car and feel it accurately. Somehow the car seems to have acquired a new level of physics thru the FF. You can cruise a straight line at 100mph, kick the wheel slightly left and let go of it. Instead of the usual near immediate spin or direct slide off into the boonies, the wheels will naturally caster grabbing more on each side graduating the swings until the car eventually spins. At any point until the point of no return you can grab the wheel and save the car. It is like sex I say. No jokes about a boring sex life ok! This deal kicks much ass but proper. Every GPL driver I know that has this setup has gone through a short period of disorientation, readjustment and quickly nirvana. Faster lap times, not to mention increased fun factor, are reported unanimously.
The force is with me now and I shall not want.