With the intention of stirring up nostalgic memories amongst those old enough to remember what it was like to pay just 50p for the privilege of playing a decent videogame, Konami has taken one of its most popular retro racing titles, GTI Club, and placed it in the capable hands of Sheffield-based developer Sumo Digital, who has demonstrated its pedigree for porting arcade titles with the release back in 2004 of the impressively re-hashed version of SEGA’s arcade racer, Outrun 2.
The newly released PSN arcade racer, GTI Club+, comes with the added ‘+’ suffix stamped onto the end to denote that this downloadable classic has received the obligatory fine-tuning and graphical refurbishment that the masses now demand from any current videogame. To all intents and purposes though, aside from looking better than its aging 12 year-old counterpart, GTI Club+ is an exact recreation of the free-roaming coin-op arcade racer of the mid-nineties. Whilst that should satisfy those over a certain age and bring memories flooding back, the lack of features in GTI Club+ may not be enough to satisfy the new generation of gamers keen for all the bells and whistles that are now taken for granted in most current-gen videogames.
Despite being light on content though, with only five cars on its roster, one track, and a mere sprinkling of game modes, GTI Club+ achieves it’s aim of recreating the feel of the original by incorporating all of the main features that had us clambering to the arcades in the first place, including: a remix of the original soundtrack, classic vehicles, aggressive hand-brake turns around ludicrously sharp corners, and the ability to free-roam across the immaculately paved streets of the French Riviera, resort of Cote D’Azur.
With modern touches here and there that improve slightly, although not dramatically, on the overall aesthetic quality of the French architecture, promenades, tree-lined streets and clear blue skies of the city, GTi Club still retains its sleek and typical retro shine. Instead the developer has focused on getting its HD kicks from the overall look of the cars by injecting them with suitable graphical upgrades to maximize their coolness as you spin around the city. Enhanced light effects play a part in creating the bright and shimmering setting, with the beaming sun-rays of the French Riviera bouncing off car bonnets and reflecting off the pastel-colored apartment blocks that line the city streets, whilst silhouettes of the vehicles cast shadows on the roads as you career over steep declines or travel through the frequent sun-spots.
GTI Club+ offers up five classic vehicles to drive: the Austin Mini Cooper, Renault 5, Fiat A112 Abarth, Lancia Delta and the VW Golf GTI. All can be customized with a simple to use and basic tool that gives you a limited choice of decals, but also allows you to paint your ride the way you see fit. On the race-track though all cars handle identically, so customization serves no other purpose than to stand out from the crowd in the single player mode or online. With a firm emphasis on arcade driving and recreating the feel of the original, car handling is simple and fun, requiring little more than keeping your foot down on the gas, nudging your car left and right to swerve through traffic and then pressing down on ‘L2’ to handbrake aggressively around corners. Initially, the controls felt loose and on our first couple of laps we spent a lot of time bumping into the scenery, but we were soon whizzing around the track and getting around the whole circuit without needing to use the brakes at all. It’s old-skool racing at its best and most simplest with exaggerated car handling that will mainly suit fans of the original or those gamers who get their kicks from instantly accessible pick-up-and-play racers. There’s the added option to use the six-axis motion-sensing to replicate the wheel from the arcade, but it’s a limp mechanic that just doesn’t quite get it right. Instead, we opted to use the thumbstick to control the cars, which makes it much easier to master the tricky turns and narrow streets.
The biggest bone of contention that we have we GTI Club+, which is sure to upset some gamers who hoped to get more for their money’s worth, is that there’s only one track and a few standard game modes. With a set of bog-standard arcade modes, including time-trial, free-roam mode and the entertaining ‘bomb tag,’ where one vehicle starts off with a bomb that will explode unless they tag another vehicle, there’s currently little replay value in the single player mode. Aside from attempting to beat personal best lap times and the lure of unlocking as many trophies as you can, even the relative freedom of the city and the multiple pathways offered aren’t currently enough to encourage us to stick around for too long. Even with three difficulty modes that open up new areas in the city, it’s not too difficult to learn the circuit inside and out within a couple of hours in free-roam mode. Despite the lack of features though, it’s hard to knock a game that has always been billed as a port of the original. In that respect, you get what you pay for, although Konami would be wise to release some DLC as soon as possible otherwise even fans of the original may soon leave it behind after a few weekends of gameplay.
Where GTI Club+ should really have excelled is in its online options, but at the time of publishing this review we’ve disappointingly only managed to play one multiplayer game. Having been greeted by the news: "The host has timed out. Returning to the title screen" on almost every occasion, our frustration at constantly trying to get into a game means that we probably won’t try again until a patch is released. It’s a crying shame because it’s online where GTI Club+’s longevity lies and, judging solely on the one game of ‘bomb tag’ that we played, we had a hell of a lot of fun chasing each other around the city streets.
Nevertheless, if it’s a faithful port that you we were looking for then it’s all here in GTI Club+ in all its retro-emblazoned glory. If Konami can sort out the online component and get some new tracks out and new cars out on the road, which we’re certain it will do, then we can’t think of anything better to spend £10 on this side of Christmas. Just remember if you do, that it’s supposed to be this simple.