Was Tourist Trophy the real riding simulator?
Created by Polyphony Digital, Tourist Trophy (TT), came out for the PlayStation 2 in 2006 and was pitched as ‘Gran Turismo for bikes’. Somewhat surprisingly, it leaned heavily on the side of simulation – in stark contrast to many of its direct rivals at the time, including the MotoGP series.
It set a graphical benchmark for motorcycle simulators as it used Gran Turismo 4’s (GT4) game engine. As a result, TT was generally well-received by critics and fans alike, earning a 74 score on Metacritic.
At a time when quality motorbike games are few and far between, it’s quite easy to forget that a franchise as big as GT spawned a motorcycle equivalent, and with it, all the polish and attention to detail it brought. With constant speculation on fan forums – and even from the GT guru himself, Kazunori Yamauchi – on a potential sequel, one wonders if TT justifiably warrants a follow-up, and does it live up to the moniker ‘The Real Riding Simulator’?
IT’S JUST GRAN TURISMO FOR BIKES, INNIT?
Unsurprisingly, Tourist Trophy follows Gran Turismo 4’s career mode template somewhat, encouraging the player to take part in progressively more challenging license tests in ‘Driving School’ mode (weirdly not called ‘Riding School’).
Completing these unlocked more difficult races against faster bikes. Unlike GT though, the only way to get that bright yellow Triumph Daytona under your virtual backside was to win races and championships, as there was no virtual currency.
It’s not a terribly dissimilar system, as you still had to win races in GT to afford that sweet, Swedish Volvo 240 GLT, but the feeling of winning cash to spend on upgrading your pride and joy is missing somewhat from TT. A system where you could buy upgraded parts would definitely have added something extra to the experience – bolting on an enormous rear wing would obviously help your bike’s handling too…
The beginners’ licence tests start here. Calling this particular motorcycle ‘Grand Majesty’ is the very definition of irony.
However, by placing well in races and championships you can unlock new leathers, helmets, gloves, boots and jackets, all from top motorcycle clothing brands like Shoei, Arai and Dainese, amongst others, so there’s a certain amount of personalisation available to the player.
The similarities with GT extend to the choice of circuits too. Tourist Trophy has 37 tracks (inclusive of variations) including the Nordschleife, but, get this: you can’t race anyone on it! Solo lapping is your only option here. Can you imagine the furore from the ‘no Nordschleife = no buy’ crowd if that happened today? Hilarious.
Alas, it seems like cramming all that Green Hell goodness onto one DVD was too much for the PS2’s hardware. Unfortunately, even when you could race against AI riders on other tracks, it was only against a maximum of three other opponents, which isn’t great, and hints that TT was pushing the boundaries of what was possible on the console.
There is a host of real-life circuits to choose from, including; Valencia, Fuji, Motegi, Laguna Seca, Monaco, Suzuka and the afore-mentioned ‘Knockhill of Germany’, the Nordschleife. But, by today’s standards, it’s hardly an exhaustive list. In addition to this, some of the fictional tracks in GT4 and TT are pretty uninspiring – looking at you Seoul Street Circuit – but on the flip side, there’s Trial Mountain. Net gain!
The sounds in GT/TT also share DNA. For example, the bike exhaust notes have more reverb than a Phil Collins drum solo, but I’d say that TT’s engine sounds are a lot more tolerable than GT4’s, at least to my ageing ears. Compared to my other favourite motorcycle game of the time – TT Superbikes: Real Road Racing (TTS:RRR) – TT’s sounds are infinitely better. But then, with the budget Polyphony Digital had compared to Jester Interactive, you’d expect that.
And as for the music… well, the music is terrible.
The physics in a sim are its raison d’être. If the vehicle you’re driving/riding/flying in-game doesn’t feel ‘right’ then the whole gaming experience falls down. This is why I’d personally much rather play Automobilista than Automobilista 2, but perhaps that’s a story for another time.
But seriously, having ‘good’ physics doesn’t necessarily mean having the most-detailed game engine around, despite what some may have you believe, it’s about convincing the player they’re in control of the simmed* vehicle. Hence, why I can enjoy a game of Mario Kart one minute and Assetto Corsa Competizione the next – in some weird scenario where I’m jumping between Nintendo Switch and PC every 60 seconds).
Tourist Trophy and Gran Turismo both have physics engines that make sense to the player, and although TT isn’t quite as brutally hardcore as TT Superbikes: Real Road Racing, it still ticks all the boxes for motorcycle sims in that it has separate front and rear brake controls, as well as proper rider weight-shifting for wheelie control.
And let’s not forget the bikes themselves.
The game includes 135 fully-licensed motorcycles, ranging from scooters to 1400cc big bangers. Typically for a game from Polyphony Digital, the bike models are super-detailed and are combined with a superior photo mode featuring a handy ‘best shot’ feature that compiles highlights automatically.
It’s easy to appreciate the work done by the developers on the graphics engine. It looked cool. Even today, going back to my PS2, the models are extremely impressive and have stood the test of time. The variety of bikes on offer was excellent too; sports bikes, superbikes, street bikes, classics, scooters. Something for everyone, although compared to GT4’s 700+ vehicles, it looks a bit sparse.
TOURIST TROPHY 2?
The closest modern-day equivalent to Tourist Trophy would be the Ride series, developed by Milestone. Both series’ look great for their time – Ride 4 recently went viral with its phenomenally realistic-looking graphics, for example, and we at Traxion.GG enjoyed the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions.
For me, however, the sensation of riding is slightly ‘floaty’ in Ride 4, more like a speedboat than a motorbike. TT, on the other hand, has fairly weighty bike handling, with the motorcycle pivoting from the centre of the rider gradually, as opposed to veering wildly from side to side, which is a common sight in YouTube videos of the Ride series.
Not that I think it’s a terrible game, it’s just I’d rather spend time in classic motorbike sims such as Tourist Trophy and TT Superbikes, because of their rewarding and nuanced physics. A bit of nostalgia helps too, of course.
With the relative dearth of motorbike sims these days, it’s certainly time that Mr. Yamauchi looked into developing Tourist Trophy 2 (TT2). With Gran Turismo 7 set for release in 2022, and the power of the PS5 to play with, TT2 would surely be a hit with casual gamers and sim fans alike. Even if it is just over 15 years since its release, to many, Tourist Trophy is still the Real Riding Simulator…
… but let’s sort out the music this time, Kaz, yeah?
*I may have just invented a word there…