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Review: GTI Club+: Rally Cote d'Azur

Graeme Virtue | 16 Jan 2009 21:00
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On November 18 of last year, the three most powerful men in Detroit flew to Washington, D.C., to panhandle for a $25 billion emergency loan. But instead of securing that big ol' cheque, they got barbecued by antagonistic senators. Sitting in that wood-paneled hearing room, did those wounded chief execs find their minds wandering? Fantasizing about somewhere this whole auto business was just ... simpler? Floating away to their own happy place, where a soft, caressing Mediterranean sun hangs in an impossibly blue sky, and the only way to make that rapidly approaching left-hand turn down a cramped alley is to reach down and yank on that handbrake with all your might? Pull, doughty CEO, pull!

If so, boy, have I got the game for those guys (and let's face it, they still need cheering up). GTI Club+: Rally Cote d'Azur is the excessively-named HD update of GTI Club, a Konami arcade racer from 1996 notable for its prominent use of wheel-locking handbrake turns to negotiate an alluring, winding Monte Carlo-esque locale. The game is a PlayStation Network exclusive [Ed Note: Though this was true when this review was written, the game has since been released in the U.S. as well] - and currently only available in Europe, where it costs around $15 - but it's definitely worth creating that Eurotrash account to gain access to it, especially if, like the Big Three, you're keen to strip things down and get back to basics.

Taking its cue from The Italian Job (1969), in which Michael Caine choreographed a skidding ballet for three color-coded Mini Coopers as they nimbly escaped a gridlocked Turin, GTI Club+ plonks you in a vaguely free-roaming French Riviera town and urges you, in true arcade style, to drive to the next checkpoint. On the easier difficulty settings, the way forward is fairly obvious. But once you work your way up to Hard, you can pretty much go where you want - skittering through underground car parks, sliding across piazzas and hoofing it down off-road shortcuts - as long as you hit the next checkpoint in time.

Some driving games are all about finding the perfect line and then disciplining yourself to replicate it for every lap, but GTI Club+ is more frantic and improvisatory. There's obviously a path of least resistance around the course - which you can smoke out in the Free Play mode - but thanks to dawdling civilian traffic, aggressive opponents (either A.I. or human) and an unpredictable railroad crossing, each race is a concentrated, twitchy, addictive experience.

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