GRAN TURISMO 4, Sony Computer Entertainment America/Polyphony Digital
GT4 boasts an even more impressive list of vehicles than its predecessors -- it offers more than 700 cars from more than 80 manufacturers, including favorites from Nissan, BMW, Honda and Mercedes, vintage muscle cars like the 1971 Plymouth Cuda 440 and state-of-the-art exotics like the Aston Martin Vanquish and the new Ford GT. It also offers a wide range of city, rally and race courses to rocket down, from famous raceways such as Laguna Seca to fantasy tracks from previous GT games.
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The Gran Turismo mode returns as the game's most involving feature. Here, you must progress through 200 championship races, using cash prizes to upgrade your wheels and get access to new tracks. Once you've collected enough tricked-out cars, you can sell some of them to earn more cash to soup up your remaining vehicles.
If those were all the changes in GT4, this game might feel like more of an expansion pack to the old Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec. But this release adds two fascinating new game-play options. In its "B-Spec" mode, you step out of the car to take on a race manager's job. In this fusion of the real-time strategy and racing genres, you tell the driver what to do -- how fast to go, when to overtake a competitor, when to pit, and so on -- and get to view the results from numerous angles as you receive a constant stream of data about the car's performance.
Photo mode isn't a game at all, but should still appeal to anyone who has lingered over the pictures in Road & Track or Car and Driver. After you take photos of your car in various settings, you can alter the lighting and camera angle and play with different effects -- then pop a USB memory key chain into the PS2, transfer your edited photo and use it as your PC's wallpaper.
But for all of GT4's fantastic visuals, accurate physics and challenging computer opponents, it's lacking in the human factor: There's no online multiplayer support, limiting you to competing against one other gamer at a time over a local network. An online version won't come until later this year. -- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, $50
GRAPHICCONVERTER 5.5, Lemke Software
This program's unassuming name is far too modest: GraphicConverter 5.5 packages some remarkably sophisticated image-editing capabilities and, at $30, represents a bargain to boot.
Yes, GraphicConverter converts graphics -- it opens about 175 different image-file formats and can save pictures in about 75 (the number grows with each new release). It can even open corrupted files that other programs won't touch. But more than that, GraphicConverter serves as a robust image toolkit that, for the home user, could easily replace Adobe's Photoshop Elements at a third of the price. In addition, GraphicConverter includes an image-management function that, while not on a par with Apple's iPhoto, does let you quickly sort photos into folders, quickly browse through these collections and create slideshows and e-mail images to friends.