The Grand Tour Game Review
I was surprised to see, when looking at the release schedule for games in the first quarter of 2019, The Grand Tour Game looking right at me. This, after all, is the Amazon Prime TV series following long-time collaborators Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond in whatever vehicular activity they choose to do from one week to the next. It’s basically Top Gear, a TV show which has been around since 1977 in one guise or another, and therefore not something I expected to be available to play on my PlayStation 4. As I read into it I got more and more excited though. The game was going to follow the new series and allow me as the player to do what Jeremy and company were doing. It is the first game from Amazon Game Studios to appear on a home console — and when Amazon do something it tends to be the start of something they mean business in — and part of that team used to work for Criterion, creators of the Burnout series of games. What an idiot I was to be excited.
The setup is simple throughout, ensuring a true pick up and play feel where anybody can get involved. This is perhaps harking back to the studio’s roots (mobile), as well as enabling a mix between the traditional fans of the show who in many cases will be of a generation similar to the show’s presenters, as well as gamers who like to race fast cars — of which there are plenty; or really rather silly vehicles of which there are too many.
The way you’re probably expected to play is the mode whereby you sit and watch the latest episode, with the game handing over control to you every time driving happens on screen. It’s to gaming what easy listening is to music, whilst ensuring minimal actual physical interactivity is required to play the game. Each level will last up to a minute or so, but some bits — dependent on skill — can be done in literally four seconds. The result is a very stop-start feel to proceedings (loading times do not help) which makes watching the show anything but relaxed and enjoyable, without actually giving enough game to get involved and engaged persistently. The screen does prompt you when things are about to move from TV to game, but if you’re watching the show you might miss that and instead get surprised by the sudden introduction of a racing section.
The quality of the gaming sections is mixed. What I mean here is that the cars move and turn pretty quickly and in such a way that screams “Arcade action!” but with the visual splendour of something akin to launch PS3-era gaming. You have a kind of box on wheels sat atop a semi-photorealistic environment and limited detail filled in around things. Sure, it looks somewhat like the location the team were filming in, but in the same way an artist's impression looks like the real thing. When the actual ‘race’ is based on the silly things they do in their Columbia special, or anything in the series which isn’t trying out a real car, the experience gets less exciting still, and frankly I wonder why somebody wants to spend four seconds pulling a boat towards the coast by moving forwards in their vehicle after making sure the accelerator stays in the green. This is 2019, on console. It’s not mobile and we’re not in the 80s bashing buttons to sprint faster in Track & Field.
As season three progresses on everyone’s Amazon Prime Video account, a new episode drops into the game. Each is split into a number of chapters where you can get bronze, silver and gold medals. There are trophies to win here, too. Nobody is going to persist though. In fact, very quickly people will realise that spending the money to buy the game is a cheaper way to watch the show than if you had subscribed to Amazon Prime for the period the show was broadcast. Fortunately, if you wanted to do this, there is an option to just watch the episode rather than worry about playing through the game. Which is good.
If the game is assessed in terms of an experiment in combining media to provide a greater, holistic experience, then the result can only be described as a failure. Bringing a televisual value to gaming is something we have seen developers strive for over the past decade or so in abundance. Narrative-led gaming has become incredibly popular (perhaps the most before games as platforms came along) and there are many examples of episodic gaming too, most notably Telltale Games’ output. There have been fewer attempts at taking games into TV. Return to House on Haunted Hill came out in 2007, on the nascent Blu-Ray platform and had a ‘choose your own adventure’ approach, something which was done again in late 2018 by Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, not to mention Quantum Break which did the whole game-cum-TV show thing. This limited library, to which The Grand Tour Game can now be added, speaks perhaps to the challenge associated with getting it right. The proposition on show here is too little to persuade a fan of the program to bother with it, and the quality and depth of the game is far too little to make a gamer want to play it. Which leaves you to buy the game and watch the episodes this way, rather than get that Prime membership, as the only reason to possibly consider getting hold of this for your console.
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