16th December 2010 - Gran Turismo has been a poster child for Playstation over the years. I've been playing it since the first incarnation back in 1998 and it has continued to raise the bar and keep it’s' title as the real driving simulator up to GT4 on the PS2 in 2005. When the PS3 came along petrol heads everywhere were foaming at the mouth at the thought of a high definition GT, and Polyphony said they were going to give it to us in 2008. So we waited, and waited, and waited. Oh sure - we had GT HD and GT 5: Prologue in the meantime, but the gaming community wanted the whole package and the competition had put forward serious contenders for the title. Now December 2010 it’s finally here, and I'm expecting a lot after five years. Let's hope all those delays have been worth it.
Unless you have never played games before (or have no interest in driving whatsoever) you will be familiar with the GT series. You purchase cars, complete licences to compete in harder races, tune up cars to win, and repeat. What has made the franchise so successful is the volume of cars available and the attention to detail. Kazunori Yamauchi is known to be fastidious about his work, getting actual recordings of every car’s exhaust note, driving as many of the cars as possible to get their feel, and applying realistic physics models to the upgrades. That has resulted in every game in the series thus far being a driving dream. The closest thing to getting behind the wheel (especially if you have a good steering wheel peripheral) of your favourite cars. Happily I can say GT5 is no different. There are over 1000 cars (200 premium and the rest standard) in the game which is phenomenal and I have by no means driven them all, but had a crack at a good chunk. There are representatives from every decade and from all over the world – from the classics, to those you wonder why they were created. And they all drive incredibly! Each car is a different experience - the acceleration, gearing, handling, braking authentic to that model. To quote a manufacturer - it's sheer driving pleasure. Going down a straight at 250km/hr in 5th, hard on the brakes, down shift to 3rd, ease the throttle around the corner with progressive turn in, see the exit, and then hard on the throttle again. It's enough to make a grown man whimper - a thing of true beauty. The driving is unforgiving to arcade style inputs - this is a driving simulator after all. Don't even think of braking in a Ferrari 512bb if you're turning or it's sayonara.
Variety and volume pervade the whole game and not just with respect to the cars themselves. There are around 70 different tracks, including old favourites and some new ones such as the Top Gear test track. I had forgotten how good some of them are after being so limited in GT5: Prologue. Apart from the standard A-Spec mode where you drive in the various races, B-Spec mode has made a return also. In this you act as the team manager and instruct a fledgling racer on the track, watching video, and telemetry and timing data of all the cars on the field. You instruct the driver when to speed up, slow down, overtake etc. I still find this mode a bit hit-and-miss as the instruction you give don't seem to have as much impact on what the driver does so much as how much power you have under the bonnet.
There is a special section which has driver training and challenges related to NASCAR, rallying and tackling the infamous Nurburgring among others. You can hit tracks just to practice laps, go new or second-hand car shopping, tune up and pimp up your car - just about anything you can think of.
The arcade mode allows for two player split screen or up to 16 player online races. The online component is slightly confusing to set up and find a race, but there were no issues once playing. This is where the damage system came into its' own also. Finally, GT TV (which was introduced in Prologue) has continued, and provides a bunch of free and pay-per-view car related shows and races which completes the package nicely.
Unfortunately some nagging issues which have existed throughout the series persist with GT5. A long-standing issue has been the lack of damage. For all its' realism, driving into a concrete barrier at 300km/hr to merely come to a stop, reverse and keep driving, kind of breaks the magic of the rest of the driving experience. Despite the much-hyped introduction of damage to cars, it is lamely executed in the game. There are 200 premium cars in the game which have been given extra graphical attention and include a cockpit view. These display more damage than the standard models. Things do bend, break and scratch, but it seems to take more impact than should be required. In online mode mechanical damage affects your steering and performance noticeably, but I don't think it was active in the A Spec mode. The standard cars are a different story all together. They show so little damage that you wonder why they bothered at all. Considering they make up the bulk of the cars, it's not really good enough after more than five years in development. I don't know if that's something that can be improved with firmware updates, but as it stands though it's disappointing.
Secondly, the computer AI is still as terrible as ever. They take strange lines, swerve for no apparent reason, and brake before they are near the corner. They seem to take no notice of where you are and just smash into you when you have the driving line. With too many of the races it's a matter of cutting corners or just having a more powerful car to get ahead of the pack in the first straight. This can become frustrating and detract from the driving experience.
My final gripe is the load times. Oh god - the load times! There is an optional 8Gig download at the start of the game so that load times are quicker. I have it on good authority that this is not optional if you want to keep your sanity. If you don't download this you could go off and cook dinner between loads - it really is ridiculous. As it is, even with the download installed the loads for everything take longer than a game of this calibre should.
Gran Turismo has always pushed the Playstation console in the graphics department. The cars polygon count and level of detail jumped substantially with each version and each platform. To give you an idea of how much the cars have changed from 1998 to 2010 - in the original GT a car's polygon count was around 300. In GT5 the premium cars have around 500,000! The 200 premium cars look beautiful - almost better than the real thing especially when you take them into photo mode. The same can be said for the tracks that have had extra attention to detail. They look fantastic - great detail, texture, lighting, and the works. However the rest of the cars in the stable look a little drab by comparison. They aren't terrible, but just nowhere near as detailed or polished. It's like they are from a different game - one that was launched three years earlier. It's a strange contrast to have within the game, and I wonder how much of this detail difference was the cause of so many of the delays. Unfortunately I don't have a 3D TV so can't comment on the stereoscopic 3D.
I'll confess that I can't comment on the music while driving too much, as this is the first option I switch off when I load the game up. I'm here to drive and hear the engine. And oh how sweet a sound it is. Those microphones that the Polyphony team stick up car exhausts always pay off, and this is as true in GT5 as ever. Each metallic rasp is a symphony of engineering delight. From the chest pounding roar of an old school V8 to the high pitch red-line of a Ferrari on full song, it's aural delight for everyone.
One thing I can comment on is the introduction music, which is one of the most random and weird things I've ever heard. You'll know what I mean when you hear it. The menu music is a mixture which will appeal to some, but which I suspect will leave most people wondering “what the?”!
There is no denying that GT5 is great value. There is so much to do with all the different races, challenges, cars and tracks. The online mode will no doubt stay robust for a long time, and if GT TV continues with updated material there is plenty to watch. Pursuing the ultimate lap time means gaming hours are virtually limitless. The main modes will keep you going for several weeks at least, and the rest for months, especially if you're into online racing.
The wait has been painfully long with one disappointment after another with release dates, but the real driving simulator has finally returned. Does it still deserve its' title? It offers a huge volume and variety of cars, tracks and challenges. The driving physics, engine sound and visuals of the 200 premium cars are unquestionable. But then there are the standard cars, the relatively poor crash damage, and the terrible AI of rival drivers. This is a great driving simulator, but only a good game. When you're on an open track in cockpit view of a premium car with amplifier turned up and a steering wheel peripheral in hand, the rest of the world disappears. You're in car enthusiast heaven. That is until you feel the thud as you run up the back of a rival car that is braking for no reason or running into a barrier virtually unscathed. This sadly pulls you back to reality and ruins the magic that GT5 works so hard to create. Maybe my expectations are just too high, but after this long I wanted a 10/10 game. Instead I have an 8.5/10 which is by no means bad. In fact it's very good. I think the title may just be slipping away though.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Variety and volume of cars and tracks
+ Different modes of racing
+ Premium cars look and sound fantastic
+ Great driving physics
- Standard cars are very standard
- Damage not well implemented
- Driver AI terrible
Reviewed and Written By Khye Davey