GT5 has been hit with substantial delays of its own, of course. More than half a decade in the making, Kazunori Yamauchi’s “real driving simulator” has been the subject of endless hype and fans will be keen to see how the new features are incorporated into the existing (highly successful) formula.
There was never a suggestion that with GT5, Polyphony would look to overhaul the series. Rather, it’s being promoted on the back of additions and refinements that seek to make it the ultimate racing game, unseating Forza 3 as the sim of choice for the current generation. Headline changes include: a comprehensive damage-modelling system, detailed track effects such as skid marks, changing weather, Karting, WRC, NASCAR and online multiplayer.
But what many players will be interested in is the vehicles. There are over 1,000 models included in GT5, of which around 220 are Premium cars. They have been modelled in far more detail than the Standard cars, and incorporate a faithfully-recreated cockpit view.
Having been out of the race for some six years (not including the stop-gap budget Prologue), there’s a legitimate doubt over whether Gran Turismo’s return will see it taking first place or languishing behind the pack. The name alone will sell units by the bucketload, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the game is the perfect driving experience fans have been feverishly anticipating.
At least, that’s true for the Premium models. Take a close look at some of the available Standard cars and the effect is far less impressive. They’re taken from the series’ PS2 predecessors — to say they look previous-gen would be overstating the point, but the gap between Standard and Premium is huge and unmissable.
But the most notable graphical issue is with shadows, which frequently appear shockingly jagged and jerky. If Polyphony had put only half the effort into shadows that they put into light effects, they would have got away with it. Instead what we’re left with is a bizarre mish-mash of the stunning and the sub-par, sometimes in the same camera shot.
A similar disparity exists with the tracks. New courses such as the Rome Circuit are detailed and vibrant, but the updated courses from previous iterations are often uninspiring and provide an inadequate backdrop for those gorgeous videos and pictures you’ll want to show off to your friends. That said, the inclusion of the Top Gear test track is an excellent touch — a special course for time trials if ever there was one.
Premium cars offer a cockpit view, which throws up some incredible effects at times, especially with the wipers in the snow, when visibility is almost non-existent. It really adds to the thrill, and pulling off a smart overtaking manoeuvre on a slippery track while more or less driving blind provides both an adrenaline rush and a true sense of achievement.
Far less thought has been put into the game’s performance off the track; the menu interface leaves a lot to be desired. Key options (such as choosing from your available cars) can often be buried multiple levels deep and involve an unnecessary amount of clicking-to-confirm, and the loading times can prove frustrating. On the face of it, these are minor irritations, but the time wasted adds up, and none of it is helped by the eclectic and often ill-considered menu music.
Without question, this game is at its best when you’re focussed entirely on your car, because, as is traditional for the series, the AI leaves something to be desired. Your competitors follow their set path with unwavering determination, to the point that you can find yourself breaking a little heavily in advance of a sharp turn only for the car behind to shunt you off the track, despite the fact it had ample time and space to avoid you. Unfortunately, these events don’t even give the satisfaction of feeling like you’ve been involved in a high-speed crash, as the collision effect is weak to say the least — there’s a notable lack of metal-on-metal crunch, even the most significant impact will sound more like a dull thud.
The career mode is called GT Life. You’ll start off racing cars that are possibly inferior to the one currently frosting over in your driveway, and RPG-style, you will slowly level up and progress through the ranks. New cars and upgrades are paid for with credits, obtained by placing well in races and competitions. In turn, success will earn experience points which unlock new events in which to participate.
Make no mistake: there’s a remarkable amount to keep you entertained here. Along with the range of licences to attempt, special races to enter and multiplayer to enjoy, there’s B-Spec, which enables you to take control of a team of AI drivers. You effectively manage their careers, choosing who to enter into which race and providing them with instructions. It’s a little clunky and slow to progress, but it adds an extra dimension that could capture the imagination of some players.
And for the quick fix, there’s always the trusty Arcade mode with a good selection of cars and tracks available from the off. Two player split screen is just as it ever was, and in some ways, this is the very best of the game distilled into its purest form.
Online multiplayer is also supported, but at the time of writing it’s rudimentary at best (no matchmaking at all, for example), although updates are promised on a regular basis.
The beautiful presentation of the Premium cars alone is cause enough to come back. You can quite easily lose hours to finding the perfect angle and setting to photograph your vehicle, or watching and re-watching a replay of a particularly impressive performance.
Polyphony have also included a Course Maker mode, which isn’t technically a misnomer but perhaps “Course Editor” would have been more accurate. It doesn’t offer as much freedom as you might hope: it certainly won’t allow you to design your ideal track, but it may expand the game for players looking for something fresh.
The online experience, Yamauchi assures us, will be constantly improved. It’s shocking to think such a core element of modern competitive gaming has been overlooked throughout the protracted development, but there you have it. The decision for players keen on online multiplayer will be whether to accept the limited experience currently available and trust that it will be improved upon, or to wait and see how it develops.
If you’re the kind of person who loves knowing what’s under the bonnet as much as being behind the wheel, this is your game. Any of the criticisms levelled at GT5 are gamers’ criticisms, not car fans’ criticisms; make no mistake: GT5 is a petrol-head’s dream. The sheer number of vehicles and level of detail provided - right down to accurate cockpit modelling on the Premium models - is enough to excite anyone with even a passing interest in cars.
But the expansive nature of the title seems to come at the expense of attention to detail. The stark differences between the Standard and Premium cars, poor interface, uninspiring AI and unfriendly multiplayer combine to take the edge off what would otherwise be an exceptional experience. Had more effort gone into making the title tighter, rather than larger, then the product overall may well have been one worth buying a PS3 for. As it is, it’s a game that will no doubt split opinion: it’s every car lover’s dream, but the same cannot necessarily be said for game lovers.
- Premium cars look sublime
- Level of technical detail is a petrolhead
- Graphical inconsistencies
- Unwieldy menu interface
- Unpolished and outdated online mulitplayer
Gran Turismo 5 PS3 Review
Having been out of the race for some six years, there’s a legitimate doubt over whether Gran Turismo’s return will see it taking first place or languishing behind the pack. The fact is, if you’re the kind of person who loves knowing what’s under the bonnet as much as being behind the wheel, this is your game: it’s every car lover’s dream, but the same cannot necessarily be said for game lovers.
* Please note: Gran Turismo 5 has a 3D option, but this was not playtested as part of this review.
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