Gran Turismo 5 Prologue marks Polyphony Digital’s first real leap into the next generation platform. With its usual array of exotic supercars, jaw dropping graphics and realistic physics work, does GT5 Prologue have what it takes to stand out from the increasingly crowded competition, or does it stall inches away from the chequered flag?
Since its initial launch some 10 years ago back on the original Playstation, Gran Turismo has worked up a resolute reputation of being the ultimate driving simulator. Whilst its punishing physics engine wasn’t for everyone, there was always an undeniable thrill about thrashing your favourite cars and pushing them to the limit around both real life and fictional circuits, whilst the complimentary and convincing driving physics worked its magic in completely immersing the player, as you are soaked into the visual flurry.
Thanks to Polyphony’s dedication and sheer unrelenting perfectionism, the Gran Turismo franchise really nailed the very essence and soul of the driving experience. Fortunately, none of this has been lost in its transition to the Playstation 3.
However, there is an element of confusion with GT5 Prologue – “Prologue”? Well, as the title suggests, GT5 Prologue acts as a tantalizing introduction for what is to come, a warm up lap if you will. In truth, this is not the first time that this has happened, either. Prior to the release of GT4, Polyphony implemented the exact same tactic, by releasing GT4 Prologue.
Whilst many felt that it was simply a glorified demo, it still gave fans an insight of what to expect for the forthcoming GT4. With GT5 Prologue however, it is problematic to label it as a demo, due to the fact that it actually contains a generous portion of content, which many full games would find hard to match. With over 70 cars, 6 tracks and a slew of other new modes at a budget price, it could easily be classed as a whole new game, but then of course, in the Gran Turismo world at least, it isn’t.
To further add to the confusion, Japanese gamers experienced a taste of the game in the form of an advanced downloadable demo a few months before the game’s final release – you could almost say that this was the world’s first demo of a demo. What I found intriguing about this demo however was the method in which extra cars were unlocked. Closely linked with the Tokyo Motorshow, each car was unlocked simultaneously in accordance to its unveiling at the motorshow, which was a very unique and clever way of promoting new cars, such as the Nissan GTR. What we have here then is a game that is hard to define, but I do feel that the content available does outstretch that of a demo.
Boot up the game, and you are greeted with an entirely new menu system to the series, which is slick, minimalistic and simple. Whilst not quite as dazzling as the interface present in Colin McRae Dirt, GT5 Prologue’s is a close match. Aptly called “my page”, it displays each main area of the game in an intuitive fashion, neatly arranged at the bottom of the screen, whilst your currently selected car is lovingly displayed from every conceivable angle in real-time. Even the Windows Vista-esque calendar and weather apparatus don’t come across as clutter.
Once again, progression through the main meat of the game is reliant on advancing through various race events and earning credits, in order to purchase new cars in the process. Also, for the first time in the series, the game is devoid of any license tests whatsoever, which in a way is a blessing and a curse since there is no real tutorial for newcomers to the series. Instead, beginners still have the option of turning driving aids on, as well as a racing line aid. Whilst nowhere near as expansive as GT4’s Gran Turismo mode, the race mode is split into classes which become increasingly more challenging.
This of course means that as you enter the higher end races, you will require a more powerful, expensive car if you are to stand a chance at coming first, which in turn means you will all too often repeat earlier races just to earn the extra credits. It is a tedious system, but can also be rewarding once you are finally able to afford the car you have desired most. The race AI has also finally seen an overhaul, no longer brainlessly whacking into each other from their refusal to stray from their racing line, which is welcome considering there are now 16 cars on the track.
My real gripe however is the fact that you can only ever drive the cars that you have bought. Unlike previous titles, the arcade mode does not include a ready-made selection of cars to play with, and progressing through the race mode does not unlock any cars either. Restricting the car selection to your garage of purchased cars feels like it has deprived those who seek to have instant fun, and makes it impractical for those who want to drive every car in the game.
Motor fans certainly won’t have much to complain about when they do eventually get their hands on the available cars, as there is a pleasing variety of manufacturers for everyone. Again, at roughly 70 cars it doesn’t quite achieve the staggering 700 that GT4 managed, but, for what is meant to be a taster, it is hard to grumble when you consider many other full games don’t offer close to this amount. And what a taster it is.
The selection on offer comprises of many contemporary cars that are new to the series, such as the legendary Nissan GTR, Audi R8, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and the new Subaru Impreza, which results in a car selection which feels fresh and bang up to date. More notable however is the inclusion of a certain manufacturer that fans have longed for since the series began – Ferrari. Licensing problems meant that Ferrari would never see the light of day in Gran Turismo, but subsequently appeared in the hateful Need for Speed and Project Gotham Racing series, which put Gran Turismo to shame.
It’s nice therefore to see that it has caught up at long last, and one can only imagine the delight that feckless Ferrari enthusiasts will no doubt love the Ferrari 512BB, 599 GTB Fiorano, F40, F2007 (yes an F1 car which can be yours for 2 million credits) and, more recently after an update, the California thunder along on their Ferrari branded television. Sadly, there is still no Lamborghini or Porsche present, but there is still hope for when the full game arrives.
Unsurprisingly, each car handles sublimely, with Polyphony’s latest physics system once again captivating new heights of realism. Every car handles with its own unique characteristics, down to an astonishing level of detail. To really get the most out of driving, which applies to any Gran Turismo, I wholeheartedly recommend substituting the controller with a racing wheel. Although pricey, the Logitech G25 is easily the best wheel for the job and offers a new layer of depth and precision that a controller simply cannot provide.
“Photorealistic” is an adjective that I have most likely overused in the past, but there really is no other word to describe the graphics on display here. Viewed in glorious 1080p high definition, car models are rendered perfectly down to the most impeccable detail, utilising an unfathomable amount of polygons (upwards of 200,000 compared to 4000 in GT4 for those that like their stats). If you need an excuse to take the plunge into HD, or simply want something to truly show off your new high spec TV, then this is the game to showcase. To put simply, there is no other PS3 game that looks this good, and I can’t imagine it being overtaken any time soon.
The technology that powers these enhanced graphics have also allowed for a new innovation to the series, in the form of a new available view showing the full interior of the car. Whilst this has been done before in other games, it has never been done with such pristine detail, to the extent that you can actively spot the difference between different seat materials and marvel at the intricate stitching found on the driver’s gloves. The only flaw to this view is that the viewing distance is somewhat obscured by the gaping dashboard, making it more difficult to navigate the track precisely. But if you want the most realistic depiction possible, there is simply no substitute.
The tracks on offer are also equally detailed, and the 6 that are present are all a joy to drive around in their own way. Suzuka, Fuji and High Speed Ring should prove to be familiar territory to Gran Turismo veterans, but the remaining tracks are all brand new to the series. The real life circuit of Daytona is one of these tracks, and is an ideal place to test the speed of a car, although the simple oval shaped design can become a bit too bland for my liking. Then we have Eiger Nordwand, previously featured in the downloadable Gran Turismo HD, which comprises of a twisty, rally-esque course ideal for drifting. Lastly, a London circuit is featured which is somewhat akin to the New York circuit from GT4. Like this track before it, it is a challenging test of tight corners and a visual feast.
If there is one feature that Gran Turismo has always been sorely lacking in, it would be the ability to share your driving experiences online. Fan’s prayers have finally been answered, as GT5 Prologue marks Polyphony’s first attempt to belatedly move the series into the online world. Unfortunately, they needn’t have bothered since the online mode is so primitively basic; it serves as a testament of how inexperienced they are with online play. The copious lag would be bad enough, but the core problem is the fact that the online mode can only be played by using a matchmaking system, meaning that it is virtually impossible to play with your own friends.
This inability to even create your own game to play with your friends completely eliminates the social factor that makes online gaming often so compelling, and is a real disappointment for what should have been a turning point. Fortunately, Polyphony have said that they are working on updating the system which will hopefully be released at some point as a download, but the result still feels like an unfinished feature.
The only real use that the online mode offers is the role of rankings, as I for one have spent hours trying to beat the established rankings in the new drift trial mode. The other most significant new mode is GT TV, an application that allows the streaming and downloading of car related videos. You can even rent episodes of Top Gear for 69p, but it all feels a bit bare and gimmicky at the moment. Time will tell whether or not it will become more significant when GT5 is finally released.
And then we have the other most commonly requested feature – car damage. Sadly, there is still not a hint of damage present in the game and slamming into a barrier at considerable speed will still result in the car remaining unscathed and gleaming as if it hasn’t been touched. For a game that prides itself on being the real driving simulator, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore this omission, particularly when certain other games consistently feature damage to licensed cars. What with the lacklustre online as well, I can’t help but feel that the series hasn’t really moved on, particularly when the granddaddy has since had competition.
But perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on dear granddad. Whilst he has his shortcomings, he makes up for it in sheer class and flamboyance, with a superb attention to detail, robust physics engine and visuals that amount to car pornography, which no other game can match. GT5 Prologue serves as a generous appetizer at a budget price, and is certainly on the right track. The logistics of having to shell out for what some will convey as an extended demo is indeed questionable, and the punishing perfectionism that the game enforces can be overwhelming for newcomers. But If Polyphony can stick to their promise and amend these shortcomings; the final product should do well in perfecting Gran Turismo’s legacy in a whole new direction.
Supremlely smooth and photorealistic graphics, with equally slick menu system, makes GT5 Prologue one of the most mouth watering games to showcase on PS3
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A solid Gran Turismo experience, but this is but the appetiser for the main feast.
Realistic engine sounds and a satisfying soundtrack make for a pleasing audio balance to compliment the game's awe inspiring visuals.
Since this is a demo for a demo, it will not have as much lasting appeal, but at a cut price this can be all forgiven.
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue will appease hardcore fans of the series, and some and, at this still early stage, the full game should be phonemoninally good. Just one request Polyphony - damage please.