Now here’s a sentence I didn’t think I would ever be writing at one point: Gran Turismo 5 is here. Complete. Finished. Ready for retail. I know, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are. And yet here I am cradling a real, physical copy of Polyphony’s long overdue new-born baby.
Kaz Yamauchi’s devoted drive for perfection has meant that GT5 has been in development since the dawn of time, incurring several disappointing delays – it was originally meant to leave the forecourt in 2008. Mind you, this is the same developer who stated Gran Turismo PSP would be a launch title.
Over four main iterations, Gran Turismo has enjoyed considerable success and recognition for shaping the racing simulation genre, creating a global icon whilst sitting safely in a class of its own. Times have changed however, and as 2007’s Gt5 Prologue became GT5 Prolonged, the competition has become ever more turbulent since GT4’s release back in 2004, with the likes of Forza Motorsport shadowing its slipstream. Can Gran Turismo get back into the race or has it run out of fuel after such a long pit stop?
One thing is for certain: GT5 doesn’t leave a good first impression. To reduce loading times, the game invites you to begin an optional data installation – this is nothing new for a contemporary console game these days, except this one is a hard-drive-hogging 10GB. The waiting time? Roughly 45 long, empty minutes.
It wouldn’t be so arduous if the game entertained you with something other than a black screen and garish loading bar during installation, so you would be wise to make some babies, eat a pie or do something equally productive to while away the time. The eta is also hysterically optimistic, as “3 seconds remaining” stretches for several agonising minutes – it’s about as reliable as the fluctuating release date.
Your treat for such endurance is a pretentious 7 minute-long intro cinematic depicting a car being constructed from its core components, before an ill-fitting music montage by My Chemical Romance, a band worshipped worldwide by mortally depressed 14 year olds – whatever happened to the days of Moon Over the Castle or Feeder? Remarkably, the game still hasn’t even finished installing at this point, procedurally loading components such as track and car selections on the fly.
Then you enter GT Life, the main meat of the game, which on first glance looks as if Kaz stuffed his mouth and nose full of menus and then sneezed. In contrast to GT4’s navigable world map, GT Life’s lifeless home screen is bland and cluttered with an overwhelming number of options, forcing you to trawl through an endless array of sub-menus to perform rudimentary tasks. Still, at least we have some pompous jazz music to sooth the mood.
Once again, you start with a meagre budget that only allows you to buy a used crummy car, gradually working your way up until you have a car collection that Jay Leno would be envious of. It’s a familiar structure that remains largely unchanged since GT’s inception in 1997, though GT5 also introduces a new ranking system – yes, even GT has now conformed to the XP mechanic.
Completing events will earn you XP and advance your level, unlocking previously restricted events and cars, thus preventing you from accessing the more difficult events and faster cars too early on. It’s a mechanic that cements the “caRPG” vibe the series has retained, but GT Life can become a ritual as you struggle to reach the higher ranks to the point you end up repeating earlier events just to level up.
Many events also have car restrictions that force you to scour the used dealership (which randomly generates new cars in the same vein as GT PSP), yet it’s still sometimes possible to race in unfairly powered cars which often takes driving skill out of the equation in the early events. The dreaded license tests also return but are thankfully no longer mandatory, and achieving gold in every test will take some time.
While A-Spec covers the main racing events in the game, events can also be repeated in B-spec, whereby you observe the race from a manager’s point of view issuing commands to your driver, who will respond according to their current stamina. In all honesty, B-spec is a tiresome distraction that did little to keep me awake, although it can be useful for milking money.
Special Events provide a welcome break from the grind of A and B-spec, and are the undisputed highlights of GT Life. Chief among which is the inclusion of the Top Gear Test Track, the iconic abandoned airfield used to test cars on a certain BBC show I happen to admire.
Sony was no doubt pleased to obtain this prestigious license, as Top Gear’s mass appeal will no doubt provide a unique selling point for the game. The introduction, which explains the premise of the show before showing the rendered studio and the Stig thrashing an Aston Martin, had me buzzing with excitement, only to then be disappointed when the “exciting” event was unveiled – a race in VW Camper Vans that struggle to reach 50 MPH. How Polyphony thought they could derive any fun from this is beyond me.
It’s still fun to pretend you’re the Stig and exclaim “and across the line!” after each lap, but the license feels like a missed opportunity: even the reasonably priced cars are nowhere to be seen. DLC, I demand thee.
Thankfully, this wasn’t the only license Polyphony acquired. Special Events serve as a poignant reminder of GT5’s astonishing car variety – one minute you’re sat an inch from the track in a dinky go-kart, the next you’re taking NASCAR lessons from a ghostly Jeff Gordon, tackling the perilous Nürburgring segment by segment in a Mercedes AMG or taking part in tough WRC challenges with Sebastian Vettel. In short, GT Life covers a lot of ground, with no shortage of unique events to participate in and a strong scope for car collecting.
Oh dear; it’s time to talk about the car list. The last time I did this I managed to upset some Internets who hastily concluded I should be grateful that the game sports over 1000 cars. I won’t argue that, statistically, this is indeed a staggering and commendable achievement, but those who failed to read past the first paragraph of the aforementioned article ultimately missed my point.
I’ll reiterate: GT5’s car list is woefully unbalanced, with a clear bias towards Japanese cars (how many variants of the Nissan Skyline do you really need?) and isn’t nearly as comprehensive or up to date as you would have thought. I hate to say it, but right now Forza Motorsport 3‘s car list is far more diverse than GT5’s disappointingly dated roster. And this is coming from a well acquainted GT veteran before the fanboy flags are waved.
What’s more, there is an unfortunate divide in quality between car models. Out of 1000 cars, around 200 are “Premium” models awashed with supreme detail and fully modelled interiors, whereas the remaining 800 or so are “Standard” models that were directly imported from GT4 and GT PSP.
Premium models reinforce GT’s photorealistic aesthetic, and look salivating sensational with a painstaking level of detail. By contrast, the Standard cars’ age-old heritage shows, with inferior texture quality and jagged edges abound: Polyphony restrict you from taking photographs of Standard cars too close-up, which says it all really. Standard cars also lack interiors, meaning you have to adjust to different viewpoints if you normally drive with the cockpit view – even using GT PSP’s detail-less dashboards would have been better than nothing at all. GT has never stood for quantity over quality, so such sacrilege is perplexing.
It’s a similar story with the track design. New city tracks such as London and Madrid dazzle you with their lavish lighting and expertly crafted structures, but old favourites like Trial Mountain and Deep Forest shatter GT5’s good looks with an abundance of PS2 quality textures, scenery pop-up and trees that still look like they were stencilled with blunt Crayolas. It’s like scanning a supermodel, only to find they have a bulging boil planted on their face.
With 20 tracks and 70 variations (including some new aesthetically pleasing weather effects and day and night transitions), GT5 provides an ample number of locations, and yet there are still a few questionable omissions: where is Midfield Raceway, El Capitan and Apricot Hill, to name a few? There is also a new track editor, but there’s little to rave about as you are restricted to adjusting corners on a pre-rendered layout. ModNation Racers this is not.
Then there’s that long requested feature: car damage. Yes, GT finally allows you to inflict damage to its previously pristine cars, but before you get excited, the effect is extremely understated. It’s still possible to come out unscathed during hard impacts, and Standard cars only suffer minute dents whereas some premium cars incorporate flapping panels. There are also no debris effects whatsoever, and the collision physics still leave a lot to be desired.
When it boils down to it however, GT has never been about crashing: it’s the art of driving that the game was principally designed for. Mercifully, this is once again where GT absolutely excels over the competition, as GT5 delivers a phenomenal physics engine that’s leaps and bounds ahead of GT5 Prologue. Sublime doesn’t even begin to describe the degree of sophistication.
Equip yourself with a wheel, and you will soon learn why GT is touted “the real driving simulator,” allowing you to feel every subtlety of handling a car. GT5 removes the previous arcade and professional physics settings, instead allowing you to customise the difficulty by tweaking the driving aids. With all aids turned on it’s accessible for beginners, but those who are brave enough to turn them off will find the more ferocious cars complete animals to tame: there’s no better feeling than tail sliding a Ferrari 458 with no traction control.
Online multiplayer for up to 16 players finally makes its full debut, but, like a lot of features in GT5, it feels rather archaic. Players can join each other’s online “Lounge” (GT5’s upper-class term for “lobby”) so you can chat whilst gorging on Ferrero Rocher’s before the race begins. From here, you can restrict races by car make and power and the online performance is smooth, but there’s little incentive to play online at this point since you can’t earn XP or money. Online leaderboards are also curiously absent at the time of writing, but will reportedly be added in the near future.
If you’re as fanatical about cars as Kaz, it’s easy to appreciate GT5’s enthusiastic efforts to encapsulate the feeling of collecting cars and driving them beyond their limits. As a game sequel however, it’s not quite the evolutional leap many were hoping for as the many niggles and lack of innovation prevent it from achieving the perfection it aspired to, resulting in a refinement of an age-old formula.
If anything, GT5 sets the technical foundations for GT6, a pattern that we’ve seen time and time again – just look at the leap from GT3 to GT4. GT5 can therefore safely be filed under “one for the fans”.
At times GT5 looks like the real thing, but the graphics are oddly inconsistent as environments and Standard cars can look downright ugly at times.
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The core driving experience remains unmatched, but the grind of GT Life can become laborious.
Engine sounds are noticeably improved for the most part at long last, yet they still sometimes lack ferocity.
With over 1000 cars and a healthy variety of events, there is plenty to see and do. Online multiplayer urgently needs some fleshing out, however.
Gran Turismo 5 lives up to its tagline as "the real driving simulator", but in almost every other respect there lies a sense that the grandaddy has been steadily lapped by the competition.