Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Gran Turismo 5
Gran Turismo 5 on PS3 features over 1000 real-world cars, a huge roster of real-world tracks -- you can even build your own tracks!
- Mind-boggling number of racing challenges, cars, tracks and features; superb online mode
- Inconsistent graphic quality; slow and sometimes frustrating user experience; its sheer size and complexity means GT5 is not a particularly accessible driving game for more casual players
After an extremely long gestation period and seemingly endless delays, Gran Turismo 5 is finally here. Was it worth the wait? Here's where you can find out!
Price$ 119.95 (AUD)
I've been a huge, huge fan of the Gran Turismo racing series ever since it debuted back in 1997. I remember seeing the game a little earlier that year when I was working at IGN.com (before it was even called IGN.com), and I was absolutely blown away by its incredible graphics, large number of real cars, and the amazing racing experience it delivered. It was streets ahead of every other racing game I'd played, and I just had to have it. Knowing that it was coming out in late December in Japan, and that it probably wasn't going to appear in the States for months (indeed, not until May of the following year), I went out and bought a Japanese PlayStation just so I could play the import version. It was a great Christmas vacation for me: I played the game morning, noon, and night — and loved every minute of it.
Ever since then I've greeted every new Gran Turismo, even the Concept games, with the same level of enthusiasm and anticipation, either booking time off work or just "being sick" so I can spend at least a few days at launch playing it as much as humanly possible. So it was with incredible excitement I received Gran Turismo 5 last week. My calendar was already clear; I'd been waiting for this moment for a long time. I even rode my motorcycle into work so I could get home as fast as possible and start playing.
So, how is it?
Well, I'm torn about GT5 in a way that I've never been torn about a game. On the one hand, GT5 is a magnificent game, one that I've been playing nonstop for days now and is really delivering a fantastic racing experience. But, and I absolutely hate to say it, while it hits some incredible highs, GT5 also hits some lows. The more I play it, the more I realize it's not without its flaws — some of them quite notable.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we get to the experience of GT5, let's quickly just talk about what the game brings to the table.
On the face of it, GT5 is without a doubt the most complex and complete commercial-racing experience available. It features over 1,000 real-world cars, a huge roster of real-world tracks (many that are familiar to GT veterans, and a bunch of new ones, too), and a vast number of racing options. These vary from straight-up races (often themed by specific types of cars) to special objective-driven Gran Turismo missions (some of which include NASCAR and World Rally Championship-based challenges). There are License Tests to help you improve your skills and a variety of practice modes, including free and timed runs, and even a drift mode.
GT5 also features a Photo Mode (you can take pictures of in-game cars within beautifully rendered backdrops and export them as JPEGs), a new-to-GT5 Track Editor where you can build your own tracks (very cool, indeed), a Replay Theatre, and an Arcade Mode that offers a more straightforward and accessible driving experience for those who don't want to deal with the almost overwhelming complexity of GT Mode. The game also boasts a very comprehensive, and nicely designed, Online Racing mode, which I think is one of the most significant features of this generation of the Gran Turismo series.
The gameplay handles the racing in one of two ways: Either slip behind the wheel and drive yourself in A-Spec mode, or create an A.I, driver and have it drive a car for you in B-Spec mode. This is more of a management mode where you issue instructions to your driver during the race (pace up/pace down/maintain pace/overtake) and help him "learn" to race better. A- and B-Specs have an identical roster of races, and you can earn cash and win prize cars in both, but both modes are discrete: Winning a race in one mode does not mean credit in another. Being successful at any race yields money and cars, and — new to GT5 — experience. The better your performance, the more experience you earn. And the more experience you earn, the higher level you become. Much of the game's content — cars included — is gated by level, so you have to level up to access them. It's a pretty good idea that adds a new element to the otherwise traditional Gran Turismo construct.
So. Now we're back to the burning question: How is it?
Well, at its heart, GT5 is the Gran Turismo series we all know and love. It follows the same tried and tested formula of its predecessors, and I found myself slipping into my comfortable GT groove as I began to play it: complete the "B" License Tests with all Gold Medals so I can win a few decent cars to start with, compete in the Sunday Cup... then the FF Challenge. Yep. It's like I'm back with an old friend. The racing is fun. The handling is definitely improved — it's more finessed and complex and feels more realistic than ever before. But then I start doing my old Gran Turismo tricks: I bash cars out of the way on the first corner, I take creative short cuts around the same old familiar tracks. And I realize I'm pretty much playing the same game I've played before. Sure, the visuals are better, the audio is improved, and the general tactility of the game is better, but yet I'm playing it the same way as I've done before.
Then I start watching the other cars, and it looks to me like I'm not the only one doing the same thing as before: the A.I. is behaving the way I remember it in previous versions of the series. Opponents seem to be trundling around on rails, even to the point of sometimes barging me out of the way to stay on their predetermined course. This has happened on numerous occasions now, and it's frankly annoying. It's really apparent on high-speed circuits where the opponents draft you and almost seem to be deliberately trying to perform a PIT maneuver on you because they can't seem to figure out a way to get past you. I've watched their behavior on replays to see what the problem is, and it really doesn't seem to be anything other than that the cars want to maintain a set course, regardless of what is happening around them.
I also notice that cars often behave very predictably — doing the same thing, lap after lap. Sure, I understand that racing is about finding an optimal route and being consistent, but at the same time, this consistency creates a situation where races can be won simply by learning which corners the A.I. gets wrong every lap. Sure, this is a very subtle observation, but it does shift the focus away from feeling like you're really racing, particularly in contests that are very close, to playing a pattern-recognition game.
And in that sense, I'm back to my original point — this feels the same as previous GT games. I don't know how much time Polyphony spent tweaking the A.I. from earlier GT games, but whether they spent a lot of time on it, or a little, the end result doesn't look or feel much different to me from previous games. And considering the importance of A.I. and the amount of time Polyphony had to develop the game, I find that disappointing.
Another area where I experienced some disappointment is in the cosmetics. Most of the time, GT5's graphics are amazing, but some areas are weak. Sometimes the shadows are glitchy and don't look right. The crowd graphics look decent from a distance, but sometimes when they're too close to the track, they look like something from a PS2 game. Most tracks look gorgeous, but occasionally some areas look like they're just not quite polished — a little too artificial. Like I said, most of the time things look amazing, but it's not consistent. And that lack of consistency is also evident in the car models.
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