It’s almost surreal to believe that Gran Turismo 5 is finally here. After years of waiting, expectations have gone through the roof, leaving overly critical fans disappointed and fanboys drooling at their piece of perfection. Only after the initial impressions are surpassed can you see Gran Turismo 5 for what it really is: a fantastic driving simulator for petrol-heads that isn’t without fault. Gentlemen, it’s finally time to start your engines.
What it got right:
Gran Turismo 5 is the comprehensive driving simulator. It took me a while, but after several days of play, I’m convinced that Gran Turismo 5 is the best driving simulator in existence. Perfection is a big word, and GT5 comes as close as any before it. It’s more than just “the real driving simulator,” it’s an exhilarating experience that encompasses the spirit of motorsport. It offers the typical Gran Turismo driving mechanics, with improvements to the braking and steering of cars. There’s more content than you could possibly imagine, ensuring that it will spin in your PS3 for months to come. First impressions don’t do it any justice, as I was left underwhelmed until the two-three hour mark, where things really started to become interesting. From there it just kept getting better as I unlocked more and more interesting races and challenges. GT5 has more than enough action to keep even the most hardcore of car fanatics happy.
Impressive physics are top notch. The realism of the driving mechanics, in particular the physics, are immediately apparent. Getting behind the wheel of a cheap Civic or Corolla handles exactly as you would expect. They are not designed to be trashed around a track, and react appropriately when you push them beyond their limits with unfounded modifications. As you progress and stride into the ranks of supercars, the handling is vastly different. Muscle cars raw to life, but struggle to get around tight bends with any grace, remembering that the Americans didn’t consider both left and right turns on the same track. With such lifelike physics and reactions, as you spinout with trails of dirt protruding behind you, GT5 is more than a game. It’s as close as most of us will ever get to test driving a range of different vehicles on opposing tracks and conditions.
With over 1000 cars to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Gran Turismo 5’s impressive car list is almost overwhelming. With so much to choose from, it helps if you know your cars to avoid searching through gargantuan lists of new and used vehicles. From basic go-karts to the latest in concept racing, GT5’s garage is extensive and addictive. “Gotta catch ‘em” could easily be applied, but that would take a stupefying effort on the player’s part. You will fall in love with some special cars, and absolutely loath other monstrosities that don’t deserve to be on a race track, but that’s Gran Turismo. With so many different races to enter, your garage will diversify out of necessity, introducing you to all sorts of motor-racing.
The attention to detail is superb. At its best, Gran Turismo 5 could be mistaken for the real thing, rather than a virtual simulator. However, with over 1000 cars in the garage, only a fifth get the premium treatment. 200 of the cars are breathtaking and shine with Polyphony Digital’s trademark visual style. The other 800 or so don’t look terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s a clear divide between them. Some have been ported from GT4, with a graphical overhaul, but their PS2 origins are still lingering. However, the authenticity of the best cars and some of the tracks is majestic. Photo mode is proof enough, as it lets you take any car into the best locations to snap pics as you walk around on foot exploring every inch of the gallant sight.
GT Mode is everything you want with a new experience system. It’s here where you will spend the bulk of your time with features including the all important A-Spec, license, B-Spec, practice and special events. Arcade Mode is great for racing around specific tracks and two-player split screen, but other than that, you’ll head straight for the GT mode. New to Gran Turismo, taking a leaf out of Forza’s book, is the experience system. As you race, not only will you earn currency, you’ll gain experience points and level up. As you do, new races, cars and special events become available. It’s a simple feature, that’s almost become a staple of the racing genre, but it’s one that makes a colossal difference. It pushes you through GT Mode, giving you reason to strive for gold and complete as many races as possible.
Special Events are awesome. They are the most entertaining section of Gran Turismo 5’s broad spectrum of content. They challenge the player with completely different racing scenarios, beginning with basic kart racing before diversifying to NASCAR, The Top Gear Test Track, rally driving and more. The events are genuinely challenging, especially if you play them when first unlocked. They are not merely a cosmetic skin over the same old racing gameplay, they offer unique and interesting challenges for serious driving fans.
The array of tracks is sizable. The Top Gear Test Track is one for the fans, but difficult to unlock outside of the special events. The names of the now famous corners, designed in a figure-8 track on a former runway, pop-up on screen as the player races around them. Aesthetically, it’s far from eye candy, but that’s easy to forgive considering it’s based on a featureless aerodrome that spends most of the year covered in rain. Unfortunately, the first experience on the popular track is rather uninspiring in combies that struggle to break the 100 km/p barrier. To unlock the Test Track in practice and arcade modes, you’ll need to earn a gold trophy in at least one of the Special Events, which is much easier said than done. To compound the frustrating situation, once you do, you’ll find that time trails are done from rolling starts, making it difficult to contrast your times with the show’s. Fans will no doubt love the track, but the way it has been handled isn’t fantastic. The lack of a standing start, and frustrating events to unlock it is a blatant opportunity squandered.
The generous track list is full of variation, with a wide selection of original, city, dirt and snow tracks to tickle your fancy and change the state of play. The track creator doesn’t live up to its name, and is more of a random track generator. At best, the player has control over a handful of fairly arbitrary parameters which make a fleeting difference to the end result. If you had hoped to recreate or design your own tracks, you’ll be left grossly disappointed, as it’s more of an option to tweak existing original tracks. It comes in handy, however, in rally racing, where the track creator (generator) automatically makes minor changes to the circuit. As with a genuine rally stage, you’re never quite sure what’s coming up around the next bend.
Social online is a good starting point. Gran Turismo 5’s racing spirit extends into its online components, with the ability to send cars and photos to friends. You can also update 140 character statuses (Twitter style) and send message to and fro. Online races are fairly basic, but solid with 16 competitors. There’s not much on offer besides straight up racing, but at least at launch, it doesn’t really need anything more. A matchmaking option would have been useful, but instead players setup or join rooms – the advantage of this being the ability to create specific races.
The complete simulation is only experienced with a wheel. Unfortunately, I don’t own my own PS3 racing wheel, but was able to borrow one for GT5. A racing wheel vs Dual Shock 3 is almost like a different game. Where the control pad was once an asset for the PlayStation, it’s now terribly dated. Using the default option of the X and Square buttons to accelerate and break gives you no control over such an important element, as you’re either delivering nothing or full power; the alternative of the right thumb stick is hard to keep constant throughout a race. Fortunately, with the Dual Shock 3 you can map any control to any button. Throttle and break to R2 and L2 respectively was an easy fix for me when I was away from the wheel. Freedom to fully customise the control layout is a fantastic option, and something more games should employ.
What it got wrong:
The menus are terrible. The menu system in Gran Turismo 5 is complete rubbish. It’s far too awkward to navigate and the opposite of user friendly. Everything is controlled using a cursor and reacts like a 1997 PC game. While the simulation of racing is great, GT5 really starts to fall apart when it comes to other critical game features. Navigating game modes with ease is essential to the modern game, and something we just expect. Being confronted with such a complicated and unusable menu system is absurd. With time, it becomes more usable, but it’s still frustrating and disappointing in contrast to the high quality of play on the track.
Inconsistent visuals are disappointing. While Gran Turismo 5 looks stunning at times, it appears unfinished at others. The biggest disappointment is jagged and pixelated shadows with blurred number plates around cars. At the start of each race, the camera moves around your vehicle in-time with the 3-2-1 countdown. The 200 premium cars look fantastic in this sequence, and the others look great for a quick glimpse (unless you’re using the behind the car camera angle), but the shadows are reminiscent of something we would expect to see on the PS1. They’re an absolute disgrace, and it’s staggering that they made it into the final release. Likewise, while some tracks are authentic to their real life location – it brings Madrid into your livingroom – others are well below par. At least half of the tracks, the backgrounds in-particular, are missing the layer of polish they needed for the complete real world simulation. Whereas some tracks have you believing you are actually there, others have backdrops that are bleeding with the game’s PS2 heritage. After so much time in development, the realistic graphics meet expectations, but are let down by others not up to the task.
B-Spec feels tacked-on. It asks you to create a team of drivers and guide them through races from the sidelines, issuing commands and watching from a number of camera angles. It’s boring as all hell. There is no way to speed up the races – meaning you have to watch, hardly doing anything, in real time. It’s an interesting idea on paper, but in practice it’s tremendously boring, and nowhere near as in-depth as A-spec which puts you behind the wheel.
With loading times, the wait continues. GT5 is the waiting game. We have had to wait a copious amount of time for it to finally be released, and it continues when a 50 minute 8GB installation greets you upon initial start up. It’s recommended to avoid lengthily loading times; however, even after installation, the game still takes way too long to load tracks and continues to install more data as you play. Loading screens are hard to avoid in such a detailed game, but after several months of play, you’ll have spent hours waiting for tracks and menu screens to load. There’s not much that can be done about it, as least now, but the time spent waiting is still infuriating.
The early A.I. are bumper cars. A.I. has been one of the biggest issues faced by the Gran Turismo series, as it has never been quite right. At first, it appears nothing has changed in GT5. Early A.I. are more like obstacles or bumper cars, than genuine opponents. They will ram into each other, and with damage off, it’s easy to push them out of the way with little repercussion. All of a sudden, they approve out of nowhere, and give you a serious run for your money; this happens far too late and suddenly. The A.I. difficulty needed to gradually improve. The player’s skills don’t increase if they aren’t challenged early on, and as a result they aren’t ready for it later in the game.
Damage models are unconvincing. They have been Gran Turismo’s other flaw, and it’s an issue that still plagues GT5. Having damage turned off is recommended while you’re learning the ropes, but it’s nothing special once it comes into play. High speed crashes look more like an inflated bonnet than legitimate motor accident and it’s a big part of the simulation experience that is leaps and bounds away from being up to the quality of the rest of the game.
Repetitive music and soundbites are annoying. There is a custom soundtrack of 189 songs that can be toggled on or off for races and menus; however, only a small selection of these are tracks you’ll actually want to listen to. The elevator jazz in the menus is passable, but the sound bites and music are horrid. The aggravating loading screens are paired with the same tiny selection of musical tracks that play over and over again. Likewise, the sound when acquiring a car, starting or finishing a race is always exactly the same. The variation in music needed to be much better. The engine sound effects are decent, but given time, they too might end up lacking in range.
The Final Verdict
Gran Turismo 5 is the real driving simulator, and then some. As a driving simulator it’s fantastic, bar the damage models. The cars look awesome, they handle realistically and there’s a vast range to choose from. There are all types of different races to test your skills and stacks of content that’ll ensure Gran Turismo 5 is spinning in your console for months to come. It struggles a little outside of driving, with terrible menus and some inconsistent visuals to go with the authentic 200 premium cars and some lifelike locations. First impressions don’t do the game any justice, as it starts slowly and boring. To be fully appreciated, Gran Turismo 5 needs at least 5 hours of your time, and only starts getting better from there on in. Gran Turismo 5 is an exhilarating racing simulator, that encompasses the spirit of motorsport like no other game.