“I like driving in my car, it’s not quite a jaguar… beep beep!”. Unfortunately that’s not how Gran Turismo 5 introduces itself. Instead, after more than five years of development and numerous delays, GT5 opens with a torturously long CGI sequence of a car being made and eventually driven, set to somber tones. This is clearly serious business!
The Real Driving Simulator, as some people call it, needs no introduction or explanation. Making this whole article/review a bit pointless – but anyway, it’s a racing game where you drive cars, so even a complete pleb should be able to understand the concept. The question is, was the long wait worth it? Or more precisely, is £49.99 worth it (assuming you paid retail price and didn’t opt for the Collector’s Edition)?
The good news is, when it can be bothered, GT5 is the prettiest, most realistic racing game around. As sexiness and realism are the main criteria for judging racing games, this means Gran Turismo 5 is very good. When it can be bothered.
You see, despite being in development for almost an eternity, there’s a whiff of a rush job about the whole thing. You might say the developers couldn’t be bothered, but Polyphony Digital are so anal about cars that’s probably not the case – it seems like Sony needed to get this out of the door before 2011 or someone was getting shot in the face. You can’t really say they didn’t have enough time to get ready though – it was originally supposed to be released last year, or the year before, or maybe some time before that.
What’s unfinished? Well, the game features about 1,000 cars. This being a game for car nuts, the attention to detail is paramount. 200 of the cars are ‘premium’ models, which basically means they’re new 3D models designed specifically for the game, featuring interior views and more polygons than are really necessary. What about the other 800 cars? They’re ‘standard’ models, or more specifically, models imported from previous versions of GT, and a bit smelly. The standard models lack interiors (a bummer if you like the cockpit view), and some look downright clunky – you can see the harsh polygonal angles. So… it does feel a bit lazy.
The same random quality control applies to the tracks – some are stunning, near photorealistic recreations of real tracks (London, Monaco and Eiger Nordwand in particular look lovely). Others are clearly ripped from earlier games in the series, looking pretty dodgy.
The important thing is that GT5 plays really well. The cars all handle in a way that feels realistic – often painful to drive at first, but a delight once mastered. If you want to play with a steering wheel and pedals hooked up to your console, aside from looking like a bit of a tit, it should all feel quite realistic – even down to the Toyota Yaris being shit.
Fans of the series will be instantly familiar with everything here. Nothing’s really changed – you still start off with a limited budget, buying a stodgy first car and entering The Sunday Cup to earn money (and now, experience points too) to put towards nicer cars. The license tests are still there, although they’re not required anymore – you progress through races by earning experience points.
The game design’s still stuck fairly firmly in 1997 (although the new menu system’s more convoluted), and it really shows in the online multiplayer. Which is basically just about functional. Clearly the developers have been too busy looking at cars to pay any attention to the internet or online gaming, which is a bit of a shame. Less than a month into the game’s release though, a patch has been published, and the developers have stated their intent to release more patches to apologise for their shoddiness. Well, they didn’t apologise, but with so much hype, you almost feel that they should.
Corner cutting or poor design decisions aside, it’s still really good. The little areas that lack polish are obvious, as the rest of the package is so impressive. Initially you think “oh, the cars are still indestructible!”, but actually as you progress through the game the cars become more and more prone to damage. As you prove your worth, the game shows new depths – a rally mode with randomly generated tracks and dynamic weather conditions, amusing Top Gear test track races, and B-Spec mode where you let computer controlled drivers race your cars for you, if you can’t be bothered with the whole driving thing. There really is a lot to do.
Understandably, people will nitpick a game with as much expectations as Gran Turismo 5. You could write quite a long list. As a driving game though, it pretty much sets the standard for all other games to follow. Note the use of the word driving rather than racing. It isn’t all edge of your seat excitement, skidding around corners at 200 miles per hour. It’s the realistic simulation that Gran Turismo fans know and love. Even if that means driving a second hand Honda Civic up a muddy hill.