Gran Turismo 5, the latest release in Sony’s multimillion-selling car simulator franchise, makes it clear from the outset that it is a game designed for the most dedicated of petrolheads. After keeping you waiting more than five years for its release, Gran Turismo 5 will test you for another hour when you finally tear off the shrink wrap and slide the disk into your PlayStation 3.
You’ll be greeted by a 133MB patch, followed by a recommendation that you install 8GB of data onto your hard drive. Next, you’ll be faced with finger-tapping loading times and a bewildering menu system. And once you start digging into its content, don’t expect to find too many of the concessions to arcade-like fun and accessibility that you’ll find in most other big racing brands at the moment.
The Gran Turismo series is a labour of love for producer Kazunori Yamauchi, a professional driver and car nut with a massive collection of cars in his own garage. It’s a game by vehicle fetishists for vehicle fetishists — car porn in its purest form. It’s not the easiest game to love at first sight if your interest in cars is anything less than obsessive.
But if you’re are crazy about cars, there is a whole lot of game to love in Gran Turismo 5. It is comprehensive and dry enough as a racing sim to qualify as encyclopaedic. The game features more than 1 000 cars, 200 of which are “premium” models with lavishly modelled interiors and high-polygon counts. In addition, the game boasts 71 tracks set at 26 locations across the world. It will take hours of gameplay to even scratch the surface.
The heart of the game is the A-Spec mode, a racing career that will see you graduate from driving everyday cars in beginner and amateur races to expert races in exotic sports vehicles and supercars. If you’ve ever played a Gran Turismo game before, you’ll know exactly what to expect: a long, slow grind to the top.
Early in the game, you’ll only be able to afford a small hatchback or sedan. You’ll need to plug away at the game for hours in your little Toyota to earn credits and driver experience ranks before you’ll be allowed anywhere near the Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Damage modelling — a new feature that Yamauchi has begrudgingly added to Gran Turismo 5 in rare nod to current trends in the racing genre — is a “reward” you’ll only earn after hours of work.
That element of the gameplay feels a little dated — even the Forza franchise lets you get your hands on faster, more interesting cars earlier in its career mode and most racers feature damage as a standard element in their gameplay mix.
If you’re the sort of racing fan who wants to hop straight into an exotic car and hit a straight at 300km/h, this is probably not what you are looking for. There’s the arcade mode for that. This is your first stop if you don’t want to wind your way through the early parts of the career to get to the more spectacular cars and tracks. It gives you access to most of the game’s content straight off the bat.
The A-Spec mode is complemented by a range of special races that open up as you graduate through the career, including painstakingly detailed rally and Nascar races. There are a few quirkier options, such as realistic go-kart racing or races across the test track from television’s Top Gear in vehicles like a Volkswagen Samba minibus.
These races are all challenging, compelling and surprisingly full-featured considering that they don’t form the main focus of the game. And they’re welcome respites from chipping away at the A-Spec mode to earn the credits you need to buy your next car so that you enter new races. Drifting events, licence challenges and the B-Spec mode (a mode which allows you to manage a team of racing drivers) round off an extremely varied and generous single-player package.
Gran Turismo 5 also incorporates 16-player online multiplayer races. Unfortunately, technical issues with the game’s servers prevented me from testing this component of the game as thoroughly as I would have liked to. That said, it has rich community features and provides a great deal of flexibility in the options it gives you for setting up an online race. An inbound patch should sort out the problems with online play, but they are really inexcusable for Sony’s most important exclusive game of the year.
Running at 60 frames per second at a resolution of 1080p, Gran Turismo 5’s visuals tick all the important boxes on the technical front. But the graphics haven’t taken the steps forward one would have expected in the years that have passed since the release of the Gran Turismo 5: Prologue taster.
The high-polygon models and detailed interiors for the premium cars are lovely, but the standard vehicles look less impressive.
Racetrack environments are two-dimensional and uninspiring. And although the game does hold its 60 frames per second most of the time, expect to see some torn and dropped frames when you have 12 or more vehicles in a race. Gran Turismo is still a beautiful game, but we’ve come to expect more from tent-pole PlayStation 3 exclusives than this.
But forget how the game looks and consider how it feels: perfect. Gran Turismo 5 excels where the rubber meets the road. It is here where the notoriously nit-picky Yamauchi’s attention to detail really pays off.
Microsoft’s Forza franchise has outdone the once-mighty Gran Turismo in many ways — better artificial intelligence, more persuasive damage modelling, better online features — but Gran Turismo is still the king of vehicular physics. No other console game nails the weight of a vehicle sliding around a corner or the way it handles as it tears down a straight quite as convincingly as Gran Turismo.
Gran Turismo 5 trailer (via YouTube):
Another historical strength of the franchise that shines through in Gran Turismo 5 is its excellent track design. Many of the tracks are carefully replicated versions of real-world racing tracks such as Nurburgring; others are fantasy courses through countryside and city. Selected courses and races feature weather effects such as snow and rain as well as transitions between day and night.
Gran Turismo 5 is a sprawling, towering achievement in its genre – it is perhaps the most complete car racing sim on the market at the moment. But it is a game that arrogantly demands that you learn to love it on its own terms. The deeper you dig in Gran Turismo 5, the more you’ll find to enjoy — provided you have the patience for it. — Lance Harris, TechCentral