Gran Turismo 5 PlayStation 3
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by: Polyphony Digital
The wait for Gran Turismo 5 has been almost insufferable but the wait is finally over and with sales already in excess of five million worldwide it's clear that the delay has done nothing to curb the series' popularity. But now that it's finally here how good is Gran Turismo 5? Some aspects of the game truly impress whilst others truly disappoint. It's very much a classic Gran Turismo experience but it doesn't offer much in the way of improvement from what's gone before in the series.
Going off the game's statistics, everything looks extremely impressive. GT5 boasts 1,000 cars and a multitude of circuits. The problem is that only a fifth of those cars have been created from scratch for the game and a high percentage of the circuits have already appeared in earlier games in the series. The 200 or so premium cars look great and each have a highly detailed cockpit view from which driving is a pleasure. This isn't the case for the 800 standard cars that have been bought back from previous versions. Most of the circuits have been recycled from previous games and I personally found it rather boring to drive around circuits which I've driven around hundreds of times before.
GT5 offers both a Course Maker and Gran Turismo TV. The Gran Turismo TV mode allows you to view a selection of HD movies some of which are free and others which you'll have to pay for. From what I've seen these movies aren't subtitled. The Course Maker allows you to construct your own circuits. You'll pick a general theme (from a choice of seven), choose one of the offered layouts and then customise each section for complexity, road width and corner sharpness. You can also set the time at which races on the circuit will take place and the weather conditions. In truth it's a very basic circuit designer and could have been made much better.
When it comes to racing you have a choice of GT and Arcade modes. The Arcade mode allows you to take part in single races, time trials, drift trials and two-player split-screen races. As always it's a great mode when you just want to take it easy with the game or practice getting to grips with a particular car or circuit. The GT is where you'll spend most of your time with the game. As in previous titles you can take part in A-Spec and B-Spec races in addition to special events and licence tests. B-Spec races essentially allow you to issue commands to an AI driver during the course of a race. There are rewards to be earned in this mode but who buys a Gran Turismo game simply to watch the AI drive races? The A-Spec races are where you'll get behind the wheel and take part in a multitude of races from the Beginner Series all the way up to the Extreme Series. In these more difficult series you'll need to make sure you tune your car properly and GT5 certainly doesn't disappoint in this respect. Special Events is a mode where you'll do all kinds of things from driving a kart to taking part in rally challenges. These events offer a change of pace and are a welcome addition to the game (particularly the karting which is very enjoyable). If there's a criticism to be made of the GT mode it's that it can feel like one long grind. After acquiring a dozen or so levels it can take several hours or so of racing to progress to the next level. As you'll need to progress through the levels to unlock events it allows the tedium to creep in far too quickly. At least you don't have to plough through the licence tests, if you don't want to.
The quality of the AI and damage modelling are two areas of the GT series that have always been found wanting. Sadly, that is still pretty much the case. GT5 does have damage modelling but it's so slight that they really shouldn't have bothered. As a driver you'll level up during the course of the GT mode and to begin with you won't see any damage modelling at all. As you reach the higher levels you'll begin to see some minor damage modelling but it's still woefully inadequate. You'd think after all this time Polyphony Digital would have managed to program an AI that doesn't think it's a game of dodgems but sadly the AI that existed in previous Gran Turismo games has returned. This means that the AI will stick to the racing line at all costs and will smack into any car that gets in its way. For a series that calls itself a simulation the AI is nowhere near what it should be.
At least you can bypass the AI if you choose and head online to take part in 16 player races. The online racing is enjoyable because the game makes it difficult for others to spoil the races by doing stupid things like reversing mid-race (they will simply pass through your car rather than knock you off the road). It's great to see Polyphony Digital take care to make sure no one spoils your fun online. It's just a shame you have to make do with selecting lobbies that aren't full rather than allowing automatic matchmaking. The system of inviting friends to races could have also been far simpler. It would have also been great if you earned experience points online to help reduce the amount of grinding you have to do in the GT mode.
So there are a fair amount of negatives here but one aspect of the game which can't be faulted is the car physics which are really impressive. Once again you'll get to tune your car to your liking and alter how each car handles. To fully appreciate the handling and the physics of each car (and from what I've driven they all feel quite different from each other) you'll need to use a good steering wheel. Using the standard controller is OK to a point but you're never getting a true feeling of how realistic the cars handle. If you do have a good steering wheel then you'll get to fully appreciate what is easily the best driving game on the PlayStation 3, for all its problems.
It's difficult to talk about Gran Turismo 5's presentation without being both impressed and disappointed. The impressive aspects are the 200 premium cars or so and the new circuits whilst the 800 standard cars are way below the standard they should have been. In fact I'd rather not have had the recycled content included and the game would have actually been more visually impressive. In many ways this is symbolic of the game as a whole. The legacy stuff should have been cut and allowed the new, far more impressive elements to shine. Rather annoying are the amount of flickering textures and the aliased edges which really do take the gloss off what is, in part, an impressive looking game. The frame rate is mostly OK but the load times are atrocious. You can get around this to a certain degree by installing 8GB worth of data to the PlayStation 3's HDD and this certainly helps to improve matters but it's an awful lot of hard drive space to sacrifice if, like me, you're using a launch model PS3 with only a 64GB HDD. The game menus look rather swish at first but they are cluttered and clumsy to use.
On the whole Gran Turismo 5 isn't a bad experience for deaf gamers. You'll be fully aware of what needs to be done in any event and during the licence tests and because of that you'll come up against no real obstacles. However, it's disappointing to see that the videos on the Gran Turismo TV mode are not subtitled. It's also a shame that videos you'll encounter in the GT mode are not subtitled. For instance the movie that introduces the Top Spin test track isn't subtitled. None of these omissions are problematic but they are disappointing. The force feedback used during the game is impressive, if you have a good steering wheel, and it really helps to immerse you into the game.
In a nutshell Gran Turismo 5 delivers a solid experience that will no doubt satisfy longstanding fans of the series. Will it truly impress them? I suspect in most cases it won't. Don't get me wrong had this game been released some years ago it would have been difficult to have expected more but because of the amount of time it's taken you would have hoped for a lot less recycled content. There are signs here the Polyphony Digital are improving but so many elements of the game are still stuck in the last generation of gaming that they almost threaten to smother the positive new elements. I say almost because that's not quite the case. It's great to see online races at last and the premium cars and new circuits do look great. The game has some impressive aspects but there is also a fair amount of things that are disappointing. On the whole the negatives mean it's far from being the benchmark title it should have been.