In 2010 months the most long awaited driving game ever will appear on the Playstation 3, that being the iniquitous Gran Turismo 5, indeed its interesting when you look back at just how big the franchise has grown, its corporate power and importance now being unmatched in the automotive gaming scene. So with the recent release of Gran Turismo PSPand the GT Academy demo I thought it would be a good opportunity to look back at this glimpse into the future of video game racing and what aspects have had their foundations laid in becoming a genre defining formula.
Initially the thought of this package didn't impress, coming across as a stop gap money maker, a glorified demo with limited number of circuits and little else. But in writing this review it’s an altogether bigger package than first expected. Learning to drive the cars and the circuits has taken longer than anticipated, this is due part to the variety of handling options, with players able to select either professional or standard it's been important to assess a range of different handling characteristics. This is compounded with the many car types and combinations. In short does GT5 handle well? And can Usain bolt run faster than me? The answer is a resounding yes, but the improvements are very subtle. Indeed it takes a lot of getting used to, but it has to be said that those without a wheel are missing out. As with GT4, GT5 is undoubtedly made for wheel control and this is where the "real driving simulator" comes into its own.
As ever the game kicks the player off in horribly slow cars with many races required before you make it to the business end of proceedings, its a stable GT core but I do wish they would enable some fast cars from the off. Of course being a Prologue release there's none of the depth we expect to see in a GT title, it’s a simple affair, pick your car and drive. Working your way through the circuit selection and up through to the faster car classes, a subtle introduction to those new to the world of Gran Turismo. But it’s a formula that works so one can't grumble. Back to the handling and as I write this I'm still assessing some aspects, a good example would be the Lancer Evolution X /Tuned, all settings to professional while racing down the long straight at Fuji I’m finding the car oscillates down the straight? Can't put my finger on why? I try stability control but no joy, alas that's something I'll have to work on with a wiki update. But on the whole it’s great, good weight in the cars and feeling from the G25 wheel offering fantastic response, though more testing required for accurate drifting.
Online modes in GT5 Prologue are a tad limited to say the least but do offer a good taster of things to come, no lobby system, instead games are selected from a main menu, then hosts are found. Buts its all a very slow process, however get racing and my experience online has been great, though contact with other cars needs to be worked on, its one of those lag issues when you haven't hit someone on your screen but according to theirs you have? We've all been there but it’s sometimes frustrating and off-putting. On saying that, races I've experienced have been very cleanly fought and hence very enjoyable, it’s been interesting to see just how respectful the online GT communities are though I'm sure you'll always get a few bad apples. However the collision system is robust and highly workable when it comes to usual bump'n grind racing, I look forward to more races online but hope a standard lobby system makes it into the final game, in the meantime there are all of the usual time trial options. Multiplayer is backed up with the usual 2 player split screen, running well its standard GT fare.
Besides regular events GT Prologue also introduces Gran Turismo TV including a range of shows such as Top Gear, however to charge for shows available for free elsewhere is a bit harsh. If it was free it may introduce more people to different aspects of motorsport that they hadn't seen or otherwise considered, it could also be an educational tool, however unfortunately this is not the case leaving it as an option with untapped potential.
Graphics are as with any GT title, top notch, pushing the power of the PS3 and delivering unrivaled performance on the format running at a silky smooth 60fps, there can be some slowdown with multiple cars on screen but on the whole it’s a very minimal occurrence. One stand out feature is the lighting, it’s coarse but gives an impression or realism, and it really makes the game come to life quite unlike any other in the racing genre. Detail in the environments is solid though claims that some environments are sterile aren't far from the truth, London in particular lacks any real atmosphere, the crowds are a paltry addition and Polyphony could do with taking a not out of Codemasters book when it comes to these systems. Car models however are top notch; they may be two years old but still look fresh and detailed, certainly the key focus for the developers. For an early look at GT5 this demonstrates Polyphony's flexibly and detail in utilising complex hardware to achieve some superb results.
Sound too is excellent with each car having its uniquely recorded engine note and different sound relating to the view selected. But one major disappointment is the complete lack of improvement in tyre sounds, every car sounds the same when sliding, this includes the Ferrari F1 2007 car. As a point of note the sliding of an F1 car should have a completely different approach, a deeper sliding sound at high speed as the tires are pushed into the tarmac by the downforce combined with a high pitch screeching in slow low downforce corners. I can see the gameplay mechanic by having a set sound to reflect grip but in the "real driving simulator" it’s an essential aspect, it would mean learning the distinct sounds and feelings for each car class but would add yet more depth giving experienced drivers that opportunity to really make a difference. Music is solid, it’s all got that feel good factor, while the jazzy menu music is always perfection, it brings a smile to the face while reminding of GT titles of old.
Overall then, a very positive package and highly addictive racing, it does what it's meant to do. It gives the player a taster and then leaves them wanting, wanting tracks, wanting cars, wanting to drive, wanting more. I can't wait for more and if you can't, don't forget the GT5 Academy demo is released on the 17th December. Now I'm off to do a few more laps, start my academy training and really get my speed up in those slow speed corners....
8 out of 10
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