Gran Turismo 5 Review
GT5 is a love letter; a wonderfully poetic, meticulously crafted sonnet penned by game designer Kazunori Yamauchi to his lover. That lover is automobiles. GT5 is not so much aimed at gamers as it is at car lovers, at petrol heads, at speed freaks. Whether you enjoy driving cars, appreciating their design or consuming yourself in the history of man’s primary mode of transport GT5 has a place for you, within its mountain of content, to gratuitously indulge your passion.
This is why one of the most anticipated releases of this hardware generation, perhaps of all time, is going to be a massive disappointment to a lot of people. Anyone buying this from purely a ‘gaming’ perspective is likely to be put off almost right away. For instance, if you don’t perform the 50 odd minute install, menus and load screens creak along at a snail’s pace, you’re forced to drive low power cars in GT Mode (read: career mode) for an extended period of time before acquiring the rank and money to get yourself something with more horsepower and the public online multiplayer is, to say the least, more than a little dated.
Still, when you get out on the track in a car you want to drive, be it road car, race car, NASCAR, go-kart or Camper Van, GT5 is as good as racing games get. The handling model is second to none, the choice of cars and events is overwhelming and the visuals – especially during night races – are almost always stunning.
The fact that it makes almost no attempt whatsoever to dilute itself in a bid to appeal to those who don’t know the difference between an R32 and an R33, or can’t accurately set up individual gear ratios, is exactly why car lovers are going to champion it and everyone else is either going to have to learn to love it or go back to playing the more accessible Forza 3 or Need for Speed.
There’s no hand holding here, no ‘rewind’ feature as other racing ‘sims’ have incorporated, no separation of cars into grades that quickly give you an idea of their performance level, no generous amounts of money thrown at you after each event allowing you to purchase almost any car you wish. GT5 is about learning how to handle cars, learning track layouts, learning which cars are going to perform on certain circuits and slowing working your way up the monetary/career ladder so that you feel you’ve properly earned the right to sit behind the wheel of that Lamborghini Murcielago LP 670-4 SV in Giallo Orion (otherwise known as yellow) you’ve been desperate to add to your virtual garage. Yes, I finally own one. Yes, it’s magnificent.
Cars feel suitably individual in their speed, acceleration and handling meaning that going from one auto to the next, particularly when switching between drive trains, means driving by a completely different set of rules. This, of course, can be said for many driving titles but no other game manages to capture the difference in feel and required driving style that separate the variety of models and manufacturers on offer here.
The handling model requires enormous precision on your behalf, so much precision in fact that the Dual Shock 3 pad barely passes as an adequate input device. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time with GT5, mastering its cars and dominating the competition both on and offline, you really need to be in possession of a racing wheel. Subtle inputs are required to guide your car smoothly around the track the like of which are all but impossible on the regular pad, this is especially obvious when you first get behind the wheel of the hefty beasts of the NASCAR world in which precise, smooth lines are essential for victory. This is just one more area in which GT5 shows its true colours as not merely a game but as a simulation for car enthusiasts to lose themselves in.
Pre-release chatter has focused largely on those rather beautiful promotional videos showing night races, near photo realistic vehicle models and frighteningly severe weather effects. In practise the bulk of GT5 looks eye wateringly stunning but, sadly, standards do dip in places.
Cars are split into two major categories, Standard and Premium. Premium models are gorgeous both inside and out and show off Polyphony Digital’s dedication to doing justice to their real life counterparts; every piece of interior leather, every sculptured panel of bodywork and garish LED display looks beautiful. The only hiccup in this area is that some interior views suffer from rather crude shadow generation which results in jagged edges as you pass by different light sources and shadows move around inside the cockpit (race a VW Camper Van to see what I mean).
Standard models are much less impressive; the difference between them and Premium models is stark. For starters there is no in-car view, a terrible exclusion for a game soaked in immersion throughout all other areas. Externally the polygon count is clearly reduced with lines such as bonnet/door seams visibly rough when up close to another car and any writing (license plates, manufacturer decals etc) blurred at their edges. It’s clear that the dev team didn’t want these cars to be viewed up close when you learn you can’t zoom all the way in when taking a photo of them in the same way you can with Premium models.
Circuit visuals are universally excellent though and the weather effects, especially when racing from cockpit view, are spectacular in their realism – good luck navigating around a track for the first time in heavy rain or snow doing 150mph. Damage modelling is minimal to say the least but it perhaps speaks volumes about the type of game this is in that you can’t ruin the beautiful works of art you’re throwing around the track.
Multiplayer features are a decidedly mixed bag. Friend list integration is excellent, allowing you to check your friend’s career progress, gift them presents such as cars or virtual trading cards and communicate on private message boards.
Online races themselves work brilliantly when you set up a room with friends and go about racing with agreed restrictions on car types and driving assists. Racing is lag free and the ability to drive around the track while waiting for everyone to join and set themselves up removes the boredom usually associated with hanging around in lobbies.
Joining random games is generally less fun however as the lack of multiplayer matchmaking means you’re forced to trawl through a long list of lobbies until you find one that suits your tastes. The exclusion of a simple car classification system (i.e. A Class, B Class etc) means that unless you opt for the most powerful vehicles you’ve not got a hope in hell of competing for a podium finish. It should also be noted that there is no levelling up/XP system in multiplayer, not even a way of recording your results, meaning there’s no way you can rank yourself against the competition.
There’s so much on offer in GT5 that it’s impossible to cover it all in a single review without running to ten pages or more. You’ve got a Course Maker that, rather than allowing you to build courses, lets you influence the design of the track generation algorithms. This means you can’t recreate your favourite real life circuits (unless you get incredibly lucky) but it’s still a fun feature to use that works great and always gives you the option of racing a new track. B-Spec mode puts you in the role of team manager as you guide A.I. controlled drivers through a career. Gran Turismo TV hosts car related programmes (both free and premium content) and a robust Photo Travel section allows you to take photos of your favourite vehicles in glorious HD. In short there’s a lot to keep you occupied.
Gran Turismo 5 is clearly intended as a means for those who love cars to indulge their passion further. Those that don’t share that passion will either develop it through this game or move on to something else.
It’s designed to give those of us that can’t afford vintage cars, modern supercars or expensive track days a small taste of that world. It’s designed as homage to the world of automobiles and automobile competition.
Yes, it’s still a game and as a game it has its problems but the series has reaffirmed its status as the most exhaustive, passionate and uncompromising racer available on any console and, if you’re a car lover, you’ll admire that about it and thank it for it.