Gran Turismo 5 Review
It has been in production for over 6 years and features by far the largest collection of cars in the world. It’s a game that has just recently caused a flood of fanboys to storm the gates of gaming stores around the world hoping to catch an early 1-day-glimpse of the rubber burning that is. And now it’s finally here. I’m of course talking about Gran Turismo 5.
Upon booting the game starts with the most amazing opening sequence of all time, a full-HD coverage into the factory where cars are made. Accompanied by a fast paced piano piece it quickly becomes the first heart-warming moment the game has to offer. Afterwards the game shows a couple of in-game scenes to let you know what lies ahead, including scenes from Nascar, Rally, 24h races and the Red Bull prototype, yes there’s plenty of content on this disc.
After watching the opening scene –twice- it had finally sunk in that I could now play Gran Turismo 5. And like most games it starts with an easy set-up of your gaming profile. The game has a lot of variables you can set, like an avatar and a general look and feel of your own virtual GT5 home. In this home you can access the different modes and players can meet for an online race.
The modes in Gran Turismo 5 remain largely unchanged from earlier additions to the series. Again present is the famous GT mode, which requires you to work your way up in the world of cars. Much like real life only faster!
Also present is arcade mode, here users can set the conditions of the race and just drive with a car of their choice. The game also offers split screen racing, which works like it has in the past but hasn’t evolved one bit. It’s still a 2-horse race (no AI) and dynamic weather/lightning isn’t supported in this mode. It’s a shame but frankly I’m just happy the mode is even there.
Last but not least is Gran Turismo TV; here you can watch television shows and clips about cars. It’s a fun initiative but –from past experience- most shows will cost a few cents and right now it doesn’t even work at all. The game keeps saying it somehow can’t connect to the servers, hopefully this will be fixed soon.
It’s safe to say that most time will be spent in GT mode, but that’s not the only interesting feature in the game. Honestly this game is so extensive that I just don’t have the time to talk about every aspect of the game, so here are a few modes I wasn’t so impressed about.
In B-spec you play a team boss and must hire drivers. The key is to maintain their stamina and pace throughout the race and provide them with race winning material. While the mode has the potential to be a real winner, the execution in Gran Turismo 5 mostly leaves food for thought. For one the world of management isn’t worked out like it should and it’s impossible to fast forward races, making most events a big long bore. This is further emphasized by the general lack of realistic driving by your generic driver.
While the idea is good –more on that later- I’ve experienced a pretty solid amount of failed connections and slowdowns. Polyphony and Sony have already commented on it and promised improvements soon. It’s also impossible to invite friends to the online lobby, meaning that you must message your friends and ask them to please find your game, not great!
When you’re finally racing though things work like they should. It’s really fun to watch races unfold straight from the lobby and it’s a joy to see the differences between cars come into play on curtain tracks. More than ever the selection of cars will determine whether you’re a winner or a loser in the online world.
For me this has always been the mode that reminds me I’m playing a Gran Turismo game. GT mode gives access to everything we’re used to from previous games in the series, with one major difference. This time Gran Turismo has a stronger online integration than ever before. Gamers can now read the latest news straight from the menu or even trade cars with other users. It almost made me feel like I was living in an automotive dreamland, where –unlike real life- we can afford the best cars in the world before our hair turns gray.
The core of GT mode has also been refined, this time you’ll need to reach curtain levels to unlock access to events or buy higher-up cars. It’s an easy and effective system, but the leveling can become a drag fast.
Apart from the regular cup races, gamers will find themselves racing in special events that offer exciting and unique challenges. For example the Top Gear challenge requires you to win a 2-lap race in the world’s slowest car starting from the back. They can be really frustrating but the rewards are great.
Licenses are back but are now less important because they aren’t criteria to any of the events anymore. But they do offer experience and reward cars once finished successfully. Like the special events these can get really frustrating as you push for a few thousands of a second that you’ve supposedly lost somewhere.
It’s a lot of fun to buy cars/tune them and win every event the game throws at you. During my game I first finished the licenses, did the first few special events and finally bought my first real car: a Ferrari 458 Italia. In stock settings the car was already quick but I was unable to keep up with the likes of the Enzo or the Lamborghini super veloce. After an engine tune up (+130bhp), a stiffer and adjustable suspension, soft slick tyres and serious weight reduction I was able to outpace every supercar that money could buy. A fantastic buy!
GT-mode is just a lot of fun and goes really deep. There isn’t much that the game does wrong apart from some dodgy design choices. It’s pretty ridiculous that the damage doesn’t become available until level 25, and the leveling system requires a lot of grinding.
All of the modes ultimately boil down to cars, and GT5 has a lot of them. With 1.000 cars including greats like the Ford GT, Mclaren Mp4-12c and the infamous VW samba bus, there’s something for everyone. And when I was driving around I realized that the cars are what make this game so enjoyable. The little differences between a ‘05 Suzuki Swift and the ‘07 model are so much fun to experience, and those subtle differences are what really matters. I honestly think there isn’t a game in the world that features so many cars in this amount of detail.
The cars aren’t all perfect though. There’s a big difference between the 800 standard cars and the 200 premium cars that the game offers. The standard cars are converted from previous PS2 games and they look absolutely horrid, on top of that they don’t feature cockpit views or any form of advanced damage. One would guess that 6 years of development would lead to more satisfying looking cars.
Due to GT-mode gamers will have to master a host of different cars and thanks to this drivers will quickly notice and appreciate the little differences between the many cars in the game. Almost every vehicle drives completely unique and –although I haven’t driven any of the GT5 cars in real life- they do seem genuine.
Even with aids turned on it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of oversteer or understeer generated by these road cars. Turn everything off and some of these cars turn into uncontrollable beasts.
This is especially apparent under braking, as braking with ABS turned off is extremely tricky, almost too tricky if you ask me. It’s like the game registers a 30% press of the pedal as full braking. Careful driving and consideration of the asphalt in front is always necessary. The way these cars react to bumps can really come as a big surprise. I was driving the Zonda around the Le Mans track and the bumps almost got the better of me.
So now the age-old question, is Gran Turismo 5 a sim? Is it the real driving simulation it advertises to be? Well it’s hard to say but I like to believe that it is in fact a simulator. How the cars react to the steering and the asphalt of the track is really amazing. Some exotic car owners have already expressed that GT5 comes really close to the real thing, for some of the cars that is. Realistic or not it’s a fact that the game takes a lot of aspect into consideration.
The game simulates the use of fuel, tyre wear, bumps, weather, curbs, banks and the physics of the car that may or not may not be exactly on the mark. In any case it’s way more simulation than most other car games have to offer.
We’ve already established that Gran Turismo 5 is a great car game but does that convert into a great racing game? Well for me it doesn’t. The AI cars are still as brainless as they’ve ever been. They stick to the racing line like bees on honey and can only really overtake using the inside line. They certainly don’t apply smart racing maneuvers or follow your line during the slipstream to gain some extra toe.
The racing isn’t helped by the fact that the weather and day/night cycle isn’t available on every track. Because of this dynamic weather never really comes into play, making the surroundings feel very generic.
Yet because the driving is so great sometimes the AI and generic surroundings are the least of your worries. Trying to master a Lamborghini Murchielago LP640 with every aid off can be a real hand full, even for the most trained of racers.
This has always been Polyphony’s strong suit and now, after 6 years of development for the strongest console on the market, one expects great things. We expect unmatched visuals to pop up from our newly purchased 3D or LED displays, but the truth is it doesn’t.
The menus for example are just too slow. They aren’t instant. While I was viewing cars in arcade mode it took me ages to find the car I wanted, also due to the fact that the menus aren’t categorized logically anymore. The graphics while racing is also kind of a mixed bag. On a positive note, using a premium car around a premium track (Rome, Spain) can be nothing short of breath taking.
But then the game has issues like ugly shadows, poor anti-aliasing, some average looking tracks and don’t even get me started on the standard car models. Gran Turismo games used to set the bar so high for graphics. At every release it used to set a level of visual realism that was unmatched by any other racing game on the market. But GT5 doesn’t set a new level; in fact it’s just above average. And because the difference between footage is so big, one could give it a 5 or a 9 depending on what they’re looking at.
Sound wise it’s amazing. From the cockpit view the engine noises are a bit more muffled than the bonnet view, which is realistic. And when I was slipstreaming a Ford GT and heard the full force of that V8, I started feeling that underbelly feeling that told me that I had just experienced something extraordinary. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the standard cars, which sound very generic and dull.
The game also supports custom soundtracks but not in the menus for some reason. Luckily GT5’s own soundtrack is good enough to keep most users happy without their own tunes running in the background.
Gran Turismo 5 is finally available from stores all over the world. 6 years of development generates quite the appetite but it doesn’t fully deliver. The game has so many downers that I can barely summarize them without making the world’s most awkwardly formulated sentence. What really bothers me though are the standard cars and the sluggish finish. A difference that big between cars in a game is simply unacceptable.
On the flipside, the game does offer a lot of great things. It has a lot of replay value, fantastic premium cars and the physics are unmatched by any console game of the genre.
Putting things into perspective the problems don’t outweigh the many great aspects of the game and the bottom-line is this: Gran Turismo 5 is the best car game in the world because it drives great and is really extensive. And therefore it’s worth the asking price any day of the week.
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