Gran Turismo 5 – More Than Just a Game
By Jim Bray
Nearly two years after Gran Turismo 5 Prologue activated the salivary glands of driving game fans worldwide, the full version has finally premiered. Was it worth the wait? You bet.
Polyphony Digital's GT5, available for PlayStation 3, is more of a racing simulator than a mere driving game. Or so it seems; I haven't discovered any guns, rocket launchers or the like with which to take out other drivers, though I wouldn't mind finding such stuff for some of the online loonies I've run into - literally! There are no "power ups" either.
Nope, it's just all-out driving action, fender to fender (unless you're practicing) in a Blu-ray-based 1080p high definition environment with glorious surround sound that can be nearly as much fun to watch as it is to drive.
Okay, watching isn't nearly as much fun, though it can be a blast watching your performance replayed after you've raced.
Heck, GT5 is even 3D compliant, which I imagine could be a hoot if I weren't a 3D denier, and it works great with my Logitech Driving Force GT racing wheel.
I'm really glad I do this for a living, because my productivity would have fallen off severely if my job didn't entail reviewing GT5. As it is, I've only begun to exploit its challenges and there aren't enough hours in the day for me to finish all its delights.
Your GT5 career is guided from a home screen that directs you to a variety of destinations, from the car dealerships to A (or B) spec racing, to the arcade mode (that lets you just race, without having to jump through hoops or earn money to buy cars) to the tuning shop, special events (including some on the Top Gear TV show's track – yes, you can be the Stig, kind of) and more.
I started off with the Arcade mode because I could choose a Ferrari right off the bat; otherwise, it would take me – well, I still haven't earned enough credits to afford one and if I keep spending credits souping up my existing inventory of cars to make them faster I may never.
Tuning your cars can lead to a wonderfully rewarding experience. Along the way to where I am now (dabbling in the "professional" level), I purchased a 1961 E-type Jaguar, which was a pretty skookum car to begin with. Then I added soft racing tires, a five speed transmission, better shocks, and more, to elevate the Jag from iconic status to "holy cow!" Ditto for my 1980's vintage Supra Turbo, which went from being a pretty faithful rendition of the popular Toyota sports coupe to an absolute screamer.
This potential makes racing a lot more fun, even if you can't afford a supercar (which won't be allowed in all events anyway). On the other hand, you can tweak some of the more entry level cars all you want and they'll still be "carnon fodder" for the robotic drivers GT5 throws at you. Fortunately, a modicum of driving skill can go a long way.
Speaking of driving skill, thanks to the two piece racing wheel I'm using (wheel with gear shift module, and pedals module) the driving is much more realistic than if you merely use the PS3 controller. Sure, it adds considerably to the cost of the exercise, but I can't imagine playing (er, reviewing) GT5 or any other driving game any other way; it would be like trying to make an omelet without eggs.
The makers of GT5 proclaim there are over 1000 cars from which to choose, though many, many are variations on a theme. Regardless, there is certainly an abundance of automotive hardware available, from karts and entry level or vintage vehicles to current supercars like the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. If you're looking for a Porsche, however, you're out of luck. There are some RUF versions, but I was really looking forward to getting some virtual seat time in some of the "off the rack" Porsches I've spent some real seat time in. I'm dying to see how they stack up in GT5's virtual world. Even a base Cayman would suffice!
I was also disappointed that I couldn’t import my vehicles and other data from GT5 Prologue, where I had earned enough to build a rather nice stable that includes the Ford GT and Ferrari 599. Alas, right now you can only import data from the PSP version, and that definitely sucks.
The folks behind the PS3 say they're investigating the capability of importing your Prologue stuff, so this may come to pass down the, er, road. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, there's enough iron on hand to keep you occupied. And as much as I was disappointed not being able to buy an Acura NSX right off the bat, starting with a car of more modest abilities does give you the advantage of learning to drive at sane speeds before you go for the gusto.
And if you haven't yet earned enough credits to tune your ride into something awesome, you can at least customize its color and some other parameters (manual or automatic transmission, for example) before you hit the track. You can also choose from a variety of views, including from what appears to be near the car's front bumper, one that looks down on you from above and – my favorite – the view from the driver's seat, complete with gauges that operate in real time and your virtual hands on the steering wheel.
As I said in my review of GT5 Prologue, the only thing missing is the ability to use your virtual hands to make virtual gestures at other drivers, something that would undoubtedly come in handy when playing online. Maybe these new gesture-based controllers will help there…
Not all cars give you all views, or not yet, anyway. My Jag and my 1967 Cougar, for example, don't include the in-cockpit view (alas!). Perhaps this may change, however, as updates become available. Since I installed the game it has updated itself twice, so who knows what's coming. Porsches, anyone?
I haven't mentioned the tracks yet! There's an abundance of venues, from GT5-specific courses such as the High Speed Ring to real life tracks such as Indy and Daytona, Laguna Seca, the Nurburgring and many, many more – including off road tracks and city courses. The detail is amazing and the tracks range from relatively straightforward to extremely challenging.
If that isn't enough, you can design your own courses. You can also partake of different weather scenarios or times of day to make life even more interesting and/or challenging.
Speaking of detail, the 1080p picture is outstanding, with razor sharp images that look extremely realistic. The cars look right and seem to drive right and the settings are fantastic. It's so cool I've found myself just watching replays sometimes just because I can.
Likewise the audio is spectacular as well. Car engines roar all around you, curbs rumble as you go over them and if you enter a tunnel the audio changes appropriately. Not only that, but as you tweak your car – changing its exhaust, for example – its noise changes to incorporate it. In all, it's a very immersive and realistic environment that adds a lot to the overall enjoyment.
As you drive and achieve your goals, you'll also find yourself rewarded with credits, awards or new cars you can use. You can also take lessons and licensing tests that help you increase your skill, as well as doing practice laps that help you learn a particular track before you go head to head with virtual or real opponents. There's also a two person mode for when you want to impress your friends (or make them feel lousy) with your skills.
And don't forget the online component that lets you race against people from all over the place. A lot of those people are nuts, though, so your best driving could end up useless as some oaf sends you spinning off the track and into the wall.
You also get a selection of movies that can make for interesting pastimes, including ones shot at the Goodwood festival of speed , the Pebble Beach - Concours d'Elegance and the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
It's a heckuva package even without non-RUF Porsches and the ability to import from GT5 Prologue. Hopefully, they'll offer upgrades to address those issues soon – but even if they don't I've pretty well steeled myself to getting very little productive work done until I've finally sated my boy (well, middle-aged) racer dreams.
And that won't be for a while.
Copyright 2011 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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