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After what has seemed like an unbelievably long wait Gran Turismo 5 has finally arrived. The fifth installment of the best selling racing series ever still has the most accurate handling physics of any console racer, but is it starting to loose some of its charm?
Without doubt, the most important thing to Kazunori Yamauchi, the Gran Turismo series’ long running producer, has always been to make the most accurate and visually impressive racing simulation possible on any given hardware, and with GT5 he has almost definitely succeeded at this aim. The responsiveness and overall feel of the vehicles goes far beyond what any other console racing game has achieved, and although not always completely consistent when GT5 is at its best the graphics can be genuinely stunning.
The basics of the game are structured in a very similar way to its predecessors. Firstly, it’s split into Arcade and Career mode. Arcade lets you dive into a quick race, where as Career mode contains the bulk of the game. Career mode is designed around a comprehensive but slightly muddled home screen, where you access things like your garage, tuning options, career races, and online functions. The career races start off easy and get much harder as you progress, but as always in a GT game if you find a race hard the easiest thing to do is go and tune up your car and try again.
As well as the standard races, there are also the familiar licences to work through, along with some special events where you have to complete set goals in different types of vehicles, like NASCAR or Rally.
B-Spec mode from GT4 also makes a comeback. It essentially plays like a racing RPG, where you act as a manager who guides a driver to the end of a race by giving orders like “overtake” or “slow down”. This can be an interesting distraction from the normal aspects of the game but it will probably not hold most players attention for very long.
The choice of tracks included in GT5 seems slightly sporadic, with some key tracks from previous GT games no longer available, but most of the tracks that are in the game are the best they’ve ever been. The famous Nurburgring, for example, looks better than it ever has on any game, with every bump and every small incline painstakingly recreated with an almost obsessive level of accuracy.
The online mode is functional but does not yet offer much more than quick races with other random players, or private rooms for you and your friends. Hopefully more options will be added in future updates.
One of the biggest talking points around the release of GT5 has been the decision to split the cars into two groups with differing levels of visual detail. On the surface the idea to split the cars into Standard and Premium seems like a logical one. The level of detail on the interior and exterior of the premium models is stunning. If you look closely enough you can see the stitch work on the steering wheel, or read the settings on the cars’ CD player. It would have likely taken Polyphony Digital another five years to create the extra 800 car models to the level of the existing 200 premiums they have included in GT5. The standard models, although obviously not as good, are still better than what some other racing game produce, but the problem with the difference between the two types of models is the inconsistency and confusion it creates. With hindsight, if they had just included the 200 premiums and left out the other 800 altogether, and instead just added more cars as DLC when they finished them, they might have avoided a lot of the criticism they have been receiving. It’s easy to forget that 200 is still a lot of cars.
Occasionally, when things are delayed, or anticipated for an extended period of time it’s possible for the expectations to become unrealistic, and as a result it seems almost certain that some things are never going to be able to live up to there own hype. This is definitely true to a certain degree with GT5, and were we given this exact game two or three years ago it might have been received with unanimous praise. But in the fickle land of video games, with its constantly changing expectations, a couple of years is a long time. Forza 3, NFS: Shift, and Race Diver: Grid have all come and gone in that time, and as we now live in a world of instant fix’s, where we expect to get exactly what we want exactly when we want it GT5 seems almost out of step with the rest of the gaming industry. It’s Polyphony Digital’s singularity of view on what makes a good racing game that may leave some of the newer or younger gamers feeling disappointed. But at the same time, the replay value for anyone with even the smallest interest in motorsports will give this game a longevity that surpasses almost any other console game. So yes, the menus can be slow, the visuals are at times inconsistent, the multiplayer doesn’t have as many options as its rivals, and some of the driving challenges you are forced to do can be more frustrating than they are rewarding. But if you are willing to put the time in needed to master the handling of any one of the cars with all the assistance and driving aids turned off, then you will begin to understand where this game really comes to life. Each car feels subtlety unique, each one has a personality all of its own which has been purposely linked as closely as possible to its real world counterpart.
Gran Turismo has always been a way of giving people a feel of what it might really be like to drive the kind of top end sports cars that most will probably never get the chance to even sit in. If you invest in a good quality force feedback wheel and really give this game a chance it will reward you. But if you want a game that you can pick up and play for twenty minutes here and there then you will likely be left wondering what all the fuss has been about.