Gran Turismo 5 Prologue
On the PlayStation (long before it became the PSone) Gran Turismo was a revelation. Rather than approximating a driving experience a la arcade centric games like Ridge Racer or even TOCA, it unblinkingly stared into the face of the motorsport industry and delivered an authentic experience. Where other game had long been marketed a life-like driving experience, Gran Turismo was the first that could truly say it was a real Driving Simulator.
As such it became a game more about relationships than about horsepower and traction control (stay with us here). Picking up a gamepad to play, the player slowly developed detailed interactions with both cars and circuits. Here they would spend hours fine tuning their skills on certain cars, and memorising every twist, camber and turn of each track. Apart from the real life renderings of other games (Laguna Seca for example) there are no tracks that come anywhere close in my memory to the heady delights of Grindwald.
Since the original release, and the franchise's establishment at the top of the driving game scene, it has seen numerous iterations. Such is the obsessive attention to detail of Polyphony Digital that they are often forced to release early samples of their games to keep fans happy. These entries usually go by the name of Prologue, and although should be quickly followed by the full game, history teaches that they often precede it by a good year. Today is just one of those moments - where publisher and fan pressure has squeezed an early release form the developers, and where we likely have another year to go before the full release.
To the game. Although Polyphony has often been accused of a lack of ambition or innovation in the various iterations of their games, their commitment to quality and scope is borne out here is some style. Although there are other games that now offer a lot more bells and whistles (Forza for example with its decals, car damage and sophisticated artificial intelligence) there is still nothing like sitting down in front of the latest Gran Turismo. The eerily TV-like quality of the visuals, coupled with believable sound and an overall pixel perfect solidity lets you know there is an awful lot behind what is happening on screen.
But before we disappear up our own hyperbolic introduction, we need to spare some words for what might have been. GT5 Prologue still seems to exhibit the locked in artificial intelligent drivers that - far from being intelligent - seem unaware of your presence next to them on the track and proceed to drive right into you. This being a Prologue edition the number of cars and tracks are just a sample. You get 71 cars and six tracks (Daytona, High Speed Ring, Fuji Speedway, Eiger Nordwand, Suzuka Circuit and a section of central London). It should also be noted that the Daytona Ring (as its name suggests) is just a loop and is not going to provide much more than a back paddock to introduce friends to the delights of your car collections.
So what is all the fuss about then? Well apart from the GT badge on the front of the game, this is the first time we can properly race in High Definition. Also new this time around is the ability to race against others online. This trilogy of new features is then rounded off by the impressive in-car driving experience - now greatly enhanced by fully modelled interiors. Add to this a smattering of enhancements over the Japanese version such as split screen racing, quick tuning and improved online performance and you have a none-too shabby release.
The game does a stalwart job of stretching out the meagre content (outlined above) into a full game experience. It provides some 30 race events that are tackled through three different car classes - starting out with the cheaper Suzukis and Hondas, before graduating onto the punchier Skylines and Mustangs until finally unlocking the ability to customise your cars' mechanical setup before hitting the grid. This process will easily see you spending four or five evenings before they are done. Once you've lapped (excuse the pun) all this up, you can move onto the extra credit events such as manufacturer events, time trials and drift trial events.
Those that put the hours in with Gran Turismo HD, whilst waiting for Prologue, can return to Eiger Nordwand in this expanded collection of cars and more fuller graphical rendering. This really took us back to the hours of honing we ploughed into that Grindwald circuit of GT1 and GT2. Eiger Nordwand not only offers breathtaking views but a surprising amount of nuance and depth to each of its twists and turns.
Graphically, everything is as HD crisp as you would hope. The frame-rate is a solid 60fps and it will now go up to the full 1080p resolution. The main window dressing is the aforementioned car interiors. But these turn out to add a lot to the overall experience. It just feels so different racing round in a cramped Suzuki compared to the Walnut dash of a high performance motor. We still have to wait for any weather effects, or in fact anything but bright sunny days, but hey, if you have to pick one weather type that has to be better than wet and windy.
The incredible thing here is that this is essentially the same game as was delivered all those years ago. But somehow it is just as exciting and fresh as it ever was. Even compared to the hugely innovative Forza this just feels like real racing in a way that the Microsoft owned studio hasn't (so far) been able to match.
Add into this mix the superb support for Logitech's range of wheels and you have almost the perfect racing setup. Even if you can't afford the G25 Racing setup with its H-gate six-speed shifter and real metal/leather trim, the Pro still does a great job for around GBP 60. Although it may seem a lot to spend on an accessory, the level of extra information provided by the force feedback in unprecedented. Whether it is the tugging of the wheel as you try and persuade the car around a corner, the heavy handling under-braking, or the looseness of the wheels when the car momentarily flies over a jump, the realism offered here is simply stunning.
If you don't fancy a wheel you will probably want to get hold of a Dual Shock 3 - the controller is also fully supported with its re-integrated rumble feature. Whichever way you cut it this is a great taste of what is to come in GT5. But let us remember it is a sample we are paying for. At a hefty 25 GBP it's a pretty expensive demo, albeit one that should keep you smiling for a good few weeks.