Gran Turismo 5
There's a point around three minutes into the Gran Turismo 5 intro video when we sat back, completely stunned by the cinematic prowess on display, and thought to ours 'if we were proper car enthusiasts, this would probably be better than a porno'. As the sun comes up and the camera pans across the cityscape, eventually making its way down the car assembly line and onto the open road, it's clear that this particular piece of work was created by a group of people who love their automobiles far too much.
This is Gran Turismo 5, the oft-delayed and oft-hyped brainchild of one Kazunori Yamauchi, and whether you're a racing fan or not, it's going to blow your socks off. On the face of it, it may well read as a less-than-perfect drive-em-up, with graphical issues, terrible collision physics and a sometimes cumbersome interface. Yet jump into the hotseat and it's hard to deny that GT5 feels slick as hell, with racing that feels both precise and exciting, and an overall style that oozes so much polish that you could use the remnants to shine a few dozen pairs of shoes.
In fact, let's talk about the gloss before we get to the meaty bits. From the moment that you hit Play Game, GT5's sophisticated interfaces leave no doubt in your mind that this is a project developed out of a sensational passion. Every menu system feels like a cross between a Windows desktop and a supercar dashboard, with icons to select, tabs to open and images boxes ready and willing in formation. We don't often feels blown away by a game's interface, but GT5 definitely had us reeling.
As with past GT titles, you first port of call is the license challenges aka the tutorials. The GT series always does a grand job of teaching the realistic driving basics, and GT5 is no different - veterans will nod knowingly without feeling that they've seen it all before (thanks to medal-grabbing), while new players will feel like they finally understand how other players get around those tight corners so easily. Then it's off to try some of the special events, such as racing buggies or taking Volkswagen hippie vans for a spin around the Top Gear track.
Now we're into the A-spec races, and wow does it feel impressive. Tight cornering is a breeze, and the sense of speed is phenomenal. Settings can be adjusted for beginners and fanatics alike, removing the guidelines on the track or adding in realistic body damage, hence anyone at all can really get into the action. As we progress through the different cups and tournaments, the cash pours in, as does the leveling experience, and even more races are unlocked.
This brings us nicely into the next very-pro point of GT5 - the amount of content available is simply staggering. From the main menu alone you've got the standard GT Mode that leads to your career, then there is Arcade Mode for those players who want to jump quickly in and unlock lots of shiny beasts. A track editor comes as standard, and proves simple to use, yet with enough depth that more professional players will be creating tracks to rival the real-life laps. You've also got Gran Turismo TV, an area in which you can download footage from real historical races and watch them in full HD.
Yes, certain areas of the package will give off a slight aura of 'this is going a little too far' for some players. For example, when you unlock a new car through leveling up, rather than adding the car straight into your roster, the game will first bung it into a Car Delivery area as a 'gift'. Before you can use the vehicle, you need to enter this option, choose the car and then watch a twenty second unveiling of the motor, as it moves slowly into view from the shadows, accompanied by sexed-up rock music. As we said at the beginning, this is a project with a serious love for cars, and while it can sometimes feel a little OTT, it's hard not to appreciate the effort.
On with the content gushing - in the GT Mode section, you have the previously-mentioned GTLife content, along with over 1000 cars to unlock, over 70 tournaments to partake in and over 70 different tracks to master. Profile settings go above and beyond expectations, offering a variety of options for showing off to your friends. The community tab then allows you to interact with your PSN buddies, as you each have walls to write on, information to dish out and a gifting system to make use of. When you want to get playing, there's a lounge to jump into where you can discuss where you'd like to race online.
The quality of online play, as with many racing games, is usually up to the players. Numerous times we jumped into a game and had an absolute blast, yet on other occasions we'd race around the test track for ten minutes before the game host eventually quit and dumped us back in the lobby. It should be noted, however, that when you do get a game going, there is seemingly minimal lag and it feels blissfully brilliant.
Incredible stuff, and yet after a few hours of play, the cracks really start to show. Many players will take offence to visual trickery here and there, with 2D backdrop foliage that looks like it's been ripped straight out of an original Playstation game, and the most unanimated spectators you could possibly imagine. While the cars in general look fantastic, the surrounding landscapes will occasionally sport nasty textures and under-par visuals. It keep does jump from one extreme to the other frequently.
The car collisions, however, are what really put a frown on our faces. Drive at full speed into the back of an AI car, and you'll experience a collision that is far from realistic. First there's a noise that sounds a little like two pieces of wood knocking together, then your car will come to a stop, then you'll pull away as if nothing happened. Where's the crunch? Where's the feeling of life sucked out of us? Of course, if you turn on all the pro settings then it gets a little better, but not by much at all.
In both these instances, you really have to wonder what Polyphony Digital has been doing all these years. Surely at some point during development, someone must have realised that the collisions physics were way off, and that gamers were going to notice the shoddy-looking trees into the background? It suggests that possibly the team were working on a tight amount of space and were hoping to cut down the loading times etc, and yet even after installing the 8GB of data the game asks for, the loading times are still pretty pap.
The issues don't stop there either. Each tournament in the game has racing requirements, and you'll usually need to buy a new car to be eligible to race. Yet unlike the Forze series, which lets you jump straight into the car dealership and find a vehicle to suit your needs, GT5 is a complete hindrance. You need to remember what type of car you need and the specs of your opponents, and then back up into the main menu, go to car dealership, and find one that fits the bill. It's a horribly long-winded system that needs a desperate fix.
One final shot to GT5's chest - The B-spec mode is a joke. The basic premise is that you take on a team of racers, and watch them from the sidelines, radioing in commands such as 'maintain pace' and 'overtake'. At first we enjoyed the idea, until we realised that your contribution makes no difference whatsoever. We spent a tournament calling orders and our guy eventually placed 5th overall. Then we tried a new tournament, but didn't do a thing and left the controller on the side. This time, he placed 2nd. Understandably, we didn't play B-spec mode much after this.
Reading through the last several paragraphs, you may now be expecting a mediocre final score at the bottom. And yet despite its faults, we've become utterly addicted to GT5. It may not have all the core components down to a tee, but its heart is most definitely in the right place, and the action is undeniably fantastic. There's easily over 100 hours worth of playtime bundled in, and we honestly cannot wait to see every single one of them through.
Gran Turismo 5 is a love letter to racing fanatics, but also the perfect entry point for more casual players. It plays like a dream, and as long as you can forgive the occasional hiccup here and there, you'll find yourself completely enthralled.