Before landing a part-time gig as an automotive test monkey, I cut my teeth driving virtual cars on Gran Turismo 4 (GT4). Developer Polyphony Digital’s attention to detail was startling. You could/can feel subtle differences between ostensibly similar cars, such as an ’89 and a ’93 Mazda Miata (hint: chassis rigidity on the older car sucks). Sure, GT4’s artificial intelligence was a joke. And the lack of damage was mildly disappointing. But it was a great game, except for the understeer . . . the terminal bloody understeer.
The GT4 simulation was realistic (anyone who says otherwise has never driven into a tirewall in real life). But the game failed to provide methods for countering understeer. No amount of parking brake abuse, lift off or trail-braking could get the back end ’round. All three strategies relied on unsticking the rear tires, which were kept stubbornly nailed to the track by an anti-flying-car script. Those not turned off by the lack of dorifto either ran afoul of the anal-retentive license tests or burned out their Playstation2s (and marriages) trying to complete the dozen-or-so 24 hour endurance races.
Though not quite as beloved as the pick-up-and-play-able GT3, GT4 was popular, in no small part due to its “gotta-drive-em-all” car list and a track called the Nürburgring. As GT5 began its development process, a host of new titles began crowding the “driving simulator” market. The increased and increasingly realistic competition left GT5P with a lot to prove.
Graphics are the series’ traditional strong point. In this, GT5P doesn’t disappoint. While standard resolution is slightly jagged, high-definition play is breathtakingly photorealistic, with crisp car models, real-time reflections and spectators who’ve graduated from cardboard cut-outs to animatronic mannequins. Though framerates stutter during formation laps, the races themselves run at a full 60 fps.
Thanks to the Playstation3’s internet connectivity, GT5P has been constantly upgraded through online patches. The current iteration features six tracks and 70 cars, up from 36 vehicles on initial release. The physics—already a major step up from GT4—have been tweaked. Hand brake, lift off and trail brake oversteer are now, finally, available (though accompanied by some squirrely behavior).
Tracks can kick your car sideways with bumps that racecar drivers swear mirror real-life topography. Masochists’ bonus: you can now fully disable the ABS braking nanny, showing those belly-aching yellow-bellies what understeer truly feels like. For weenies, the “Standard” physics mode gives you a drift-happy arcade experience. But for real men, “Pro” mode is where it’s at.
Unfortunately, while GT has always been a doddle to drive with a controller, controller calibration here (especially for the gas pedal) leaves something to be desired. Even worse, in-game traction and stability controls are way behind state-of-the-art. You can either drive your Ferrari 599 with what feels like the stability control system of a Toyota Camry or with everything off, oversteering between every turn on just 1/4th throttle.
On the bright side, even with the bigger 16-car fields, artificial intelligence drivers now dice with each other, make genuine mistakes, overtake, react to being overtaken, and ram you under braking only 50 percent of the time . . . which is about on par with A1GP drivers.
GT5P’s biggest disappointment: the online experience, which is ten parts bitter, one part sweet and just a teensy bit salty.
The online lap leaderboards are terrific, appealing to narcissistic perfectionists everywhere. Without zen-like focus and a complete lack of social life, getting into the top ten is beyond difficult, but it’s more fulfilling than any other in-game achievement.
If only the online races were up the challenge. They’re slow-loading and updated sporadically. And there are no options for creating private races or filtering out the yahoos who bump, grind and crash their way through each race. Happily, clearly-displayed gamer tags over each car help you identify targets for revenge. That’s the salty part, by the way.
Still, GT5P is great for what is basically a demo. Recently, Inside Sim Racing rated GT5P 75 percent versus Forza2’s 90 percent. That’s like saying half-a-GT is almost as good as the whole Forza enchilada. So while GT5P has its flaws, it’s basically a public beta-test, sold for profit, and merely suggests what GT5 will be like. And with talk of dynamic weather and track conditions, over 90 tracks and 600 cars (details here), the full GT5 experience may have just enough positives to silence even its staunchest critics.
There’s a reason why I only do a handful of track days per year. Paying for blown shocks, bent rims and crumpled fenders is downright painful. And I don’t go online to have some anonymous thirteen-year-old with road rage ruin my race on the very first corner. I just want to race. The rest of you whiners can go play “Burnout” for all I care.
Always a GT strong point, graphics are good enough to eat.
Realistic physics are let down (ironically) by realistic handling foibles. Not for the faint of heart. Steering wheel strongly recommended.
It’s a demo. There are just six tracks (plus variations) and a smattering of online events.
Read above. Add slow loading times and unfiltered play rooms.
Bargain price. Extra online content comes free.
Great demo. But now we want the real thing.