By on May 16, 2009

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.

But damage?

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.

Ratings:

Graphics *****

Always a GT strong point, graphics are good enough to eat.

Gameplay ***

Realistic physics are let down (ironically) by realistic handling foibles. Not for the faint of heart. Steering wheel strongly recommended.

Replayability ***

It’s a demo. There are just six tracks (plus variations) and a smattering of online events.

Multiplayer **

Read above. Add slow loading times and unfiltered play rooms.

Price *****

Bargain price. Extra online content comes free.

Overall ***

Great demo. But now we want the real thing.

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17 Comments on “Videogame Review: Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (GT5P)...”


  • avatar
    AKM

    Bear in mind that for vidogame magazines, the difference between 75% (kinda average) and 90% (great) is a very large one.

    Beside that, neat review.

  • avatar
    Samir

    Also, GT5P is a more recent game than Forza 2. The real comparison will be GT5 vs. Forza 3. Nice review.

  • avatar

    Yes, 75 is pretty bad for a videogame review, and some publishers consider anything below 8/10 the kiss of death… ( http://www.vg247.com/2008/11/21/uk-tomb-raider-underworld-reviews-under-810-silenced-until-monday/ ) but bear in mind that the low score is mostly due to the lack of depth and content… Inside Sim Racing actually had some praise for it, otherwise.

    Being an avid collector, I have (or have had) copies of every Prologue and Concept title, and the current Prologue is probably the closest to a full release that any has ever come.

    But that doesn’t make it nearly as replayable as Gran Turismo 4, or even Forza2. Where those games are worth a yearlong addiction, GT5P loses its potency after just a few months. And with the next Forza coming up, as well as the much anticipated Need For Speed: Shift (which promises to merge Need For Speed’s frantic gameplay with PC-sim realism), Gran Turismo 5 will have to offer more over GT5P than an impressive car list to stay on or near the top of the heap.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    I’m with Niky in terms of replayability.

    I was very excited to get GT5 Prologue, but, once I won every race, I had little desire to play, even to collect all the available cars. I still play every now and then, but I actually preferred to start a new career in GT4. It’s much more satisfying, and I like the types of upgrades that can be made for each aspect of the car, not some generic slider for tuning in GT5P.

  • avatar

    Ya know, I’ve never really found the understeer tendency that bothersome. It was always a matter of learning the rotational quirks of each vehicle. That means lift-off oversteer on certain cars, absolutely no braking mid-turn on most cars, and proper throttle application through the apex. No two cars behaved the same way, so each one needs a special touch to banish the understeer (you can also dick around with the suspension and weight balance to correct over/understeer problems, in GT4 anyway).

    I like GT5P hooked up to my Logitech G25. That’s a force feedback wheel with six speed gated shifter and a clutch pedal. It’s just as cool as it sounds – GT5 has full support for the six speed and the clutch, one of the only games that does. Heel toeing in virtual reality is almost as cool as doing it in real life.

  • avatar
    JMII

    As someone who has played GT since GT1 on the PSX I pretty much agree with your take on GT5P except for the following:

    AI – its just as bad as all the other versions of the game. In fact I’d go so far to say that GT1 had the best AI because your rivals behavior and times were very consistent. Sure they were stupid drones but that predictable meant setting up your car for close races was easy and enjoyable.

    PSN updates – they have barely tweaked this game since launch. They added a few car models but nothing that was “gotta-have-it”. I fully excepted to see $2 per car updates ala Burnout Paradise.

    Online – the real let down with GT5P is here. Along with the stupid penalty system, the lack of private rooms with no way to control who you play against means it can be bumper-cars with 10 year olds or the fight for your life against ex-F1 pilots.

    Damage – I want damage! The main reason being to make people drive like they own it. Being able to punt someone off track is too easy when it does not effect your car by blowing the radiator.

    GT5 needs to back to roots: offer real car mods, [R] body types and races based on HP/LBS classes. They need to stop working on the graphics since its already best in class and figure out the AI so offline racing keeps your interest up. Lastly they need copy Burnout Paradise’s online system for both upgrades AND user interaction with private rooms and chat.

    Given PolyD’s history I’m not very hopeful for GT5, I feel it will be more of the same: all eye candy, superior handling but none of the things that make real life racing exciting. What about pitstops, tire wear, weather, breakdowns? The real problem is GT is not a racing game… its a driving simulator that throws a bunch other cars onto the track to block your attempts at running a fast time. UGH!

  • avatar
    EidolWays

    There’s one thing that has always bugged me about the Gran Turismo series and another thing that generally bugs me about sim games.

    1) Gran Turismo’s audio. The engine sounds are pretty good, but they still strike me as simple. The tire noises? Now THOSE are what bug me. The freaking tire noises are the same audio sample simply played back and pitch modulated. There’s not enough detail in those sounds to actually tell you what’s happening with the tires! And when your car does finally go into a full-out slide, the sound is more like a rubber eraser being dragged over a chalkboard at high speed than a car skidding across a road!

    The games I hold high in the audio department are Project Gotham Racing 3 and 4. Take a corner too fast, and you can hear the front tires beginning to chirp. Go into a slide, and the sound you’re greeted with lets you know you’re sliding and is even aurally pleasing. It may be an arcade racer, but the audio is spectacular. In PGR 4, when your car is caught in the rain, with the in-camera view you can hear the rain tapping the roof of the car. Tis brilliant.

    2) The thing that generally bugs me about sim games: the lack of a sense of speed. I can pull a ridiculously fast car onto any track in any sim game, GT5 included, and get it up over 100 MPH and, when I reach that first turn, I have no idea how to brake because, somehow, the perspective of the game still makes it feel as though I’m /crawling/. I know when I’m in my car, in reality, even 40 MPH into a hard turn feels fast (I drive a Mazda6, so it’s not exactly a sports coupe). The games I hold high again here? Project Gotham 3/4. You feel like you’re moving and quickly. Again, yeah, it’s an arcade racer. But I love that when you reach a turn, you feel like you’re plunging into it and KNOW you need to hit the brakes.

    So yeah, I’m preaching the virtues of an arcade racer above the top-tier sim racer. I’m likely insane or “don’t get it”. But for those of you who haven’t piloted the Ferrari F50 GT around the Nurburgring in Project Gotham Racing 3 or 4, you’re missing out! It actually does take some skill (grip isn’t a given despite the arcade racer status), and it makes me grin every time.

  • avatar

    JMII

    RE: Updates: GT:HD had just a dozen cars and one track. Prologue Spec I had thirty cars and five tracks. Spec II had 67 or so. Spec III added three more. Professional Physics were improved (made harder) from Spec I to Spec II, and tire-physics were changed from Spec II to Spec III. Spec IV will either not arrive or will arrive as a paid update alongside the full game.

    I disagree about the AI. While they’re still utterly clueless in some ways, they’re not as bang-happy as in GT4. But everyone’s entitled to their opinion of it, and I’ll admit, many cruder, older games had the AI nailed long ago. Oh, okay, they still suck.

    Regarding tire-wear, remember, Prologue. GT3 had it, GT4 had it, and GT5 will likely have it.

    I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but obviously, NFS: Shift shares the same spot as GT5 on my Pre-Christmas Christmas List.

    JEC

    At higher levels, with racecars and slicks, understeer was a non-issue, but having people complete dozens of license tests on regular cars on regular tires before allowing them to turn a single wheel on the racetrack forced the issue to the fore.

    While you could counter it via tuning (and, obviously, proper driving), it turned away many a casual player who might otherwise have been sucked into the game… and some hardcore players , who were of the opinion that if you had to tweak the handling to make it more realistic, then there must have been something fundamentally wrong with the program itself.

    Yes, the G25 experience is wonderful, and I can’t wait to have mine fixed. It’s been so long since I’ve driven with a proper set-up.

    Eidol Ways:

    Arcade racers simulate the “sense of speed”‘ through camera blur and other tricks. Most sims don’t bother. But if you’re looking for a more immersive gaming environment, GT5P’s cockpit view is wider than bumper-cam, giving you more blurring in your peripheral vision. Of course, it’s not the same as the real thing, and yes, the audio is still atrocious in parts, but it’s more than close enough to wow people when combined with a cage-enclosure with a racing seat, a flat screen and a steering wheel.

  • avatar
    John R

    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.

    Hear Hear. Damage. Overrated. If GT5 doesn’t have it I could care less. Last thing I want after a frustrating commute is an even more frustrating attempt at a time-attack when I get home.

    If they do it that’s cool. It’ll be one less chestnut for the Forza adherents harp on about and it’ll expose the ten-year-olds to one of life’s harsh realities. I just want the ability to turn it off.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    @ EidolWays: The sense of speed has been my biggest complaint about the GT series. I played through most of GT4, but was always irked by how damn slow it felt. Forza2 has this problem as well, but it’s better. PGR4 somehow manages to capture the sense of speed and still be fairly realistic. Not quite simulation, but damn close. I like both PGR4 and Forza2 and really can’t decide which I like better. Depends on my mood really. I’ve played GT5P a few times and it felt terrible with the controller. Never had a chance to try it with a wheel though.

  • avatar
    DearS

    I’ve loved GT since I first rented GT1. It really changed my life. First game I could not cheat at. I did not want to. I learned to respect and appreciate a lot of cars and drive trains and upgrading. I learned to respect creativity and engineering. GT5 has some issues that keep me farther away from understanding the cars I’m driving, like the throttle issues and such. Which also challenge me to learn patience, humility and live in the moment. I really want to play with more cars and tracks also. It will better in the not too distant future, for now I can get to know my issues.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I’d try it but my workstation area doesn’t have room for a steering wheel, stick, and clutch/accelerator controller…

    I don’t play this type of game, but I thought this was a good review; interesting reading.

  • avatar
    DrBiggly

    Niky,

    To counter the understeer in GT4, swap the springrates for front and rear and it will go away. So the higher springrate in the rear…soften it up and make the springrate stiff in the front instead. The understeer will go away rather than be tremendously worse as it should. :)

  • avatar

    Samir,

    The competition will be Forza 3 VS. Gran Turismo 5 VS. Need for Speed Shift. The latter will probably surprise a lot of people.

    Farago, I can do some reviews. I played the hell out of a few, so if you want some, I’m game. Pun intended.

  • avatar
    yamori

    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.

    Great review. Can’t wait for the full version.

    I hold this game on a certain pedestal. The level of realism enables a fantastical automotive indulgence I otherwise could never experience. There is something very therapeutic about memorizing a track and stringing a series of apexes together. When it’s right it feels fluid. It’s like meditating on four wheels. I love this game.

  • avatar

    DrBiggly :
    May 17th, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Niky,

    To counter the understeer in GT4, swap the springrates for front and rear and it will go away. So the higher springrate in the rear…soften it up and make the springrate stiff in the front instead. The understeer will go away rather than be tremendously worse as it should. :)

    Been there, done that. This effect is due to the fact that Turismo sees stiffer springs as more grip, not more wheel skip (though both are true in real life to some extent). Although, paradoxically, the Subaru STis suffered from less understeer than most AWDs in the game, and they actually had higher spring rates in the rear.

    A lot of it also has to do with the stock settings of the car you’re playing with. No matter what you do with a Focus SVT, you’ll never get it to snap oversteer on non-staggered tires, while a Focus RS will do it quite happily on the same compounds.

    Of course, that’s beside the point, GT5P has fixed these problems, mostly.

    The only question now is whether GT5 will have accurate tuning settings for suspension. As GT5P doesn’t have anti-roll bar settings, we’re not quite sure yet how good GT5’s tuning will be.

    GT5 could take a cue from Forza and include caster and tire pressure settings, too… but one can only hope…

  • avatar
    JMII

    GT5P is not an update to GT:HD, they are two separate games in my book thus I don’t count the additional cars and tracks between them.

    The sounds in GT overall have always been a let down, as the V8s don’t rumble with any real authority. As mentioned above the sorry tire audio makes it really hard to tell what is going on as well.

    To get around the understeer in GT for me step 1 was always to turn off ALL the silly nannies, then set the rear brakes to 10 and the fronts to about 5.

    Despite having crappy reviews in general I really like Ferrari Challenge, I recommend all you GT-ers give it a rent. It has its own set of shortcomings, but the AI is loads better and it features real world tracks. Its an overlooked title that provides a good challenge and what feels like real RACING action.

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