Review: Gran Turismo 5
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Time and time again, it’s the comparison that kept occurring to me as I played Gran Turismo 5 on my PS3. The fruit of years – and years of development, Sony’s Forza-killer was finally bestowed upon us this November. Befitting its immense gestation period, the game is a mix of out-dated user interfaces and standard cars and tracks, a sublime driving engine, and incredible detail on some of the newer premium cars. Originally targeted at Forza Motorsport 2, it came out after Forza 3, and it plays like something in between the two.
Polyphony, the game’s developer, went for the bulk approach here in order to clear the 1,000-car mark. Everyone begins the game with standard cars. I began the game with a ‘93 Silvia, whose wheels I couldn’t change, whose interior I could not view, and whose engine I could not turbocharge. It felt straight out of GT2, let alone GT5. It’s not actually until you move up to the premium cars that the game’s 2009 and 2010 development years are apparent.
Those premium cars are styled beautifully, with incredible attention to detail. Assume the cockpit view, and, if you’ve got a 1080P plasma HDTV, it’s as close as you can get to the real thing for under $100.
It’s much the same with other aspects of the game. The game’s user interface is so cluttered with tiny buttons, it harkens to an Acura’s center stack from the earlier parts of this decade. The execution is similarly lacking. Tap “cancel” to leave GT (career) mode, for example, and you don’t actually leave GT mode. You get to a red button, which you must hit again in order to leave GT mode. It wouldn’t be so bad, were it not for the fact that you actually have to leave GT mode to collect the prizes you win during career races! Meanwhile, I’ve never seen a game whose interface is so ridiculous that developers actually have to provide a zoom feature for users to decipher all of the buttons.
The online play provides more dismal results. Back in Forza 2’s heyday, I could download the fastest posted lap with a given car on a given track and try to chase it in order to better myself. Forza 3 later, and GT’s online mode is limited to some generic racing. Great. Though we shan’t enter into a PSNet vs. Xbox live discussion, suffice it to say online mode trailed Forza 2 and is left in the dust by Forza 3.
Finally, the customization options are the most lacking of all. Standard cars can be upgraded, but only with non-branded generic parts such as “High RPM Turbocharger” or “Supercharger”. Most pathetic of all: you can’t upgrade your brakes. Ever. So forget about six-piston Brembos like in Forza 3 (or 2, for that matter). Of course, licensing items costs money and takes time, but let’s not forget this game’s been eons in the making.
The tracks, like the cars, are definitely two-tiered, with some getting and incredible treatment and offering picturesque views while others offer what could only be called “2D Mania”.
So what’s the Dr. Jekyll to all of the Dr. Jekyll above? Two things: Pure racing and special events.
GT5’s driving engine remains sublime, on-par or better with Forza’s depending on who you ask. This game incorporates all kinds of racing – from the extreme (snow, dirt, weather changes, night racing, drifting, NASCAR to the zany (driving a VW Bus around the Top Gear airfield) to the traditional (flinging a Ferrari around Rome) to the downright cool (testing AMG’s at Mercedes’ home track). And every single mode of driving is phenomenal.
Drive a NASCAR car and you can feel the strange mix of the car’s heaviness and its gradually increasing fickleness as you pick up speed. Drive a VW Bus and you’re almost nervous about tip-over.Your controller with rumble with the torque steer of a juiced up FWD car, and your rear will break loose as you’d expect if you gun it too early upon exit. Brake too hard while turning and say hello to lift oversteer at the rear.There’s no Need For Speed-style fantasy physics here, it’s all the real deal.
Unfortunately, even the game’s best aspects were not immune to the pervasive issues that plague the rest of the game. The damage modelling is mostly cosmetic and ineffectual. The GT mode is a grind, involving racing and re-racing the same tracks over and over again to level up, to get better and bigger parts. And of course, the AI is as deficient as its always been in the series. Take the lead on it, stay on the driving line and it may never actually pass you, no matter how slow you’re going.
It’s tough to know what to make of GT5. Every single time it pleases with an exquisitely delivered race, you know Mr. Hyde lurks in the shadows – lo and behold, here’s an eternal loading screen then dizzying array of buttons and Japanese elevator music. It’s the only game I can describe as both immensely frustrating and immensely satisfying at the same time.
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I've been pretty happy with the Driving Force GT. Can't think of anything else I would need on a wheel. I never use the shifter on the right. I just use the paddles behind the wheel.
For anyone that doubts this game just surf over to YouTube.com and dig up any of the various GT5 vs Real Life videos. Various drivers have filmmed their track days then run the same car on the same track in the virtual GT5 world and the results are pretty darn impressive. I'm a HUGE GT fan and this game is without a doubt the best GT game to date, however the review is spot on. They got about 1/2 the game perfect and yet managed to complete fubar the other 50%. Once you reach the higher levels it becomes a real grind to earn the credits and experience necessary to move up. Don't get me wrong I love the lower spec events, however the questionable AI and the lack of any rewards for redoing those races means your stuck at the lower levels for what feels like too long. This is the first GT game where I felt credits were too hard to come by, considering there are cars costing $20 million to buy... and darn it I want to play with those too! I guess my biggest complaint is that the difficult level is all over the place. This is mostly due to the crappy AI, they are dog slow in the turns and yet take off like rockets on the straights. In some races I can out pace them by 6 to 7 seconds in an equal car (I'm 50/50 gold and silver licenses, so I'd say I'm only slightly above average???). But in other races (anything on the Sarthe or Monza come to mind) you need all the power you can get just to stay in the draft and have a chance at overtaking in the next turn. On the other hand the feeling of actually driving the cars is fantastic. The first time I caught a slide mid corner and power steered out of trouble in a near perfect 4 wheel drift I nearly cried... it just feels (and looks) so good. This in a nutshell is what makes GT5 so darn fun. Its a car simulator allowing you to do stuff you've always dreamed off. Having the Top Gear track means you can "be the Stig". The old school cars are a blast as well, what other game has the same '83 Civic S 1500 Hatchback I drove in high school in it? The attention to detail of the premium cars is especially impressive. There are over 1,000 cars and a complete auto museum, fantastic photo mode, special challenges (rally event, go-karts, etc) and other things that make a car guy just drool. They are patching the online mode to make it better so if you have a PS3 and a wheel (I've got the affordable Driving Force) you MUST get this game.