After all of the waiting and countless delays, the 24th of November was the day that many driving game fans had been waiting for – it was the day that we found out whether or not the wait for Gran Turismo 5 was worth it. GT5 is a game which I have been eagerly awaiting since it was announced five years back and it was also the main reason I picked up a PlayStation 3. Although I have played and enjoyed many a game over the years whilst waiting for it to arrive, being a huge fan of driving games, it was Gran Turismo that I wanted. So like many other fans, I was waiting patiently and snatching up every little scrap of information released on the game and it appeared that fans were being given scraps of information about every detail in the game, but the one thing we were not given was a solid release date. Being patient and waiting has eventually paid off as fans and gamers can now get their hands on the latest incarnation of “the real driving simulator” and we now have the chance to find out if the game lives up to all the hype.
So to begin with, what is involved in the game? Very little in this respect has changed from the first game in the series in that you run races, make credits and use those credits to improve your cars or even purchase new cars. The race events will mostly be very familiar to anyone who has played one of the games in the series. At the start of the game you have a handful of credits with which you must buy your first car. The cars in GT5 come in two forms – the used cars of which there are around eight hundred and are of a slightly lower graphical quality, whereas the showroom cars are premium models which are much more detailed. More on the difference between these later on in the review. Buying your first car, with a limited choice due to the credits you have and a new to the series leveling up system means that buying a car depends on two factors, whether you can afford it and whether you are of high enough a level to use it. Once you have your vehicle it comes to yet another familiar Gran Turismo feature, the license tests. The license tests can vary from driving in a straight line and bringing your car to a halt within a designated area, negotiating a series of corners or passing a certain number of cars with a single lap of a track. The license tests, like every event within the game, have a goal of finishing in the top three or within a set time, earning you a bronze, silver or gold trophy. Any of these trophies will allow you to progress, but purists such as myself will not be happy with anything other than gold.
Once you have passed the first series of tests which make up the first license you can use your previously purchased car to take part in the first of the races. The races again are much as they were in previous titles, split into a handful of series which are progressively more difficult. Within each series there are nine championships comprising between one and six races. Each of these championships usually require a car of a certain make, country of origin or some kind of tuning. This ensures that not only do each of the races give you a different kind of race, but also means that you are constantly adding new cars to your garage and tuning older cars. This does however mean, like most games in the series, that there is a time you need to redo some of the races numerous times so you can save yourself some money, not that this is a bad point as the racing is always fun. As mentioned briefly earlier, a new feature added to the game is a levelling up system with each race you take part in earning the player XP. Not only does this decide which cars and championships you can take part in at that time, it also unlocks the special events.
Special events are another new feature and although they are much the same as the other race events within the game, they centre around a theme, the first of which is Go-Kart Racing. The Karting was something I was really interested in trying when it was first announced and I have to say I was not disappointed. They could not be any more different from the racing of the other cars in the game and even on their own are a lot of fun to play with. Other special events include the likes of NASCAR, keeping the American gamers more than happy, Rallying, which of course made me happy but was actually a lot tougher than I expected and requires some practice. Then there are the Top Gear Special events which have you racing around the now famous test track from the show, as seen in their hot laps and celebrity in a reasonably priced car. In real Top Gear fashion these events have you racing a couple of silly vehicles in races, such as the VW Samba Bus and VW Kubelwagen. This also means this track is available in the game for you to play on.
Another thing that has been brought back in full for GT5 are all the upgrades and tuning options for cars. Although the previous titles touched upon these features, they have returned in full with this game. In GT Auto you can carry out repairs and rebuild car engines, restoring lost horsepower, changing oil and adding new body parts giving the cars a more sporty look all the way to washing your car. Then you have the tuning area in which you can purchase new mechanical parts and install them, improving upon the stock version of your cars and also enabling you to fine tune aspects of your car such as gear ratios, tires and ride height meaning you can try to get just a little more speed from your cars. When it comes to the actual driving of the cars, it has to be said that the handling has been vastly improved upon throughout. Although the series has always had good handling, up to this point the games that came before all felt pretty much the same. But with GT5 the handling feels new, more responsive and you can really tell the difference between all of the cars, depending on their speed and handling. You soon find out which of the cars you can power out of the turns with and which you need to coast around, waiting until you are in line with the road again before getting back on the power.
Another new addition to the series is the damage modelling on the cars. Up until this point the GT series has prided itself on amazing looking vehicles and keeping them looking that good no matter how big a car crash you got involved in. Due a lot to fan demand, the game now has damage modelling. The amount of damage taken depends a lot on how high a level you are and the damage models differ from car to car, with standard cars sustaining nothing other than dirt and scratches. But the premium cars have a much more sophisticated damage mechanic that sees dents quickly appearing should you hit something, with panels and bumpers soon becoming loose and hanging off the car. Racing cars such as the Rally and NASCAR vehicles take this a step further with doors and panels actually falling from the car. The damage is not only visual but also mechanical with the handling and performance of your car suffering as they get banged up and over time your cars will need to be repaired in GT Auto to keep them running at peak performance.
The one area of the game that is still the same, and could have done with a little improvement, is the AI of the computer controlled cars. Although they are capable of giving you a good race, the problem arises if and when you lose control of your car. Some of the AI cars will attempt to avoid you but then some of the others will drive into you and continue to accelerate in an attempt to get through your car almost as though they are not even registering that you are there. When it comes to the gameplay however this is only a small problem and about the only one present.
Another new addition is the B-Spec mode, this plays out much the same as the main driving game with one major difference, you do not do the driving. Instead you take on the role of a racing team manager, creating a series of AI drivers who you then enter into the same races as you yourself took part in, albeit with more laps. Although your AI drivers do the main chunk of the work, your role involves monitoring their physical and mental strength, which decrease depending on the level, the car you have him drive and what you ask of him during the race. Your control over your drivers is limited to four basic controls – increase, decrease or maintain speed, and overtake cars in front of you. Clicking on any of these commands tells him what to do, but there is a cool down period between using these commands. It has to be said that although this is a very basic system, the B-Spec mode is a welcome addition for when you feel you need a break from the driving. The mode also offers up more rewards, both monetary and vehicle based, and the cool thing is that any cars won in this mode are shared in the same garage as your main game.
On top of all the racing and features already mentioned, there is also online play. As it stands there is no set structure to the multiplayer and game rooms are created by a player who is designated the host and can then have friends join that lobby or even random people searching for a game can join in. The host is responsible for setting numerous parameters such as tracks, laps, penalties, online damage and limiting the horsepower of cars allowed in the races, which keeps the races a lot fairer and much more fun. The online features do not stop at the races however. Although the racing is the main draw point, Polyphony Digital have done their best to add features which encourage the building of the community. With everything from a Twitter style message system, a log which not only keeps track of your own actions within the game, but also that of your friends, with the added ability to gift not only cars but also parts, paints and horns. There is even a collectible card game with five random cards being awarded to the player every twenty four hours they log on. These can also be traded with friends if and when you receive duplicates.
The presentation of the game is hit or miss, but the misses are not huge and over time are not even a problem. The game itself looks stunning with some of the tracks being jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at and some of the scenery almost photo-realistic. There are times when you slow down or stop and have a closer look at a few of the track side items and spectators which can look just a little off or rough around the edges, whereas at other times in other places the same items can look so much better. Granted, when you are travelling at speed these things are not even noticeable. On the whole the tracks, circuits and scenery all look pretty stunning.
As I said before in the review, when it comes to the cars, and let’s face it, it’s what the game is all about, they come in two different models – the standard and the premium. Of the included one thousand plus cars, just over one thousand of these are standard models and are purchased from the games second hand market. These cars are slightly improved upon cars which are ported from the PS2 title GT4 and the handheld title GT PSP. These models, although they look better than they did in their respective older games, are still of much lower graphical quality than the premium cars within the game. That is not to say that they look bad. In fact, on the whole they mostly look pretty good. But on closer inspection you can see flaws with windows, lights, door handles and other small details all done with textures. On the other end of the scale though are the two hundred plus premium vehicles which have been built specifically for Gran Turismo 5 and the level of detail on these cars needs to be seen to be believed, with details all the way down to rivets and screws holding on number plates. It is not just the exterior of the cars that are so detailed. Using the in car view is just as impressive with everything from the cars real life counterparts loyally recreated, right down to the stitching on the steering wheels. This leads to another difference between the standard and premium models. I generally play usingÂ the in car view but standard cars do not have this option, with the closest option being a camera view mounted on the exterior of the cars roof. This does the job, but a basic in car view would have been preferred to the omission of the option completely. How good the game looks can be seen in the screen shots here in the review which were all taken by myself using the surprisingly complex photograph mode, which can be used in a series of settings or during replays of your races.
The sound likewise is spot on. I personally turn music off when I am racing, but GT5 comes with an extensive soundtrack covering many genres. If the music included does not take your fancy, there is also the option to play your own music stored on your system, allowing you to custom create your own soundtrack for the game. If, like me, you prefer to play without music you will not be disappointed as all the cars sound amazing, with each car sounding much as you would expect it to, which is pretty spectacular considering the number of cars in the game. When it comes to the sound there is also an improvement on something that many fans have not been happy with and that was the screeching of the tires when cornering. Although they are still there, those sounds have been toned down a great deal and even this small change amongst others makes the game so much more enjoyable. One other thing that at first seems a little clustered and messy is the user interface. At first it seems to be a mishmash of pictures and icons which, on your first couple of plays, takes a little getting used to. But again, like most of the small problems within the game, once you become accustomed to it then it all becomes second nature.
And so it comes down the one big question – was it worth the five year wait for the game to eventually arrive. Taking into account the length of time that the game spent in production, you would have thought that some of the slightly rough edges within the game could have been buffed out. But it’s true that these small cons within the game are easily overlooked and over time you will not even notice them. It can safely be said that fans of earlier games in the series, such as myself, or even just fans of racing games in general, will definitely not be disappointed. Gran Turismo 5 is definitely the best game in the series so far and not only that, but possibly the best racing game available on the PS3 right now. Any fan of the genre will find something to entertain them here. So the answer is a most definite yes – the wait for the game was more than worth it, all its little flaws included.