Gran Turismo 5. Just say it folks. Savour those words. It’s actually here. With a development period of more than half a decade, Gran Turismo 5 was perilously close to becoming video gaming’s equivalent of Guns and Roses’ Chinese Democracy in the “painful delay” stakes. After much anticipation and hype, the latest installment in Polyphony Digital’s “Real Racing Simulator” series has finally hit the PS3, but does it have what it takes to shake off the competition? Read our Gran Turismo 5 review to find out.
Gran Turismo has been a jewel in Sony’s crown since the day the first title made jaws drop on the original PlayStation way back in 1997. Throughout the numerous sequels, the series has maintained its unremitting focus on intense realism, a large roster of vehicles and a seriously addictive career mode. Gran Turismo 5 remains faithful to these principles – almost to a fault.
Racing titles are often held up as shining examples of just how astonishingly realistic video gaming can be as a medium, and Sony’s regular drip-feed of gorgeous Gran Turismo 5 footage has understandably built up lofty expectations. The good news is that when Gran Turismo 5 is at its best, it’s untouchable. No other console-based racing title can match the level of visual opulence on display here.
When you take the premium cars – those which Polyphony has lavished an inordinate amount of development and rendering time on – and set them loose on the night time streets of London, the effect is mesmerising. Streetlights glint off impossibly polished bodywork and every inch of the car is portrayed so authentically you have to pinch your arm to remind yourself that what you’re witnessing is actually fake, rather than solid reality.
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However, these moments are merely one side of Gran Turismo 5’s graphical personality. With over 1,000 different car models for Polyphony to conceptualise, construct, render and apply physics to, it’s almost inevitable that some of the vehicles included in the game look as rough as a badger’s back end. Disappointingly, some of included cars look as if they’ve been lifted wholesale from Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2.
Other issues – such as bizarrely fluctuating shadows and jaggy textures caused by a lack of anti-aliasing – erode the aesthetics further. The fact that Gran Turismo 5 has supermodel good looks is beyond debate, but it’s hiding a few unfortunate blemishes under that otherwise faultless visage.
If you’ve played a Gran Turismo game in the past – and let’s face, there are uncontacted tribes in the Amazon rainforest that have 100% completed the PlayStation original – then the setup in Gran Turismo 5 will be familiar. Arcade mode allows you to dive into the action immediately, but it’s the career portion of the game that will swallow up the vast majority of your time.
Here you can earn licences, race in events and purchase new cars with your winnings. Gran Turismo 5 also boasts a new experience points feature, where repeated success in each event boosts your driver level. Competitions and licences require you to have a certain level of aptitude, which is determined by your current driver level. It’s a neat feature, and is one that lends additional impetus to your efforts – aside from merely earning more moolah for that pimped-up Nissan Skyline you want so badly.
Driving in Gran Turismo 5 is just as unforgiving as it’s been in previous entries, but it’s equally as rewarding, too. It’s obvious that much of the lengthy development period has been ploughed into making the physics engine as realistic as possible. Although few of us will ever get to drive a 2.4 litre V8 Ferrari F1 car around an internationally-renowned speedway, it’s clear that doing it in Gran Turismo 5 is as close as you’re likely to get within your living room.
Each and every vehicle – from the humblest Japanese compact to the most brutish American muscle car – acts and responds just as you’d expect its real-life equivalent to when placed under tyre-screeching pressure. Taking a corner at high speed in a game like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit may be a case of slamming on the breaks and speeding out of the apex, but in Gran Turismo 5 the same action is only going to have one conclusion – you shooting off the road for an impromptu appointment with a trackside barrier.
Sadly, Gran Turismo 5’s almost obsessive pursuit of realism doesn’t extend to other aspects of the game. Car damage – which was infamously omitted from previous instalments at the behest of numerous licensed car manufacturers – is too slight to make any real impact on your play style. You can still quite happily trade paint with other racers and perform suicidal shunts when entering corners without having to worry about your race ending prematurely thanks to a busted axel or deflated tyre.
This is probably for the best, because in Gran Turismo 5 you can expect to encounter plenty of collisions with rival competitors. This is largely because the game’s artificial intelligence is about a quick-witted as a drunken snail. This has always been an issue with Polyphony’s titles, and in 2010, it’s really disheartening to see computer-controlled cars stick so slavishly to a pre-determined route around each circuit, even going as far as to drive straight into you if you happen to encroach on their racing line. It’s painfully obvious that Gran Turismo 5’s AI opponents are practically on-rails when they singularly fail to react to unexpected on-track events.
Much of Gran Turismo 5’s front-end is geared up for quick online interactivity, and jumping into a multiplayer session is relatively painless. There’s support for sixteen different participants, ensuring that each race is lively and challenging. Unfortunately, at the time of writing the online service is hopelessly overburdened, no doubt in part to the millions of fans around the world all attempting to connect during the week of release.
Sony has said it’s looking to issue some kind of solution as soon as possible, but for the time being at least it’s difficult to really enjoy Gran Turismo 5’s online modes to the full potential. However, the building blocks are in place for something truly special, and we’re quite taken with the ability to create your own “rooms” for personalised challenges.
The suffocating burden of expectation will ensure that racing fans will be especially critical of Gran Turismo 5’s minor failings. The inconsistency of the graphics engine is rather galling, and the neanderthal opposition AI hasn’t evolved since the first game was released.
Despite these irksome problems, even the most hardened critic must admit that Gran Turismo 5 is a truly extraordinary racer. It’s as close to driving a high-performance sports car as many of us are ever likely to get, and the feature-packed career mode and garage of over 1,000 vehicles is certain to keep petrol-heads entertained for months to come. It may not represent the quantum leap we’ve been led to expect – and it’s certainly not for everyone – but Gran Turismo 5 is nonetheless one of the best driving games available on the PlayStation 3.