It’s been almost six years in the making, but Polyphony Digital’s driving simulator is finally here and it comes with mixed emotions. Gran Turismo 5 is a game that makes you want to hug Kaz Yamauchi then kick him hard in the happy sacks. Without doubt Gran Turismo 5 is a fabulous driving game, encompassing a physics engine the professors at the Large Hadron Collider would be envious of, but then you run in to the shackles of design from previous GT games that you just wish GT5 had broken free from.
Trying to get anywhere in GT5 takes an age; the UI design in the first place is a confused mess with each selection leading to more loading and more waiting, and getting back out to the main menu takes just as long. This hampers getting to the good part, the racing, and it’s frustrating – a trait the GT series could really do with addressing.
Likewise, progressing through Gran Turismo has always been an issue, and although things have been tweaked for GT5, it does still mean grinding away to earn the credits to get the cars and so delve further into the game is unavoidable. Some may say, well that’s just GT, but it shows that little has been done to improve this area, resulting in living with a system that was feeling tired six years ago – there are better ways of allowing a player to advance through a career mode without being bogged down in the same races over and over, as Forza 3 has shown.
That is how GT5 plays though, and for the grind this time around the concept of driver rank has been introduced. This governs the cars you’re able to buy and along with licences, the races you’re able to enter. Yes unfortunately the dreaded license tests are back, and if you found them irritating before there’s no relief this time around. Obtaining bronze in most of them shouldn’t be too much trouble, but the gold and silver rewards are far harder, not helped by a racing line indicator that’s far from showing the ideal apexes or braking points – it’s for the novices only and everyone else really should turn it off in the Options menu.
After gaining the B license, enough experience points are earned to unlock a few of the events. Racing in the game is split into different sections; there are the special events where the new and shiny stuff lives, such as the karting, NASCAR and the Top Gear test track. Then there are the B-Spec races where you’re able to train up and manage a driver to compete for you, and finally the meat of the career mode – the A-Spec racing.
Breaking down into further sub menus, the beginner, amateur, professional and other choices takes the player to a race selection. It’s the same GT fodder as before, picking a series based on the car types you have available in the garage. Typical examples being particular car models, car configuration (such as front or rear wheel drive), car class, original car manufacturer location, car power, car era – if there’s a combination you can think of, it will be in the acres of choices available within the game somewhere. When it comes to purchasing cars for races there are two options: premium models available from the manufacturer show rooms and standard vehicles from the second-hand marketplace – but this is another area of the game that causes exasperation.
Time and again we’ve been shown these fantastic shots of GT5 and how great it looks, but in reality most of those have been from the travel photo mode. Only two hundred of the thousand or so cars available have had the royal treatment. These vehicles have the damage modelling and full interior views, with lavishly detailed reproductions that look superb. The other “standard” models seem to be straight out of GT4 with slightly higher resolution, many of which don’t do the PS3 any favours. It seems puzzling that Polyphony Digital would want to sully the GT brand with cars that look third rate compared to the lush premium versions.
Circuits are a bit of mixed bag too; some, such as the Top Gear Test Track look very flat and lack detail, lighting in particular seems to be very strange, with blocky shadows everywhere that you’d be expecting to see in PS2 titles. Yet once you get into the rallying snow filled tracks it’s completely different experience, with far greater detail and a very comprehensive feeling of realism. It seems the GT5 is a game of two halves; the bits they’ve spent years working on and the rest that Polyphony Digital got bored with and have left unfinished or largely untouched.
To get the most out of the driving simulator it really does require a force-feedback steering wheel. Good quality 900 degree hardware doesn’t come in cheap, but it does transform the realism of the game. You can get away with using a pad as the cars are by no means uncontrollable with one, but through the wheel differences between vehicles are far more pronounced. The karting in particular feels very different on the pad compared to a wheel, equally so with the NASCAR racing. If you still have your GT4 official wheel it’s fully supported and it works great with GT5, if not and you’re planning to invest a lot of time into the game, it’s well worth taking a look at the Logitech range and splashing the cash – the level of input precision gained is worth it for that alone.
It may seem from above that the problems the game has leaves a shattered and broken mess – this isn’t the case at all. If anything it’s the polish and scale of the title in other areas that makes these things stick out like a priest at a Playboy party. With a wheel in your hands and the engines revving on the start grid, it’s here that you start to appreciate the things that Gran Turismo 5 is great at. When it comes to getting a feel for the nuances of racing shiny fast metal, GT is auto-erotica heaven, with an extra dose of carbon cladding. The autos feel right on the circuits whether they are rally cars, go-karts or front and rear driven sports vehicles - this is especially true when played with a wheel. Nailing that corner you’ve struggled on several times to shave tenths off your lap releases those endorphins, as does drafting the final NASCAR on that last corner to take the chequered flag. Gran Turismo 5 is not short on pleasure when it comes to adrenaline thrills.
Outside of the single player experience, online caters for up to sixteen would be Stigs on track at a time. The lobby system really needs some fixes though as there are very limited options in terms of game modes and nothing in the way of match-making. It is possible after the 1.02 patch to set maximum BHP and minimum weight restrictions, but setting car type or class is a no go. Trying to find a decent online lobby is an exercise in frustration and creating private rooms for friends only isn’t possible.
The biggest issue is that any player, not just the host, can start the race at any point, even if you’re in the middle of car selection. This makes choosing a track to battle on difficult as someone will inevitably begin a race, just to get back to the good stuff. Once on track the physics engine comes into its own again; racing against people is always a lot more fun than trying to better the game’s AI, so this side of things is not a total pile-up at the first corner. However, there are plenty of people who decide, after falling to the back, to drive around the circuit backwards and there’s no ability to kick or vote to kick them out of a lobby.
Other online features include access to GTTV (from the title menu), which is really a marketplace to get people to purchase some motoring programming content, though there are some freebies available on the GT channel. The lack of online leaderboards however is a massive omission for any racing title released today. Comparing your score to that of your friends is part of the fun when it comes to squeezing the most out of your four wheel steed – it is something that is supposedly being addressed at a later date, but after six years in development it’s a crazy exclusion at launch.
Gran Turismo 5 is without doubt a superlative driving simulator and there is so much within the game to do that it could easily take up as much as a hundred hours of your gaming schedule. With road, track, rally, go-kart, mini-van, NASCAR and Formula 1 racing, it’s possibly the only driving game you’ll need to purchase in the next six months. It’s painful then that the experience is marred with UI issues and design frustration and that the online side of things is a travesty. Whilst GT5 strives for perfection it does fall short of this (unreachable) goal by several steps – it’s like buying a new Ferrari, parking it up and finding someone has keyed it down both sides when you return. If you’ve never enjoyed a title in this series before then this one won’t change your mind, that said, any niggles are soon forgotten once you’re racing; this is what GT5 does best and it’s why, if you’ve the slightest bit of petrol in your blood, that you’ll want to purchase the game, so long as you’re not expecting evolution in the GT series.
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|Aired: 2 Dec 2013|