Gamer: Gran Turismo 5 For PlayStation3
By Seyth Miersma
November 24, 2010
If you’re anything like us (and frankly, if you’re reading our GT5 review the day that the game goes on sale, you’re a little like us) the following is probably true: you’ve played every instantiation of the Gran Turismo series, since the title’s debut in 1997. You’ve played them a lot. You bought and played GT5 Prologue, hoping against hope that the full GT5 would be released within weeks of completing that too-short teaser of a game. More than two years later, and after near-countless release date announcements and delays, you had almost given up on ever getting behind the wheel of the newest Real Driving Simulator. Those thousand-plus cars, seventy-plus track configurations, online gaming, track editor, and damage modeling were vaporware after all.
Only, they’re not.
Announced with what seemed like an improbably low-key release date update little more than a week ago, GT5 is—well, it’s here. We were loath to let ourselves believe it, until our review copy of the game showed up in the mail just two days ago.
As you might imagine, then, we’ve been happily buried in the game for the past 24 hours, trying our damnedest to log enough time to provide a comprehensive review, while still loving most every second of it. Our thumbs are sore, our eyes are shot, and our garage is getting nicely filled—let’s dive in.
After opening with the ridiculously long and almost unbearably awesome intro movie, the game offers a straightforward base menu with just a few options: GT Mode, Arcade Mode, Course Maker, Gran Turismo TV, and the “help” and “settings” menus that you’d expect to find in most games (the whole of the GT5 manual is available in-game).
Gran Turismo TV isn’t likely to be a core attraction for most gamers, but it offers a nice selection of supplemental content, basically automotive-themed videos that are available from the PlayStation Store, for those looking to while away some laidback time.
Arcade mode has been a staple of the GT franchise since it started, offering players that may be a little short on time a simple way to pick up a controller and just race. You can choose to run a time trial, a drift trial, just a single race, or to play head-to-head in a two-person race. Clearly, the rich online portion of GT5 cuts down on some of the necessity of this two-player mode, but it is still nice to be able to just pick up and go against your buddy.
In fact, we got in more than a couple of rounds of two-player action, and found some really nice features versus previous editions of the game. For one, players can set up their controllers with individual settings. The default GT controls make use of the X and square buttons for gas and brake (as they always have), right and left bumpers for shifting, etc., but you’re allowed to go in and program each button on the Sixaxis controller as you see fit, too. We were also impressed with the dozens of cars and many tracks that were available to drive in the two player mode as standard, though we did miss the epic Nürburgring Nordschleife from that compliment. (We’re hoping/guessing that the Ring may be unlockable content for the Arcade mode.)
The arrival of a track editor has been a major buzz-generator for GT5, and we were certainly excited to try the Course Maker mode out. Track builders are asked to select from seven different basic track scenarios (a few karting style tracks, a racing circuit, a road race, etc.), and then customize within that framework. You can choose the number of sections you’d like to have for your custom track, effectively changing the overall distance. Each section can be edited for complexity, width, etc., but the changes asked for are implemented randomly by the computer. In other words, you’re not able to individually manage exactly what you’d like your track layout to be, but rather describe a sort of vision for an unseen force to implement. The net result is a near infinite possibility of track configurations (that you can share online or race on in Arcade Mode), without the ability to painstakingly create your own dream circuit.
Starting Your Career
Of course, the big daddy of the modes is the Gran Turismo (career) Mode; where you’re able to earn credits and licenses, buy, win, and modify cars, race in just about every way possible, and generally bask in the geeky glory of all things automotive.
GT5 has added the concept of leveling up your character to the mix, by placing level restrictions on basically every part of the game (cars, races, and specific modes of play all have levels associated with them). Everything positive that you achieve in the game will earn you points toward a higher level, as well as the credits (money) that we’re used to earning.
B-Spec mode returns to GT5, and in greater depth. GT4 players will remember B-Spec as the mode where you’re able to direct races from the pits, rather than actually race the car yourself—maestro rather than driver. In this version, B-Spec gains its own level points, the ability to create and increase the abilities of multiple drivers, as well as its own set of races that mirror the A-Spec set. We toyed with B-Spec enough to see that it could certainly be challenging and intense in its own right, but frankly, we like to drive; it’s sort of why we play Gran Turismo in the first place.
Obviously, the core part of A-Spec involves trying to win or buy better and faster cars to climb your way in to bigger and badder race series. When you’re first starting out, you’re not allowed to do anything (not even attempt to earn your first license), before you buy a car. That means you’ll be pretty severely limited by your starting credits (20K) and by your zero level. A lot of the usual GT suspects are available to offer their services as your first whip, there are both used and “new” cars that fit the starting criteria, including a whole mess of MX-5s, Nissan 240SX, Mitsubishi 3000GT, a few Kei cars, etc. Used options vary from game to game, as the used selection is refreshed from time to time. If you’re not completely encyclopedic about the many JDM and European models available, don’t worry, the GT folks provide a nicely comprehensive history and description of each vehicle, along with the pertinent specifications for most. We opted for the lightweight, great handling Nissan Silvia for our starting ride, spending only 13K on the car and keeping a decent budget for tuning. Fun stuff.
GT5 runs on a completely new physics engine, different even from Prologue, which used an updated model of GT4’s system, and the changes are immediately evident. Handling differs hugely from model to model, even for those cars that have similar engines, drive layout, etc. This has always been the strongest suite of GT, and the new game offers an update in game physics that feels very much like the logical next step for the franchise. Every car that we drove had an individual sense of weight, balance, turn-in, understeer/oversteer, and more, and all of those characteristics could be dramatically affected by changing states of tune, as well as the alterations available to ABS braking, traction control settings, and more. As ever, you will have the option to set up your vehicle exactly as you like it—the detail here is unmatched.
The superb detail in the driving experience helps to make the difficulty levels of various play types seem reasonable, too. Driving your expensively tuned car to victory over the straggling masses at the Amateur level is correctly much easier to achieve than is winning a one-make kart race at the second stage of difficulty. (We don’t have the time to go into a lot of detail about the new karting part of the game, so suffice it to say that we’ve found it equal parts exhilarating and frustrating thus far. Pretty intense, too.)
Much has been made about the arrival of damage modeling to the franchise, including both mechanical and cosmetic damage that occurs over the course of racing. Our early impressions of the damage system are mixed. The cosmetic portion of the damage is actually really hard to evince during the course of a normal race—only once in our play did we crash heavily enough to deform our Silvia. What’s more, when we were able to muss up the sheet metal, we were never forced to pay a real penalty for it. Our car showed up as pristine for the very next race, without having to shell out credits for body work or paint. We’ve a hunch that this type of damage will make more of a difference when one moves on to the more advanced, longer races, but in the early going it doesn’t seem to effect gameplay very dramatically.
Mechanical damage is a different story, though. Tire wear seems to be a much bigger factor in GT5 than is has been for earlier versions of the game. We were able to almost completely cook a set of Sports Soft tires that we’d shod the rear of our 1961 Jaguar E-Type coupe with, and after a short, two-lap race at the admittedly corner-heavy Monaco circuit. The Jag taught us a few other lessons about the depth of mechanical wear programmed in, too. For starters, the car’s low price was directly influenced by the long life it had already lived to that point, coming to us with over 200,000 miles on the clock already. Those types of wear levels make maintenance options like oil changes, engine rebuilds, and chassis refreshing seem more reasonable.
Tons Of Other Stuff
GT5 is so huge a game, we just haven’t had enough time to delve deeply into all of it at this point. As we continue to play, we’ll post up any new, interesting, or controversial parts of the game that we find. Please note that, as soon as Sony’s embargo lifts and this review goes live on WindingRoad.com, we’ll also publish a concurrent Ask It post for the game. Here you’ll be able to ask us specific questions about the game, especially over this holiday weekend, when we’ll be playing a lot, and we’ll do our best to answer as quickly as we can. There are some really interesting other features that we’d thought we’d touch on lightly, though, too.
Online Play – There’s no question that the online components of GT5 will be huge for many players, and maybe even the main draw for the game over the long term. The sad fact of the matter right now, though, is that there’s no one else online to play with us! We’ll need the general public to get online and start gaming before we can offer up impressions here.
Graphics Quality – It almost seems silly to have to mention it, but this is a beautiful game. High frame rates produce clearly defined backgrounds, as well as competing cars in every game mode we tried. We were able to evoke the occasional random “skipping” effect, but nothing so bad that it will draw you out of the game world. We played mostly on a new, 1080p, large format plasma television. Blacks were deep and distinct from gray (we could clearly see the difference between the black paint of our Civic Type R and its slightly grayer, carbon fiber hood), whites bright, and colors extremely vivid.
Top Gear – Yes, you can finally pit your own lap times against those of one famously monochromatic, tame racing driver. Top Gear has got its own section of the Special Events portion of the game, and even the first event found there is pretty hilarious. The Top Gear test track is also just a great little circuit.
New Tracks – Don’t worry, all of your old favorites seem to be accounted for, too, but some of the new tracks will make GT5 that much more fun. Monza is here for the F1 faithful to drool over, and we’re early fans of the Cape Ring series of courses. The Nürburgring hasn’t ever looked this good.
Racing Models – GT regulars will remember that older version of the game would allow you to upgrade certain street cars to be dedicated “Racing Models.” This usually meant the addition of a special livery, as well as special mechanical modifications that made the car handle better, brake harder, and win more races. The racing versions are back, and we can’t wait to start pimping our favorite cars out in full motorsport gear.
Grand Touring – Another mode in the Special Events section. Grand Touring isn’t unlockable until you reach level 16 (we’re a paltry level 10, as of this writing), but it is tantalizingly cool looking. The bit of the description that we’re able to read makes it seem as though this will be a series of touring races stretching from Northern Europe, south into Italy. Pan-Europe Mille Miglia, anyone?