Like a classic car that has been lovingly but only partially restored, parts of Gran Turismo 5 look as good as new, while others are showing their age. Developer Polyphony Digital's latest "real driving simulator" introduces plenty of great new features to the long-running series, but it also recycles a lot of content. This is undoubtedly the biggest and best Gran Turismo yet, and despite its impressive level of realism it's also the most accessible, but aspects of both the gameplay and the visuals evoke deja vu, while the all-new online play uses a lobby system with about as many modern conveniences as a Ford Model T. If you love to drive, Gran Turismo 5 is a game that you're sure to enjoy; just don't expect it to have that new-car smell.
6284498NoneTake on this rally challenge using only the new cockpit view at your own risk.
Though things improve later on, Gran Turismo 5 doesn't make a good first impression. Lengthy load and install times, unwieldy menus, and music that should be swapped out for a custom soundtrack as soon as possible are early disappointments, and sadly things don't get much better when you enter the GT Life career mode. You're told to buy your first car on a budget that more or less forces you to check out the used-car lot, rather than one of the game's many dealerships, only to find that most of the rides there look incredibly rough. That's not because GT5 features faded paintwork, rust spots, or bumpers that look like they've seen some action, but rather because the vast majority of the game's 1,000-plus cars don't look significantly different than they did when they appeared on the PlayStation 2. These poorly textured, jaggy-edged "standard" cars also lack the interiors of the vastly superior "premium" models, so when you drive them there's no option to do so using GT5's new cockpit view. Climb into a premium car, on the other hand, and the attention to detail both inside and out is staggering. The cockpit view is ruined somewhat by nasty-looking shadows that move across the dashboard as you drive, but they're not overly distracting, and the exteriors on these cars are so stunning that you need to take them into Photo mode to truly appreciate them.
Although the used-car dealer invariably has dozens of cars in stock, your purchases are limited not only by your available funds, but also by your driver level, which starts out at zero. You earn experience points toward your next level every time you complete a challenge or race, and as you gain levels you unlock additional events as well as the option to buy more powerful cars. You might think that being prevented from buying the most powerful cars at the outset keeps those early events competitive, but as in previous games, it's all too easy to win most races simply by entering in a car that's significantly more powerful than the rest of the field. The 45 different race series that make up the A-Spec (drive yourself) and B-Spec (give instructions to an AI driver) portions of your career all place restrictions on the kinds of vehicles that can enter, but they're rarely stringent. The result is that you end up winning races easily, which, while rewarding financially, isn't particularly satisfying. Even race series that restrict you to using certain car models aren't competitive unless you go out of your way to make sure that they are, because there are no rules in place to prevent you from upgrading that car in the impressively comprehensive and easy-to-use tuning shop. On the flip side, it's also possible to unwittingly enter races in cars that are hopelessly underpowered, in which case you're likely to quit before you even finish the first lap.
It's unfortunate that the lax restrictions make competitive racing the exception rather than the rule in A-Spec and B-Spec events, because on those rare occasions that you find yourself driving in close proximity with AI opponents, it can be fun to jostle for position with them. AI drivers rarely stray far from the racing line, but they at least attempt to overtake each other in a somewhat believable fashion and occasionally get something wrong and end up spinning their car or driving off the track. It's good to see other drivers getting it wrong from time to time, not only because it's realistic, but also because it makes you feel a little better about the mistakes you inevitably make yourself.
Standard quality cars like this one don't look nearly as good as the premium ones.
Gran Turismo 5 is quick to punish you if you do something wrong, though you'll be dozens of hours into GT Life mode before the damage to your vehicles becomes anything more than superficial. A number of the game's driving aids (traction control and driving line, for example) are turned on by default, but while these certainly make staying on the track at speed much easier, they by no means guarantee that you're going to do well. These driving aids are nothing that hasn't been seen in racing games before, but what's especially great about Gran Turismo 5 is how scalable the assist options are. If you're a newcomer to simulation-style driving, you can augment the driving aids with a "skid recovery force" option that automatically gives your wheels extra grip anytime they start to slip. You still have to make some attempt to drive believably, because this option can cause understeer if you try to corner too quickly, but it's a huge help if you're finding the game too difficult, and there's no penalty for using it. If you're a veteran of simulation-style driving, on the other hand, you can turn all of GT5's aids off and enjoy a significantly more realistic and challenging drive with wholly believable vehicle handling and physics.
It's certainly very satisfying to win races in which you feel you've had to fight for every position without the benefit of any driving aids, but by the same token it can be incredibly frustrating to see your chances of winning dashed after a seemingly minor mistake sends you spinning off the track. You might occasionally get to blame such incidents on AI opponents that seem oblivious to your presence alongside them, but more often than not in GT5 your mistakes are your own. The game gives you more than enough information with which to make your decisions on the track, but if you choose to ignore the screeching of your tires, the rumbling of your DualShock controller, the resistance of your force feedback wheel, or the fact that you're racing in wet conditions that make the track surface much more slippery, you have only yourself to blame.
Regardless of your skill level, you'd do well to complete GT5's license tests, which, unlike those in previous games, are completely optional. These tests do a great job of familiarizing you with various cornering techniques and the like, and also afford you an opportunity to get a feel for how different types of cars handle. When you reach the final series of tests, you're challenged to overtake cars on a full lap of a circuit without ever straying from the track or making contact with the other vehicles. These tests are among the most satisfying that GT5 has to offer, along with some of those that fall into the special events area of the career mode.
NASCAR racing is a welcome addition to the Gran Turismo formula.
Special events run the gamut, from races around the BBC's Top Gear test track and multistage rallies, to go-kart competitions and NASCAR challenges. Like the license tests, these challenges don't give you an opportunity to choose or customize your car, which makes them a far better test of your driving prowess than many events elsewhere in the game. Taking the twitchy controls of a kart makes for a welcome change of pace, though it's unfortunate that your AI opponents in this particular motorsport don't pose much of a challenge. Still, racing around in these diminutive open-wheelers is both a lot of fun and a great way to start honing your race craft on a level playing field. Similarly, the NASCAR challenges that are presented to you by an awkward-looking likeness of driver Jeff Gordon do a good job of preparing you for the oval races and NASCAR series of events that you unlock toward the end of your GT5 career. Other highlights in the special events include the AMG Driving Academy's wet weather time trials at the Nurburgring and Sebastien Loeb's fiendishly tricky rally challenges.