If Gran Turismo 5 is going to be the real driving simulator, then Prologue could be described as the warm-up lap. Although the game is an astounding technical achievement that looks and sounds nothing short of amazing, it's ultimately only a brief taste of the smorgasbord to come.
Prologue is available to download via PlayStation Network or on a Blu-ray disc from stores. As with previous iterations of Gran Turismo, the structure of GT5 Prologue is based on competing in a series of races, unlocking new event classes, and earning enough credits to purchase better cars, though you won't be required to complete any license tests before you're allowed to compete. With more than 30 events to unlock, the single-player game isn't overly lengthy, but it features a challenging difficulty curve as you progress from beginner to professional level. There are several different formats for events, from standard races and time trials to varied challenges, such as overtaking the entire grid in a single lap.
You start the game with 35,000 credits, which is enough to buy a basic car, such as the Mini Cooper-S '06, Citroen C4 Coupe '05, Ford Focus ST '06, Honda Integra Type R '04, or our favourite, the Mazda RX-8 Type S '07. A few race victories should give you enough credits to buy something better, but the option is always there to save your money and complete a 10-race series to win an exclusive new ride. Unlike in earlier iterations, Prologue doesn't give you the option to upgrade car parts, although you do gain access to the quick-tune option later in the game.
Prologue is hands-down one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation 3. Environments are packed with a stunning amount of detail and really make the most of a high-definition display. An incredible amount of attention has been paid to the cars, which look absolutely beautiful as they fly around the tracks. Environments are similarly impressive, though the High Speed Ring's expanses of water look flat and motionless, and the mountains of Eiger Nordwand look less convincing than the vistas on other tracks. Occasional motion judder and noticeable aliasing also tarnish the impressive visuals somewhat. That said, these issues are rather minor, and the game holds up well in two-player split-screen, which lets you race head-to-head without any AI drivers.
Unlike arcade racers, Gran Turismo games reward technical proficiency and have no margin for error when it comes to sloppy driving. Thankfully, the controls are accurate without being oversensitive, with support for racing wheels and plenty of adjustable options for the driving model. These include transmission choice, driver-assisted steering, traction control, tire selection, and a driving line, which has been included in a GT game for the first time here. The button layout is logical and can be tweaked to suit your personal taste. Unfortunately, damage modelling is still a notable omission, so hitting a wall at 180mph and bouncing off unscathed pretty much shatters the otherwise convincing illusion of reality.
There are four views available during races: normal (bumper height), bonnet, above-car chase view, and a new in-car driver's-eye view. The last of these makes the visibility of the track somewhat restricted, given that part of the screen is taken up with a detailed view of your car's frame, dashboard, steering wheel (complete with manufacturer logos), rear-view mirrors, and even working gauges. Resting on the wheel are your driver's hands, clad in Sparco racing gloves that move realistically at your whim. It's a nice addition to be able to appreciate your new ride from the inside (you can also look out of the back window when you press the rear-view button), but it's not very practical. Though the inclusion of this feature is in keeping with the authentic replication of the vehicles, you'll likely end up opting for a less-restricted view of the racetrack once the novelty wears off.
Although the vehicle lineup is respectable at 70-plus cars, it's still only one-tenth of the 700-plus cars seen in GT4. Annoyingly, there are no Lamborghinis, Porsches, or race-bred touring cars, and the 1995 Toyota Celica rally car from the GT HD demo has disappeared completely. Much has been made of Ferrari's debut in the game, especially because there are several models, including the 599, 430, and F40, as well as its 2007 Formula 1 racer. Nevertheless, the popular Enzo is nowhere to be found. Other brands synonymous with racing, such as Mercedes Benz, Audi, and Honda, boast only one or two cars in their showrooms. These misgivings aside, the lineup is broad and even has space for such curiosities as the Suzuki Cappuccino.
Each model's characteristics are reflected in its price tag, with the cheapest cars being rather sluggish and unresponsive compared to the exotic supercars on offer. Despite this, high-powered cars won't necessarily have the best handling available. With so much juice on tap at the press of a pedal, you'll need to give just as much attention to braking and steering if you want to beat the rest of the pack.