Thursday, December 09, 2010

Review: Gran Turismo 5

Remember feeling goosebumps all those years back in 1997 when you first played Gran Turismo on the PlayStation? There was a sense that games simply couldn’t get any better; not only were you playing something with graphics that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the arcades, but here was a game that was so detailed and accurate, that it was unfathomable that it could be improved upon.

Well, now the latest iteration of “the real driving simulator” has made it onto store shelves and Gran Turismo 5 leaves you equally awestruck. It’s been five years in the making – and many of us doubted it would even make an appearance this side of Christmas – but the PS3 exclusive is every inch of the driving behemoth we were expecting.

There’s plenty on offer for petrolheads and amateur racers alike with this new edition of the 55m-selling series. In fact, look under the bonnet of one of the PS3’s most anticipated games and there are so many game modes and options hidden within, that it will surely provide enough gameplay to last you until its inevitable – and even better-looking – sequel finally emerges.

From the outset, with the lengthy – but fantastic looking - intro sequence that shows vehicles heading along the production line, it’s clear that this has been a labour of love for Polyphony Digital and Kazunori Yamauchi.

The game boasts over 1,000 photo-realistic cars – ranging from the Lamborghini Murcielago, McLaren MP4-12C to the Audi R8 and Ford Focus - and lets you race around more than 20 tracks with 70 variations. These include famous circuits such as the Nurburgring and cityscapes including London and Madrid, and are equally full of detail with the crowds reacting as you whizz by. There are plenty of tracks to keep you going, each posing its own challenges and offering plenty in the replayability stakes. Further adding to the longevity, there’s the ability to create your own tracks too. It’s not quite as in depth as I’d have hoped but being able to select parameters and create new courses is fantastic.

Criticisms? There’s perhaps a little too much detail – and this can prove a little daunting for the more arcade-oriented gamer. Saying that though, Gran Turismo was never really aimed at those guys, was it?

Some of the cars also lack some of the polish of the premium models and don’t look quite as beautiful but even that’s a little churlish. You’ll no doubt be far more focussed on the handling and improved physics as you race around the track anyway, but do make sure you sit back and savour every second of the replays, which are as gorgeous as you’d expect.

And finally, another slight bugbear are the menus, which are a little clunky and confusing and don’t seem to have had as much care and attention as the rest of the game.

Once you negotiate the raft of screens, you can jump straight into the action. There’s the option to take a take your chosen chariot for a spin in arcade mode (split screen two-player is on offer as is the ability to import cars unlocked in Gran Turismo PSP and the PS3’s Prologue games), play online with up to 16 people or start the extensive career mode.

Your career will take you on a journey, allowing you to rise through the ranks and develop your skills. Race and you gain cash and credits that allow you to visit dealerships to acquire more cars for your virtual garage, or alternatively you can wander off to the garage for a little fine tuning – although I wonder whether only an automotive engineer would fully appreciate all the features on offer.

You start with a slow, underpowered vehicle but can quickly upgrade as you chase the driving licences and take part in the A-Spec and B-Spec races, and championships. The B-Spec option is a particularly nice touch, giving you the opportunity to take the role of racing team director and coach AI drivers. It’s a whole new take on a racing game and proves both tricky and addictive.

What’s more, there’s the chance to race Karts, speed around the infamous Top Gear test track or dabble in some Nascar. With a win, you’re also bestowed with more cars that you can tune or trade.

If you’re that way inclined, PlayStation Eye owners get the added bonus of being able to harness face tracking for looking around the car while in the interior dash view.

Photos and replays of your races can also be saved and shared online on You Tube, allowing you to relive all those favourite moments and last ditch wins.

Fans will be pleased to hear that for the first time in the series’ history, the vehicles now display real-time damage that not only affect the aesthetics of your beloved car but can also impact the handling. Sadly, this doesn’t quite live up to its billing; my first few races saw me slam into a wall or an opponent at high speed and my car barely come away with a scratch – not very realistic afterall!

Gran Turismo 5 is a game of epic proportions. I’d argue that the time it’s taken to emerge and the anticipation and hype that has surrounded it will likely leave many initially feeling deflated. Looking at other reviews, it’s clear that it does have its detractors… and there’s plenty you could nitpick: from the tracks and occasional clipping to the fact that some of the standard cars look far less impressive than their move expensive counterparts.

Ultimately though, this is not what the game is about. It claims to be a driving simulator and deliver an authentic and realistic experience. And that, few can argue, is exactly what it does. It’s been a long time coming but this is a dream purchase if you have even a passing interest in cars. Sadly, for many of us, this is the closest we’ll come to experiencing many of them. I’d recommend you forgive its shortcomings and devote your time to Gran Turismo 5. Do so and you’ll absolutely love it.