Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Megabits column: Gran Turismo 5

A few months ago, Megabits of Gaming was asked to contribute a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the second of the articles from the January 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

By the time you read this, many of you will have spent hours in a new Lamborghini Murcielago, repeatedly failed your driving test, mastered Kart racing or hurtled round the Top Gear track until you’re racking up better times than the Stig. If that sounds like you, you’re probably among the lucky owners of Gran Turismo 5 on Sony’s PS3 – a game five years in the making and crammed with enough content to keep you happy for at least the next five years, or at least until its inevitable sequel emerges.

Ever since Kazunori Yamauchi and Polyphony Digital sped onto the scene with the first game in the series, back in 1997, Gran Turismo has been been a labour of love with the developers keen to create the most realistic driving simulator ever.

Whether you’re a petrolhead or amateur racer, this addition to the 55m-selling series has plenty to keep you hooked. The statistics are pretty impressive: Gran Turismo 5 features more than 1,000 photo-realistic cars – from the Zonda to the Fiat 500 – as well as over 20 tracks with 70 variations.

As you’d expect, just like its predecessors it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and I’ll bet you’ll spend plenty of time sat watching the replays in their entirety after each race. The graphics, coupled with the game’s improved physics and handling, mean that driving many of the cars stored within your virtual garage is just as satisfying and authentic as driving them in reality. Well, almost.

All the usual options are there: an arcade mode with split screen two-player options, online multiplayer and an exhaustive career mode. To those of us who have enjoyed the series since its inception, everything is reassuringly familiar and the developers haven’t strayed too far from the winning formula of the original game. Sure, the PS1 version may have only featured around 180
(slightly more angular and less attractive) cars and the graphics weren’t up to today’s standards but ultimately, the latest instalment is little more than a long overdue update, with some token damage effects thrown in.

For all the love and attention that’s so clearly been poured into this title, it’s certainly not turned the genre on its head as much as the first game in the series all those years ago. The original, which
has mustered an impressive 10 miilion sales to date, set a new standard when it was released, with critics’ review scores averaging 95 per cent.

The original gave us a new perspective on racing games. Take the ability to tune your vehicle, for example. Previously, gamers had been given limited options to upgrade their cars – maybe replacing the tyres but that was about it. In Gran Turismo, you were literally able to get under the hood and tweak everything from the turbo charger to the brakes. You were completely in control and your adjustments actually had a bearing on your performance in each race.

Another key addition was the license challenges; effectively a series of increasingly frustrating tutorials that allowed you to enhance your driving skills. Deeply infuriating but effective, the license
tests were all that stood between you and the championship – a legacy that remains.

Not only did Gran Turismo show that games had the potential to look realistic, it also proved that they could feel realistic. 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, it was simply unfathomable that it could be improved upon. Some would say it still hasn’t been.