It’s been a long time coming, and all jokes aside (of which there were plenty), Gran Turismo 5 is finally on store shelves. Expectations rose and scrutiny increased as the delays continued. Was the wait worth it? Did Polyphony deliver on its promises? GT5 is big, make no mistake, and series creator Kazunori Yamauchi is a well-known perfectionist. What we ended up with isn’t flawless, but it’s a great scratch for that PS3 sim-racer itch. There’s room for improvement, which we’re already seeing post-launch, but GT5 is still a fun and sophisticated racing experience.
The best console simulation racing. Polyphony rebuilt the physics engine from scratch for GT5, and the changes are immediately apparent. Every car handles very realistically. The game is fun playing with a DualShock 3, but substantially better with a wheel—Logitech’s Driving Force GT being my weapon of choice. The cars feel planted; you can almost feel the weight shifts, the grip of the tires, the squirming under heavy braking. The realism and detail is unparalleled.
+ GT5 is one of the best-looking games. The visuals had been under a microscope ever since the announcement of two types of cars, standard and premium. The premium cars are brilliant with their almost obscene detail and fully-modeled interiors. Standard cars, on the other hand, lack interiors and are essentially updated designs from the PS2 and PSP versions of the franchise. The majority of these cars don’t look bad racing around the track, but some look downright messy. Such obvious inconsistencies is a bit odd.
The rest of the game suffers from a few blemishes, but still looks superb. Smoke and dirt effects look great, and there’s top-notch depth of field during replays. Occasionally the smoke and blurring effects create fuzzy outlines around the cars if you’re watching replays. Also, shadows are horribly jagged. Hopefully that will be updated in the future, because softening those up would go a long way in improving the presentation.
+ Fun special events. In addition to the usual A and B-Spec races, there is a lot of fun and interesting special events to increase the series’ variety. That means WRC, karting, NASCAR, and special Top Gear events. It’s nice to change things now and again by delving into different racing styles, and a great way to earn extra money in career mode.
+ B-Spec mode is even better. B-Spec mode has seen many changes since GT4, and it’s now more exciting. Before, you just set up your A.I. driver, set his pace, and walked away. This time, you must be more attentive to his mental and physical stamina, and driving aggression. Aggressive racers are faster, but more prone to mistakes, while the opposite is true if they’re cool-headed. You can change the pace and overtake during the race, and as you win your driver earns experience. Up to five can be ushered through racing careers. It’s very RPG-like; an interesting twist. Part of what I like best is the ability to eat while playing B-Spec. You can keep playing while munching!
+ Over one-thousand cars. Sure, GT fudges the numbers with far too many model trims of Skylines, but the amount of cars nears encyclopedic. Still, there are many new models lacking, though there is always plenty of interesting and unexpected cars. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a Renault Avantime in a racer before.
+ Top Gear Test Track! This is self-explanatory.
± Better A.I. competition, but still not quit there. One of GT’s long-running issues has been its A.I. In 5, they’re a ways better at avoiding collisions and such. Pulling close to a computer opponent causes them to react by creating more space between you, and they drive less like they’re stuck on a line. There are still instances when they ram you or brake unexpectedly. Of the worst I’ve noticed is the run up to the first chicane on Monza, where the A.I. barrels into the corner quickly, creating a traffic jam. There’s obviously still work to be done, but it’s a significant improvement from older GT games.
± An unexciting course maker. One of the touted features prior to GT5’s release was the course editor. Well, don’t think it’s anything like Modnation Racers. You can design randomly-generated tracks by modifying parameters such as number of sectors, complexity, and track width. The problem is that it’s too difficult to create a fun track. Often they end up far too long and lack any sort of rhythm. Instead, they’re boring and awkward to drive. It’ll take a while to put together something truly worthwhile.
± Decent online play. Like the course maker, online support was an anticipated feature that falls short. The 16-player support is great, and there are nice features to prevent people from being jerks to those parked, or driving backwards so they’re rendered transparent. Problems stem from a lack of matchmaking and easy friend invites. Also, there’s no filtering by car restrictions, and it’s very unbalanced if the lobby leader doesn’t establish any. Forza definitely has GT beat in the online play department.
– Grinding. Unlike past GT games, the license tests here aren’t required to advance the main GT Life mode. Instead, you earn experience that permits access to new events and faster cars (sorry, you can’t obliterate those tiny hatch backs at the beginning with a Zonda). While many will enjoy the option to skip the tests, it will likely result in grinding races for money to buy a new car, or to level up.
– Uneven difficulty. Some events vary widely in difficulty. Restrictions are minimal for easy ones, meaning you can race something really fast to beat up on slower cars. I would suggest a car class system similar to Forza where it’s clear where your car should be and how you stack up to the competition, whereas GT5 is usually a guessing game. Conversely, some events (usually time trials) are excruciatingly difficult, where one slip-up can spell failure.
GT5 spent years in the oven and the debate between Forza and GT fans will continue until the end of the time, but the fact is that Gran Turismo 5 is a great simulation racer and great game—period. The blemishes are already being addressed by Polyphony as they add new events. Even if left without further support, GT5 enjoys a ton of content, looks great, plays great, and sports many control options for new and experienced racers. There’s a lot of value on the blu-ray disc. It’s hard not to recommend GT5. Buy it.