This ain’t no Amateur Stick. This here is a Pro-logue.
“Classy” and “video game” usually go together about as well as bottle of Pétrus and pre-sliced American cheese. But every couple of years, the folks at Polyphony Digital pull out their giant, oversized syringe, full of style and affluence, and inject it right into the gaming world’s giant, oversized ass. And for a little while, we all get to feel like we’re living out our virtual caviar dreams.
[image1]I like to think of the Gran Turismo games as the tuxedo shirts of the gaming world. They fit in with the black-tie set just as well as they do the beer-and-pretzels set. Playing the GT series gets everyone to feel like the prince of a small Mediterranean country, a prince who also keeps an old Camaro out back on cinder blocks.
Gran Turismo 5: Prologue Spec II follows the release of Gran Turismo HD: Concept on their slow way toward the final Gran Turismo 5 product. Apparently, Polyphony Digital doesn’t believe in calling their preliminary games “demos.” They’ve got too much class and pretension to stoop so low. No, they’ve got “concepts” and “prologues”. I guess I should stop using my “front door” and start using my “grand entrance” instead.
Admittedly, HD Concept was more filled out than your everyday demo, since it had leaderboards, user videos, and tuning features. But it was only limited to one course and just a handful of cars, and the physics engine wasn’t all that different from what it was in GT4. It was a free tease, but it was mostly just a graphical showcase with no real changes to the gameplay in prior installments.
But Gran Turismo 5: Prologue presents us with a set of much more challenging philosophical conundrums: Is it a game? Is it a demo? Is it shameless consumer abuse? Figuring out exactly “what it is” can feel like an exercise in existential phenomenology. However, I can assure you, this is a full game, complete unto itself. Only when compared to other Gran Turismo games might this title seem lacking in content. It’s got more vehicle and course selections than Motorstorm, more robust online features than DIRT, and more variability in its physics models than Forza 2.
[image2]If HD Concept was a sign of where the series was heading visually, Prologue shows us where the series is heading in terms of gameplay and presentation. The driving physics, play modes, online features, carmaker tie-ins, menu screens, and load times have all been massively retooled. If I were to lambaste this game for what it isn’t or what features it doesn’t have, I may as well also criticize it for not cooking me breakfast or for letting a game like Survivor see the light of day. It is what it is – a damn fine racing sim. That it’s just a “prologue” of what’s to come is utterly mind-blowing.
This isn’t to say it’s perfect. The in-game race music sounds like something from a bad football highlights collection. But you can adjust the music levels for menus, replays, and racing independently of one another, something rarely seen in a game. So just turn off the racing music and don’t give it another thought. The music in the menus and replays retains the outstanding light jazz tunage of prior games in the series, allowing your inner middle-aged white man to shake his groove thang.
And there are a couple of other small issues. Racing purists might be bothered by the fact that they can’t turn off the gear-shift indicator, and I also found it a little annoying that I couldn’t organize my garage by drivetrain. The game also doesn’t remember your preferred camera position; each time you restart the game it defaults to the bumper camera. While it’s true that most people probably use this view, Polyphony put so much effort into creating a beautiful cockpit view (the best I’ve ever seen) that this seems like a strange oversight.
But what Prologue does do, it does almost flawlessly. The game includes online races, an arcade mode for single-player customized races, a local two-player mode, carmaker-specific races, and single-player events. The single-player events come in a series of four classes: C, B, A, and S. You have to complete each of the ten events in one class to move on to the next by placing in the top three, making for a total of 40 events. Most events are straightforward races against up to 15 other cars. Other events include time trial events and single-lap, single-model races. The latter of these event types, where you have one lap to pass all 15 of your competitors using a pre-determined car, are the most challenging.
[image3]Unlike prior GT games, you can’t rely on simply earning enough money to buy better aftermarket parts to improve your vehicle to ensure victory. This time around, you’re stuck with stock parts, and most races strictly limit the type of cars you can use, which helps to keep things challenging and prevents money-grinding your way to a win. Only after you’ve finished the first three classes can you then begin tuning your cars, but even then, you’re limited by an overall power rating. It’s a fantastic improvement over one of the fundamental flaws in the series. It remains to be seen whether GT5 will find a similar way to prevent grinding for parts.
But the real gem of the new settings is the toggle between the “standard” and “professional” physics models. As far as I can tell, “standard” feels pretty much identical to the physics model used in GT4. The “professional” setting, however, brings the game to a whole new level of realism, challenge, and driving feel. Polyphony Digital has always had to balance accessibility and realism in its games. Make a game too real, and it becomes prohibitively difficult. Make it too accessible, and it gets labeled “arcadey.” Adding a toggle between the two physics models gives you the option of choosing a setting between the two. In certain online and S-class races, you will be limited to using only professional physics, so there’s plenty of challenge here for the well-versed and plenty of room to grow for the inexperienced.
However, for all that this game does well, the online modes could still use work. Getting online is a smooth experience, and the races themselves run beautifully. Unfortunately, there is no way to race against people on your friends list, and consequently there is no way to set up private races. Supposedly, both of these things are due to be added in the future, but as it stands, these features are sorely missed.
There is also a huge assortment of leaderboards for both time trial and drifting modes. Each of the 70+ vehicles and each of the twelve courses has its corresponding leaderboard for both types of play. The leaderboard portion of the game is far more polished than the multiplayer online racing modes. The menus are clearly organized and easy to navigate, and watching movies of the best players flying through these courses is a racing fan’s heaven.
[image4]Technically, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue is tailor-made for people with high-end home theaters. Not only can this game render at 1080p, but it also runs at an unshakable 60 fps with nary a hitch or screen tear in sight. Load times are faster than they’ve ever been. The game also includes a crystal clear 7.1 LPCM audio track for those with the gear to enjoy it. To take advantage of all of this means having a serious theater system, and as if to rub this in, the game also includes audio settings for “living room”, “small theater”, and “large theater”. (All of you with an in-home “large theater” can go to hell, bee-tee-double-you.)
Even without a top-of-the-line home theater, this game makes you believe that you are living the high life. It exudes elitism, class, and affluence at every turn. It’s a game every bit as precise and refined as the cars it replicates. But it also doesn’t forget that it’s still a game made for the grease monkey in all of us. Gran Turismo 5: Prologue shits roses and presents them to us as the first course in what promises to be one of the tastiest racing meals ever served.