Kazunori Yamauchi and Michelangelo Buonarroti have a few things in common. Both are supremely detail-oriented. Both went well past their projected schedules and budgets while creating their masterpieces. Both know how to handle a stick. And both men are great admirers of Italian bodies.
[image1]After six years in development, three in-progress demos, endless hype, three full Forza releases, and a painful last-minute delay, two things are abundantly clear: First, Gran Turismo 5 is the best racing game of this console generation, and second, it’s still—believe it or not—unfinished.
Over the years, Yamauchi and his team at Polyphony Digital have repeatedly expressed their sizable ambitions for GT5, and they’ve let us stick our fingers in the batter along the way with Gran Turismo HD Concept, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, and Gran Turismo 5 Time Trial Challenge. Now that the finished product is out of the oven and in our hands, I can say simply that for those who’ve been salivating in anticipation, you will be more than satisfied.
In addition to the standard Arcade Mode, GT Mode, and license challenges, there’s now an unexpectedly deep and varied series of Special Events that include introductions to the much-touted Kart and NASCAR racing. B-spec is now front and center alongside A-spec racing, and a set of simplified course creation tools has been introduced.
[image2]But the biggest additions are the thousands upon thousands of nearly invisible adjustments, alignments, and fine tunings to the physics, car models, and course environments. As any fan of the series will tell you, the genius is in the details. And even though most of us will never drive many of these cars in real life, the series excels at making us feel as though we have.
The most controversial and visible change in GT5 is that the cars for sale have now been divided into two tiers. In one tier stand 200 premium cars available through in-game dealerships. These cars are insanely detailed inside and out and include a cockpit view option. In the second tier stand over 800 standard cars available in the used market. Standard cars are based on their GT4 counterparts and don’t allow for any interior views.
Yes, I’m well aware of the old adage about looking too closely at gift horses’ pearly whites, so I shouldn’t be complaining about the premium models since they didn’t have to be there at all. But my disappointment at the lack of a universal cockpit view is really a compliment; if GT5’s cockpit view weren’t executed so well in the premium cars, I wouldn’t miss it so much in the standard cars. In my review of Need for Speed Shift, I made a glowing remark about how I doubted that even the venerable GT series could outdo Shift’s excellent cockpit view. Consider me duly chagrined and chastened.
[image3]Once taken online, though, it’s evident that despite all the years in development and two major delays, Gran Turismo 5 is still incomplete. Online play is like a big empty warehouse at the moment, but fortunately, in this age of persistent online connections, Yamauchi and co. can still roll up their sleeves, get their hands greasy, and dig around in our hard drives to tweak things here and there.
And if this first week of release is any sign, the team at Polyphony Digital is committed to following their baby closely as it fires its first pistons out in the real world. The online suite has already received some significant updates over the past few days and more are clearly on the way; however, as it now stands, matchmaking is practically non-existent in public lobbies, and community features still look like they’re under construction.
The silver lining here is that it’s also clear GT5 will be departing from the norm in online racing games. Rather than focus on tons of hoppers and random opponents, Polyphony Digital is emphasizing instead more community-based racing. This avoids the typical pitfalls of how to balance the playing field, how to levy penalties, and how to deal with dropped connections. If they can get it off the ground, this could finally solve a lot of the problems that continue to plague online racing games.
But really, the GT series has always been about the driving experience and a superhuman attention to detail. And purely on its merits as a driving game, GT5 has no equal on consoles. None combines a rich simulation experience with such an instantly accessible racing game.
[image4]You will still find some vestiges of outdated game structures carried over from prior GT games. For example, you’ll find that like in past GT titles, most early events can be won simply by out-spending your competition. Without consequences for driving tricked-out monsters against modest stock vehicles, you’ll spend the first half of the game outstripping the competition with almost no effort.
The one place where the series really shows its age, though, is in its user interface. The menu system is clunky throughout, and there are frequent loads even after a massive hard drive install. The racing HUD and the dealership menus could use robust customization options, and it would be nice to have more options in the event selection menu so that you don’t have to return to the main menu in order to perform upgrades or purchase another car.
Vehicle models, course environments, weather and lighting effects, and engine sounds are all top-notch, of course. In terms of the tech under GT5’s hood, the only fault is the occasional spat of screen tearing. It’s not ideal, but everything else looks and sounds so beautiful that it's easily forgivable. Think of it as a beauty mark on an otherwise flawless face.
There are also some big late-game rewards for the dedicated racers among you. For example, cosmetic vehicle damage doesn’t unlock until fairly far into the game, and full mechanical damage doesn’t kick in until even further on. The AI also doesn’t seem to put up much of a fight until later in the game, but when it does start to show its true colors, you’ll wonder if you’re even playing the same game anymore.
Sony buried more than a few other surprises in GT5 that they didn’t foreground much in the lead-up to release (the rally courses are procedurally generated, for crying out loud!). All I can say is I’m very glad I put serious hours into this game before passing final judgment.
Regardless, sitting around picking nits is missing the point. Like a quality automaker, Polyphony Digital focuses on the tiny technical details so that we don’t have to. And trust me, Gran Turismo 5 is OCD enough for all of us.