Gran Turismo 5
There's no point in wondering where all of Gran Turismo 5's development time went. We all have an idea of what the game should look like after five years, but what's done is done. The game is finished, and it's more than capable of standing on its own four tires. Say what you will about the developer's inability to put out a game in a timely fashion – Polyphony Digital's singular vision and commitment to delivering a great race experience pays off in Gran Turismo 5. I wouldn't necessarily call it the most complete racing game since it doesn't deliver on every single front, but when you get behind the wheel of GT 5 it is a racing experience like no other.
After having played so many racing games throughout the years, it can be hard to still get that primal thrill of getting in a red-hot race car and pushing it to its limits out on the track. Going fast is always fun, but there's something more that separates the great racing titles from those that are merely going through the motions. GT 5 succeeds in capturing that elusive adrenaline rush.
The graphics are undoubtedly a big factor in this simply because their high level of detail and evocation of realism puts you that much deeper in your seat as you whip around a corner or blast down a city street. Racing is all about living in the moment, and nothing helps that more than combining the game's great sense of speed with graphics whose details keep pace and help put you in that car at that moment. In particular, I highly suggest you get into a premium car and race from the cockpit view. Here you'll feel the sensation of every bump on the street and get a better idea of the rigors of racing. Add in snow, rain, and night environment variables, and you've got a game that visually lives up to the hype.
The cars themselves are another obvious factor in making GT 5's racing second to none. The vehicles handle great, and I really got a sense of what different kinds of cars feel like and what it's like to work with them and be able to wring out every bit of performance while straddling that line between being in and out of control.
One of my continuing criticisms of the series has been the cut-and-dry, sterile feeling of its career mode. Although GT 5 doesn't abandon its traditional racing events format, I appreciate how relatively easy the learning curve is in earning money and XP to move up the ranks due to the extra challenges that are available. Playing through Special Events like the NASCAR learning school or Rally stages is not only fun, but it breaks up the monotony of the normal A-Spec races and also is a great place to turn when you hit a dead end and need an infusion of cash or XP.
The game also sprinkles in a selection of rewards like paint chips (which you use to color your cars), free cars, unlocks for the Special Events, Photo Travel locations, and more as you progress. The latter even got me interested in the Photo Mode, a mode I normally wouldn't bother with, and that's exactly the kind of incentive that keeps things going and binds together some the seemingly disparate features in the game.
In general, the XP and money flow pretty easily and it makes starting out with the low-level cars easier. That being said, I don't mind working my way up the car ladder. Having to race all kinds of vehicles gives me an appreciation of what different cars are good and bad at, and it helps me as a racer in general. In some ways, this is the heart and soul of what Gran Turismo is all about.
As much as this game has nailed its overall vision, it's a franchise that needs to stretch out its horizons a little bit. This has been the case in the past, and GT 5's attempts to do this are uneven. Car damage has been requested for years, and now that it’s in there, I find the way it’s presented strange. You unlock it later in the game, and up until that point the damage is cosmetic and slight. Frankly, however, its absence in the beginning of the game only meant that by the time it started to matter, I was past worrying about when it would show up. I suggest you keep some money handy, because rebuilding your chassis isn’t cheap. Or better yet – don’t crumple your car in the first place.
The online experience is satisfying in many ways except for the glaring lack of any overall ranking or leaderboards. This is disappointing in and of itself, but I also think Polyphony passed up a larger chance to integrate the online portion back into your main career. In fact, I wish they'd done this with online instead of the underwhelming B-Spec mode where you command other race car drivers while they race for you. I'll never understand why I'd rather have someone else race for me. I'm a race car driver – it'll take the jaws of life to pry me out of the cockpit before I surrender the wheel to someone else.
We’ve all been waiting what seems like forever for Gran Turismo 5, and now that it’s here, I don't expect perfection, but tangible evidence that it was worth the wait. It is. I wasn’t blown away by every aspect of the game, but overall it’s easy to see the sheer amount of effort and craftsmanship that went into the game. This is a racing experience that racing fans should not miss.
Make no mistake about it: This is not a replacement for a full-on NASCAR title. Fans should still try out the stock cars, however, because the cockpit view is excellent, and the game gives you a great feeling of what these beasts are capable of. The draft is particularly important at the ovals and is the only way to keep up with the pack. Sorry, no 43-car fields, only a dozen on the track at once.
This seemingly slight form of racing is really fun. I highly suggest you race using the first-person camera to really capture the sense of speed. Watch out for the tight turn radius that can cause some unexpected spin outs.
Cars in GT 5 are either standard or premium. This doesn’t refer to their quality or value, but simply whether or not they have a cockpit view and more fully rendered parts (premium, obviously). Still, it’s not like standard cars are ugly or anything. Most of the time I couldn’t remember which was which. You can change the colors of the premium cars' wheels, but GT 5 is not a big customization game like Forza 3. Although it's hard to sneeze at GT 5's huge selection of over a 1,000 cars, I wish you had more options to sort through the new and used dealerships.
It's cool to play around with the randomly generated course creator, but the bad thing is that when you tweak one part of the track it tends to change the rest of it. At least you can demo your creation as you make it.
The races we were in were very smooth and didn't show any drop off in quality (this goes for the offline split-screen as well). I liked how you could try out cars and get a sense of the track before the race started, but I wish there were more options to restrict and specify which kinds of cars could enter in a race, particularly by horsepower. The community dashboard gives you plenty of features like messaging with friends, a lounge, and the ability to gift cars to others.