Review: Gran Turismo 5
It took six years to create this game. Lots of time, effort and what passes for passion. So, did it pay off?
- Worth The Time?No
- Things LovedOnline gameplay, premium cars, course maker, Top Gear test track, Special Events
- Things HatedSketchy graphics, archaic online system, sleep-inducing B-Spec races, elevator-music soundtrack, ridiculously outdated standard controls
- RecommendationIt's worth a try but not worth the money due to the repetitive nature of the game and level of boredom which you will suffer unless you're seriously into racing simulators.
- Name: Gran Turismo 5
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1-16
- Multiplayer: Online, split-screen
- Platforms: PS3
- Developer: Polyphony Digital
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R641
- Reviewed On: PS3
When a game has a 6 year long development cycle and has been delayed several times for the express purpose of improving and perfecting it, there’s a sizeable mountain of expectation for it to climb. As a result, to even have a shot at meeting this Gran Turismo 5 needs to have some serious power under its hood.
For a game that’s all about precision and perfection, Gran Turismo 5 falls a little short of the mark in more than one area. Basically, I struggle to think of a more inconsistent game. Straight off the bat you’re welcomed with a very artistic and fitting video of some industrial processes set to what is near as makes no difference, elevator music and herein lays my first problem with GT5, the soundtrack. It is a coarse homogenation of music that is neither fitting for a racing game nor exciting; I mean Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit opens with a song by 30 Seconds to Mars. It made me feel as if I was in a dentist’s waiting room, in the 60’s.
After I drowned out the music, I decided to take a swing at the game’s arcade mode for the express purpose of getting a chance to drive all the fast and exotic cars long before the single-player would ever allow me to. I must say, I was rather surprised. You firstly choose from a standard race, time-trial, drift or split-screen and then select your difficulty level and car. While they all work well, GT5’s drifting is by far the most boring form of the sport that I’ve ever come across. There’s none of the excitement or sense of occasion that one would expect to feel from a race form based on the principal of wildly sliding around corners rather than slicing through them.
I then sampled the game’s course maker which is interesting to say the very least. You choose from a set of pre-made tracks, each with its own environment and setting and then choose a specific course to modify within the specific track. How it works is you choose how many stages the course has and then edit each stage, deciding whether it’s a straight or a corner, which way the corner goes, how sharp the corner is and so on. After you’ve done this, you can test your track and presumably determine where things can be improved.
After enough screwing around, I embarked on the game’s single-player known as GT Life which is simply monumental in its scale. It’s laid out in a very elegant webpage style with each feature basically appearing as a hyperlink. There are several levels of races from Beginner to Extreme, each with its own collection of race series’ for you to compete in and each series having several races within it. Certain series’ require you to drive a specific kind of car, such as the Japanese Classics Series, which demands that you enter a Japanese car made before 1970, while others are open to any kind of car. You work your way up through the difficulty levels and earn money for each race, which can either go towards buying a new ride (if you’re patient) or blowing it all on upgrades from the game’s very comprehensive and user-friendly Parts Shop. You simply pick what part you want to upgrade and then select the specific upgrade you want for that part.
If that’s a bit too technical for you, there’s always GT Auto which let’s edit your cars paint job, wheels, aerodynamics, change the oil, service the engine and even give a good ol’ wash if need be.
If you’re looking to buy a new set of wheels, you simply head on down to the dealership where you can select the make of car you wish to purchase and then proceed to select the specific car you want. If you’re slightly more frugal with your money, you can go to the used car dealership where you can pick up a 2nd hand car for a smaller chunk of your cash than its off-the-showroom floor counterpart. The game has a total of some 1000+ cars for you to choose from so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever really drive all of them. Not that you’d want to though because most of them are either cars that you really didn’t buy the game to drive or variations of cars that you won’t care much for. Great little car as it is, how many versions of the Honda S2000 does anybody really want to drive? While the Arcade Mode only offers some of the cars available and a poultry 50 of the game’s premium cars, you can allocate up to 100 of your cars as ‘favourites’ which will then be available in Arcade Mode.
Licenses feature, just as they did in the previous game, but they are neither as irksomely impossible nor as pedantic in wanting you to complete them. Licenses are entirely optional in Gran Turismo 5 and the various tests that comprise them are actually quite manageable. What’s great about them is that they actually teach you how to become a racing driver: what lines to take, how to approach corners and even how to overtake. As someone who is soon to write their Learner’s test, this was really not helpful, it was useful for me as a future driver. So, for anyone who’s struggling to pass their driver’s or, conversely, wants to scare the crap out of your driving instructor, it works both ways.
Then there’s the Special Events which are unique races spanning across a variety of racing disciplines. They range from NASCAR to pro-karting to multi-stage rallying and each challenge sticks you with a specific car that you must then complete it with. There’s even a set of challenges which take place on the infamous Top Gear test track. This is perhaps the most enjoyable element of the game because it is simple, often fun and brings in a bit of a change from the same old races that you have to do to progress further in the game.
What I perhaps neglected to mention earlier is that the races where you physically race fall under the A-Spec category, while there is another B-Spec category with all the same races, and the only difference is that you now manage the driver. The way it works is you create a driver or a whole team of drivers and then enter one into these B-Spec races where you will be guiding him from the pits, telling him when to brake hard, when to accelerate and all the rest. Doing well in races earns you XP which can then go towards upgrading your drivers’ skill and progressing to more challenging races. Your drivers also use the same cars that you race with and since you aren’t behind the wheel to get the most out of the car, you have even more incentive to make it fast and give it good handling. While B-Spec may sound interesting at first, it is actually a very boring and limited way to play the game, much like simulating matches in FIFA, only worse because it takes longer and you have to pay attention. Kudos to Polyphony for trying, but this is not something I want to see in GT6, it extracts all the engaging and entertaining elements of a racing game and gives it to an AI module to play with. That’s like letting a boulder play with a sex toy.
Right, so what about that multiplayer that’s become a big part of just about every other racer out there? Well, it’s great but it’s not. Yes, you get a very intelligent multiplayer that turns jackasses who park their cars off on the side of the track or use them to block the track transparent and thus promotes clean honest racing and yes, you can even hold a leisurely non-competitive track-day with a couple of buddies where you just cruise around a circuit. Yes, the number of options available to those creating races is great. Players can determine which cars are allowed on the track or assign everyone random cars of a similar level or penalise players who drive like idiots. Yes, racing online in GT5 is fun and all-round pretty awesome, but getting to a race is not quite so awesome.
There’s no easy way to just jump straight into a game or let the game find a race for you, instead it gives you a selection of fine lobbies which are waiting for someone just like you to come fill them up. You then search for a lobby that looks like it leads to a game that you’d be interested in. This is not a perfect science though as it relies on the host naming it so as to give a clear indication of what kind of races it contains.
In essence, most people who want to play GT5 online spend most of their time searching for a game or waiting in lobbies that never really fill up. Usually, the easy way around just such a predicament would be to invite friends to join a game rather than wait around for eons. This however, is no piece of cake and simply joining a game that another friend is playing or even inviting a friend is about as complicated as servicing the engine on a Bugatti Veyron. In this day and age, the system that GT5 uses for its online mode is akin to putting leaf springs on your Ferrari i.e. prehistoric.
I suppose I should now deal with the visual and gameplay aspects of Gran Turismo 5 now that we’ve covered all the features. Gameplay-wise, Gran Turismo 5 is in a class of its own. Every car feels different and handles different and even sounds different. The cars in this game behave exactly the way they would in real life and it’s even better when you have some water on the track because then the cars actually feel unstable and difficult to control. Luckily, there’s a level of driver aids, that would put Volvo to shame, all working together to keep you on the track and your car in one piece. They are all on by default and can either be toned down for the veterans or ramped up for the rookies. Turn the driver aids off and the game becomes as unforgiving as a hippo. Make one wrong move and it will punish you with a headlong charge into a concrete barrier. That said, the game is still ludicrously easy in the beginning and races can be won even if you spin out on half the corners. It then becomes insanely challenging, so perhaps there’s a bit of balance there.
The visuals are something which I really don’t want to talk about because they are a real disappointment. Not the premium cars though, those are exquisite pieces of art sculpted by a hard working Asian man under the watchful eye of slave-driver Kaz Yamauchi, each one immaculately detailed and accurate with realistic body damage and cockpits. What’s disappointing is the average run-of-the-mill cars that we see everyday. These are so jagged and rough around the edges that they may as well and probably have been lifted from Gran Turismo 4 on the PS2 from 2004. Even the body damage to these vehicles is a far cry from the kind you see on premium cars such as the Nissan GTR. While the premiums will boast details such as broken trim and light bulbs, lesser cars struggle to even change shape under impact. The environments are also not as great as what I expected and are nowhere near as richly detailed as the premium cars that you end up driving around them, but closer to a basic architect’s rendering of them.
The visuals in Gran Turismo 5 really are a disappointment as you have these stunningly realistic cars with realistic damage and fine detailing on the on hand, and jagged 3D cut-outs on the other. It’s just staggering for a game to have such a diverse spectrum where its visuals are concerned. I understand that it’s no easy feat to have a game with 1000+ cars, but I was under the impression that the Gran Turismo series thrived on quality over quantity. Who honestly wants 20 versions of the Mazda MX-5 or 10 versions of the Renault Megane? Scrap all those variations, reduce the number of cars in the game to something manageable like 250 and make every car as detailed as those premiums. It really is that simple and nobody will bat an eyelash over it because nobody ever asked for the Mazda MX-5 anniversary edition that really is no different from the regular MX-5 apart from a little badge stuck to the back. The problem is that to unlock the really nice, properly rendered cars, you need to play but playing is such a chore for most of the game that you don’t want to.
What’s more, the standard control layout is ludicrously outdated and is, if memory serves, exactly as it was on the PS2 for some reason. Since then, developers have begun assigning the trigger shoulder buttons on controllers to acceleration and reverse/brake because of the level of throttle control they give so when GT5 demanded that I press ‘X’ to accelerate, I immediately changed that and a host of other stupidly assigned controls. It’s a bad start when the very controls that a game wants you to use will be changed by just about everybody who plays it.
If you’re a professional racing driver looking to improve his driving skills, then this is the game for you; if you’re an out and out simulator junkie, then this is the game for you. Other than that I cannot recommend this game to most gamers. The online is great but held back by an overhead system that people look back on with the same bemused expression as the Middle Ages. The game is packed with a host of features that most games wouldn’t even think of having. Some work but others, like the B-Spec races, don’t. The gameplay is great and perhaps the only truly flawless aspect of the game which is, again, why it’s perfect for someone looking for a simulator. The visuals are so grossly pathetic yet mind numbingly exquisite as to leave you with a decidedly average feeling about them.
For something that is supposed to be the shining pinnacle of everything that a driving simulator can be, this one is pretty badly covered in rubbish. Great gameplay, good variety of modes but woefully sketchy visuals and unusable online. Any newcomer to the series will be met with what appears to be a very mediocre game that just happens to have great gameplay mechanics. Consider that for a moment. Obviously anybody who knows Gran Turismo will know that things are bound to improve, but that is what you get when you first play the single-player. A game with good mechanics, weak graphics, a woefully archaic control scheme, a non-existent body damage system even though it’s an advertised feature, a mode that does little more than bore you to sleep and an online mode that is practically play-proof.
If you’ve ever looked for more than simply gameplay in a game, then don’t waste your money on this game. Barring the Special Events which are actually quite entertaining, the game takes itself too seriously and really does appear to have been crafted for the likes of Lewis, Sebastian and Jensen to hone their skills during the off-season. There’s no fun about Gran Turismo 5 and everything has been geared towards moulding you into a racing driver. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect any more from what is billed as the ‘ultimate driving simulator’ but it is still a game and yet everything feels clinical and well…Asian. Very good, very well made but no feeling whatsoever.
All the game did was give a lot of the same kind of race over and over again, play some elevator music and give me really very little reason to want to play it and therein lies the problem. Gran Turismo 5 does not do enough to make you want to come back and play it again and again. There’s always something that you want to play more. While putting off playing GT5, I played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (which I strongly recommend for any fan of cars) and even Worms: Reloaded. Grand Turismo 5 is not worth the six year wait, not worth the hype, not worth money and not worth the effort. It’s not that GT5 is entirely bad, but unless you’re a serious simulator fan who’s intent on shaving 4 tenths of a second off that lap time, there’s nothing keeping you in the game.