How do you start a review to a game that is nearly as hyped as the second coming? Well I’d say just be straight forward from the start. This game is not the ten out of ten that everyone might have thought. However it certainly is the best sim racing game I’ve ever played. In a nutshell it’s the most advanced racing game in terms of physics to ever hit the home console market, It has a functional online network and beautifully rendered cars and tracks. But there isn’t just a list of positives to this title, in fact, there is a dark side to everything just listed.
The first thing that needs to be covered is the Single player and physics of the game; Please note that your opinion of how the game feels may vary depending on your set up, if you are using a high end wheel this game can offer some fantastic feedback to your driving experience. Regardless of your set up though the physics in this game are nothing short of jaw dropping, it has the weight and feel of the Gran Turismo’s of yore, yet the cars feel more unique and much more susceptible than the previous games. In the past the understeer and oversteer of the cars might have been understated, whereas in this game cars tend to have a personality and mind of their own.
Depending on your particular tuning ability you can alter, correct or downright screw up your cars behavior. Luckily for those not accustomed to tuning there are detailed explanations for what each alteration will do to your cars on track behavior. As much customization as the tuning features offer there is one notable option that is missing. That of course is the ability to tune each individual gear ratio, while not a huge issue, when tuning a car to a specific track, it will be missed.
But back to the analysis, real-time tire physics are a must in a sim racer, and GT5 delivers. Previous GT games only reported your tires wear and life span, while in this game, it will also report and greatly change handling of your car depending on the heat of the tire. Slam the gas pedal with 800 horses and your tires will heat up, making your car slide all over the place (great for drifting). But if you are using racing tires that are cold then you better get them warm to really keep your gripping potential at its peak.
As for the single player progression, it is the games weakest point. As in previous GT games, you will need to progress through various stages of competition, and under each stage is a set of 9 events that you will have to complete. In order unlock higher stages you will need to gain XP and levels, similar to the License concept from previous games. Speaking of the license tests, they are no longer required to advance, but are more like a booster pack for those experienced enough to get through them quickly. Completing these is by far the fastest way to gain XP early on, not to mention you can gain valuable cars for racing. If you have the patience for it, focusing on the license section of the game for a while might be wise.
The progression system, while functional, is only fractionally different from the games freshmen attempt. This series should be in its college years, yet it seems to be holding itself back a couple grades. When looking at a game like Forza 3 and its progression, you are suggested races, you have to follow a calendar and its progression is just more fun and dare I say, up to date. Whereas in GT5 you feel like you have hand cuffs that are continuously loosened instead of actually building a career. I hope Polyphony Digital has the foresight to take notes on their competition for their future releases if they want their series to stay relevant after GT5.
Besides the standard career in GT5, there are also some much appreciated features to be found. The first is the “Special Events” section. Here you will find a mixed bag of events. Some highlights are the NASCAR, Sebastien Loeb and the Grand Tour Special events. While NASCAR may not be to everyone’s taste, this game will really give you a look into how stressful said type of racing can be. Some of these challenges can be downright brutal but at the same time very rewarding. Nothing quite compares to finally being able to draft around the Daytona Speedway in order to pass eleven opponents in just two laps for the gold.
The king of the special events is the Grand Tour, which essentially puts players on a cross country tour across the heart of Europe, stopping at notable tracks and cities along the way to do various events. Don’t get me wrong though, this is no walk in the park on a beautiful day. While it is the most beautiful part of the game, it is also where I had some of my hardest problems getting gold. In the future, I hope many, many more events likes this, with even more fleshed out locales and stops will be in GT’s future. More like this would really set them apart from other games.
Not all of the Special Events are great though. For example, the Top Gear Challenge, which (In the voice of Jeremy Clarkson) is the worst special event… In the world. Simply put, this has almost nothing to do with Top Gear and the one connection it does have is the track, that’s it. Obviously the show is humorous, so why not have a race with a samba bus? That sounds funny, right? No, maybe if you had to jump the samba bus through multiple hoops of fire whilst being directed over an earpiece and wearing a blindfold with a color commentary by the three hosts would be more in the Top Gear spirit. But alas, you only drive a selection of three boring to drive cars in three boring events. It’s a shame, this really could have been one of the coolest sections of the game.
The second feature in single player besides the Special Events is the B-Spec mode. Much like you might remember from GT4, less the fast forward capability (for better or worse). In B-Spec, you essentially create a team of your own drivers and “train” them to become money raking slaves in what is essentially a mirror image of the A-Spec career mode. You get to pick a personality for your driver, is he hot or cold tempered, is he good at braking, turning, endurance etc… You also can choose his outfit (not that it really matters) and his name. Although, by some strange decision, you can only randomly generate you name, first initial, last name (Example, S. Loeb). Even if it is initially baffling and annoying, it is fun trying your luck to get some funny names or celebrities. But still, it doesn’t make up for the omission.
So how does he drive? Well pretty lousily to start. In order to win early on you will need a vastly superior car to your A/I opponents. He will drive slow, sloppy and most frustratingly, he will almost never pass given a golden opportunity. He will however greatly improve if you put the time in. Thankfully if you play A-Spec and then are slightly behind in B-Spec you should have cars that are already capable of taking the gold with a little tuning. I quite often use the B-Spec feature to unlock even more bonus cars and pocket some extra spending money at the same time that I’m doing dishes and house work. Needless to say, I kind of like that idea. But of course managing a virtual doppelganger while doing chores might not be your thing, in which case, you should just skip right over B-Spec. Although you might want to reconsider if you ever plan on making serious money in the endurance races, having a crack team of race drivers at your disposal will be quite handy in a 24 hour event.
Polyphony has always been at the top when it comes to technical standards, but much like the rest of the game, GT5 is a mixed bag. The A/I is much improved from GT4. Instead of being complete drones, the computer controlled racers will make mistakes, they will have surges where they get on a hot streak for a couple laps and they will make some great moves to pass you. However, in traditional GT fashion, they will also completely ignore your existence in some cases. For example, when you are leading a race and there is an A/I driver behind you, swerve out of the best driving line on a straight and see what happens. He won’t swerve like he should to keep in your draft. Or even worse, go to pass one of these guys around a curve and he might stick to his cookie cutter line forcing you off the track. There are many examples of poor A/I scripting, too many to bother going deeper into.
The games look is fantastic though. The majority of the courses have detail so rich it’s harder to tell apart from the real thing than some of the cars. Just watch a cinematic replay at the Nurburgring and look at all the peripheral buildings and side roads. They are correct to a T. My favorite example of photo realism is the extremely recognizable SANYO sign in London. Unfortunately not every course got the same treatment; some of the GT original tracks aren’t as detailed as they could be.
Cars on the other hand are a reciprocal story. Where the majority of tracks are stunning with a few that lack complete detail, the opposite is true with the cars. With just at 200 Premium cars that feature full interior/exterior/underside modeling and damage, GT5 has plenty of premium goodness to boast. However, if interior view is your thing (it isn’t in my case, I use bumper cam) then you are all out of luck. Over 800 of the games 1000+ garage are “standard”; this means no interior, no underside, and damage is minimal.
I subscribe to a slightly different perspective than most on this issue. I look at GT2 that has over 600 cars on the original Playstation, and then I look at GT3 that only had 180 something cars. That is a serious decrease, but GT3 never really got dinged for that fact, it was near universally praised. The leap from GT4 to GT5 is very similar, except that instead of leaving out all those cars that they hadn’t been able to model for the ps2 yet, they just threw them in as bonus’ (IMO). So from that perspective, combined with me not using interior view, it doesn’t really bother me. I almost wonder if they had left out the 800 standard cars would the game have come out quicker and been received better. Either way comparing the game to past iterations is only half the story. Forza 3 has 400 cars fully modeled with interior and full damage in the game. Which is pretty much 100% more than GT5. Of course, if you compare the detail level of identical cars cross game GT5 definitely takes the cake in both interior and exterior. But that really doesn’t make up for the fact that it has half as many as Forza 3.
As for the standard cars themselves, they fare quite well for the most part. Exterior view will show a good bit of attention went into most of them. I’d say roughly 80% of the standard cars are decent, and some of them even look great. Of course there are some that did not get the “decent” treatment. When you buy or win a car and it drives under the light in the car delivery section of the game you can spot the really ugly ones right off the bat. It’s a shame that they even bothered including such horrendous models in the first place.
GT5 is also the first Gran Turismo game to feature damage but it may as well not be in the game. Standard cars really don’t have damage, premium cars can eventually get to an un-recognizable state. But it just doesn’t fit, it’s just minimally implemented, and I would have preferred if it just wasn’t in the game at all.
Weather and Time lapse were made into sort of a big deal pre-release, and it turns out, for good reason. The time lapse and dynamic lighting are fantastic to look at, and driving at night with only your high beams is incredibly stressful and difficult. The only problem is, like the cars, only select tracks have time change, which is a shame. The same goes for the weather, not in every level, but where it is, it’s awesome (although the rain from the interior of a car is underwhelming looking). Driving at the Nurburgring while it’s foggy is amazing, especially when it just suddenly starts to dissipate over the course of a lap. But not to sound like a broken record, but remember, it isn’t on every course.
Sound has always been an annoyance in racing games for me. Sound always seems so hard to get right. But the sound in GT5 really delivers, of course to fully realize the sound field you might want a full surround 7.1 or 5.1 system (thankfully I have the former). Cars sound life like from any view, and the Doppler effect is impressive. So when it comes to sound crank it up. And if you like cheesy lounge jazz, then crank up the menu screen too, because you’re in luck. Just as in all GT games, Kazunori Yamauchi pushes his love of lounge on us. But of course for me, I’ve come to have a strange affinity for it (it helps that some of the menu songs are actually pretty good). It should be mentioned that there are custom soundtracks, but the implementation is so convoluted that you shouldn’t even bother trying.
There are almost no glitch issues, but there is one semi-glitch will annoy. Shadows in the game (depending on the situation) can be quite jarring. Polyphony has acknowledged the issue of the shadows being sub-par, and hopefully will be releasing a patch sometime, just don’t hold your breath.
GT5 implements an interesting social community aspect. You can scan through your friends to see what they have done recently, where they are in the game, or even leave them emails or short twitter like messages. Gifting cars back and forth between friends has become a common occurrence for those who are having a little trouble progressing. Of course this might counter all the work that Polyphony did in order to keep the game in balance. You can also download tracks that people have created via the track generator; which brings to mind a big user generated content question.
If Polyphony was so interested in making their game accessible that they included go karts for just that, then why didn’t they break down the barrier to their toughest hurtle for newcomers? Tuning is a difficult process, and for people new to the series who aren’t skilled in it, why isn’t they a feature to search and download car tuning settings just like you can download courses? Forza already has great user content like the cars auction block, featuring custom painted cars. Hopefully Sony will endorse user content in GT6 as much as they have with other Sony properties like Little Big Planet or Modnation Racers.
Apart from the main career mode, there is also an arcade mode. There is almost no point looking here for a single player experience. The time trials, and drift trials (which are both great fun, though desperately need leaderboards) are already in the career mode, as well as the one make races. So I’m not really sure what function arcade mode has besides offering 2 player split screen, which under my observation is the only reason you would ever visit this section of the game.
There are also a handful of awesome extra features in the game. One being photo travel, here you can take incredibly detailed pictures in awesome locales (Premium cars only) and export them in multiple formats, including 3d(all the screens in this review are provided through this feature). You can adjust settings out the wazoo to get exactly the picture you want, those familiar with manual settings on a camera will be much more comfortable off the bat. You can also visit old replays that you’ve save to take photos as well or just watch your greatest achievement over again. I am actually kind of disappointed that the replay theater isn’t more than it has been in the past. If there is one thing GT5 has excelled at, it’s making great trailers. There should definitely be much more in terms of editing here, I’d like to see a mode where you can essentially make your own sizzle reel. But no, just rather standard replay fare. One serious annoyance I have is switching from car to car in past games was as easy as clicking the up or down button, here it takes too many menus and too much time (this applies to B-Spec as well).
The last things I’m going to touch on are the Museum and Gran Turismo TV features. Both are awesome, the Museum just gives you peeks at historic cars and times throughout history from different manufactures via a few paragraphs and a picture. I love reading history, so automotive history included in the game is a no brainer. This is also a good time to mention that for every single car included in the games roster there is a great brief description of said cars. I’m glad they decided to do this, it definitely adds a lot when it comes to appreciating the cars.
GTTV is as of now, a completely free service. You can stream or download awesome looks into the history of cars (in crystal clear HD I might add), and events all across the automotive landscape. You can watch videos about the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, or watch videos on the birth of the Nissan GT-R. There is a wide variety of movies, usually in the 8 minute range, and they have been updated numerous times. There are going to be some paid for videos eventually, so be warned, Top Gear might cost you a dollar or two when it start being distributed through the service. But if you don’t have BBC America, this might be a money smart way to get your Top Gear on.
If you like cars, get Gran Turismo 5. It most definitely has its issues, but in my humble opinion, they don’t nearly outweigh what Polyphony has accomplished. As it stands now, I’m having a blast, though it is sad to see that after 5 years of development and awesome vision, it only feels partially completed.
4 out of 5. William Milby
While most of Gran Turismo 5 has a solid if somewhat flawed foundation, the competitive multiplayer aspect of the game is a sloppy mess in nearly every aspect. Games like Forza 3 and Need for Speed: Shift have defined the standards of competitive multiplayer and Gran Turismo 5 fails to hit even the most rudimentary of them, like matchmaking or leaderboards. Technically the racing itself is fantastic, with the driving being just as good as it is in the game proper. Lag is minimal and hardly factors into any of the races, something that is especially important in a racing title. And when one hits a race where everyone is into playing the game properly Gran Turismo 5 can be exquisite to play. Unfortunately most of the time it proves to be too much of a crap shoot to find these races.
The biggest issue with all of this is obviously the lack of multiplayer matchmaking. Considering the fact that Gran Turismo 5: Prologue did have online event matchmaking that worked quite well, it is quite the perplexing question as to why it was excluded in the final game. Without matchmaking the only way to race is to either create a lobby and hope someone will stumble into your room or to join a lobby pulled from the server list. While this can at times work perfectly, the lack of proper descriptions for many lobbies can result in players entering rooms and quickly leaving when they discover that the race is not exactly what has been described. This format also enables those that take pleasure in griefing their fellow players an easy way to do it. More than once I entered into a race that seemed legitimate enough only to have the competition decide that the game should actually be a virtual game of bumper cars.
Many of these issues stem from the fact that there is no accountability in the online races, with no true matchmaking system and nothing at stake, the races feel soulless. This could be fixed with the implementation of leaderboards and some sort of career progression for participating in online races but at this time there is more frustration than the game is worth. It is quite possible that Polyphony will support the title just as well as Zipper Interactive did with MAG, however the game has to be played in the here and now, so potential, no matter how promising, should not factor into our review. With that said if you are coming to Gran Turismo 5 with the promise of realistic online racing then you may want to look elsewhere.
*note* As of 12/20/10 (the day after completion of this review) update 1.05 has been released with multiple online and single player modifications that would play into our review. However, seeing as we don’t want to give this review as many delays as the game we are reviewing the game as we experienced it. For a list up the new features and updates, please reference http://www.gtplanet.net/gran-turismo-5-v1-05-update-brings-new-events-more-available-now/.