Review / Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)

Gran Turismo 5 is a grower; after five years of development time you’d expect the game to wow you in the first  minute of putting it in your PS3. Instead you’re greeted to a lengthy install (a record breaking hour and 30 minutes for me) and then a bunch of confusing menus. No, it doesn’t exactly ooze of half a decade’s worth of development but at its core there’s a heck of a lot of content and a near flawless driving sim. It’s just mixed in with a presentation and design choices that don’t meet the series’ usual high standards.

At the heart of any Gran Turismo game is the GT mode, a career style campaign that sees you buying cars, tuning them up and then sending them out for a few laps. The same holds true for Gran Turismo 5, starting you off with a small sum of money that you’ll spend on your first vehicle and then slowly but surely climbing up the ranks until you’re taking part in some seriously challenging races with some seriously awesome cars.

Franchise fans will eat this mode up as you’ll be able to jump straight in to the familiar setup and race from the word go. Anyone new to the series will also be able to head over to the licenses to play through a tonne of tutorials. They move slowly but there’s a ridiculous amount to learn here so it makes sense to take the time to get it right if you want to secure that gold trophy.

But let’s be honest, you expect all this stuff; what’s new? Well several cars, tracks, and events make their series debut with Gran Turismo 5. Perhaps the most radical changes are the rally, NASCAR and karting events that are kept out of the A-Spec mode. They sit in the special events menu, meaning you only have to take part in them if you want to, but you’ll earn money and rank up just like any other race by playing them. It’s a little disappointing that this is about as far as innovation goes in GT5 but at least they provide something fresh for seasoned veterans.

These are mere distractions though; A-Spec is where you’ll be if you’re playing this game. With a mammoth amount of races to take part in and a variety of entry requirements that ensure you get a go at a lot of the vehicles in the game – smart or silly – Gran Turismo remains the deepest  and perhaps most addictive racing sim out there. Just as soon as you think you’ve mastered the racing, a new set of challenges and vehicles is thrown at you. You’ll constantly be heading into dealers to find new cars and then tuning them up to a near obsessive degree to get the maximum performance.

It’s ocean-deep, but that also makes it a little alienating. Again, that’s nothing new to the GT franchise but expect to be a little lost if you jump into the game not knowing your Ferraris from your Fords. This is a game for pure motor heads; don’t expect to be so easily pleased if you’re a Burnout fan trying out something new. There won’t be (many) spectacular crashes or times you hit the speed limit; this is all about careful driving, nailing corners, planning the perfect overtake and keeping control. It’s the thinking man’s racer and it works perfectly as that. The game’s many cars handle like you’d expect, with the low end stuff chugging around courses at yawn-enducing speeds while you’ll be working your thumbs overtime to master a Lamborghini Murcielago.

The game is strictly grounded in realism and that’s its hook. Every win is a calculated victory both on and off the track. Rushing head first into a race will send you spinning off the track and into the barriers. Crash hard enough and maybe, just maybe you’ll even see the effect.

Damage is indeed included this time round but good luck finding it. Only around 200 of the cars have proper damage modeling and the rest will recieve simply scratches that don’t really show up unless you’re thrashing the car about the place. For years we’ve been dreaming about what would happen when the obsessive minds at Polyphony Digital tackeled car deformation but it sadly hasn’t been realised here.

There’s a few weird little slips here and there too. Some competitions will let you enter cars that are way out of the competitors league and there doesn’t seem to be a penalty for cutting huge corners. These are flaws you can simply work around, but they’re unquestionably odd.

The fact is you probably know if Gran Turismo 5 is your type of game or not already. If you liked a Gran Turismo game before 5 or you enjoy Forza chances are you’re going to like what’s on offer here. Much of that has been seen before though, be it cars or tracks which does present a little bit of redundancy; if I’ve been through a GT mode before why do it again here? GT5 doesn’t offer much of a solution to that problem past “but it’s on PS3 this time” and many may find this their last time around the course if the inevitable Gran Turismo 6 doesn’t mix things up.

It’s also a worrying sign in a slip of quality. There are parts of GT5 that are visually stunning, especially in the game’s city-based tracks such as Rome or London. Get the right mix of car and track and you’re in for quite a treat. There are also parts of GT5 that I’m sure a PS2-era Polyphony Digital would simply not accept in their game. I tried not to think about how long it took to develop the game while I was playing, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that this does not always look like a game that’s spent that much time being made. Some of the car models are pretty rough around the edges, and I’m not kidding when I say some of the tracks with a bit more vegetation simply look like the PS2 courses with a lick of HD paint. It’s the new standard in a game’s visuals being up and down.

Sadly that holds true in other areas of the game’s presentation too. Confusing and dated menus can make the game’s online mode a struggle and long load times don’t help much either. There’s a decent soundtrack that’s rightfully drowned out by the sound of cars roaring, which in turn feels a little flat at times.

The important thing is that Gran Turismo 5 plays great and has an incredible amount of content. That alone makes this a brillaint racer, have no doubt about that. It’s when you look at the visuals and presentation that the series had once prided itself on that things fall apart a little. But like I said at the start, it grows on you. You’ll intially feel a little underwhelmed by what’s on offer but 15 hours in and I’m still customising cars and racing round tracks, and that’s what counts.

+ An incredible amount of content bound to keep you busy for ages
+ Driving itself is near perfect
+ New race modes bring some freshness to the formula

– Incredibly inconsistent presentation
– Damage is pretty irrelevent and far too subtle (although a patch is coming)
– Doesn’t mix things up quite enough for a game that’s been in development for the past five years.