Why Gran Turismo 5 Is a Rightful G.O.T.Y Winner
So when Ben and I got on the phone to go over the nominees and the winners, the process hit a few snags. Some we had expected, some we didn't. The whole rundown is fairly straightforward and simple. Ben had a number of nominees written down per category, but when we sat down to discuss the whole list, I had brought up a number of other titles for various categories that Ben had forgotten. We had changed and removed nominees during the review, and yet the whole process was still relatively easy. There were only a handful of categories where we drew out long list of pros and cons, before ultimately making our decisions. Graphics, for example, was one of them. Both Ben and I came down to God of War III and Gran Turismo 5, and after a lot of scrutinizing I made the case for God of War III and Ben agreed.
The great thing about the dynamic Ben and I share is that we are able to share our objective analysis on any given subject and usually one or the other agrees with it. It's never a tug-of-war process, and we've never once had an instance of bickering. One such example is that I was able to make a case of Gran Turismo 5 being the multiplayer game of the year, and that FIFA 11 was the best sports game of the year - and Ben agreed. But then we hit our metaphorical wall. It was time to pick our Game of the Year. So, as per usual, we had our choices narrowed down and then we start picking those we don't think stack up. Process of elimination brought us to Heavy Rain and Gran Turismo 5. Oh, shit.
So began the case building, I had expressed why I felt Gran Turismo 5 is the best game of the year, and Ben did the same for Heavy Rain. To complicate things more, Ben agreed with me. Yet, I agreed with him. Doesn't that just blow your mind? So after about an hour of us talking about just the GOTY category, we agreed there was nothing left to do but to call it a tie. At one point Ben had said "these are about as polar opposite as polar opposite can get." And he's right. I mean, it's one thing if you're comparing, say, Uncharted to Metal Gear Solid, God of War to Final Fantasy, or Metal Gear Solid to Kingdom Hearts, but it's another when you're comparing Heavy Rain to Gran Turismo 5. The reason being is that, at least in those aforementioned titles, you take control of beings. Living, breathing, (well, sort of) creatures that convey emotion and physical actions, which is largely combat. Those games despite being different genres, have a ton more in common than Heavy Rain and Gran Turismo 5.
But then I said to Ben "are they really that different? I mean, yes, they're nothing alike. But they do share one massive similarity in that they both strive to achieve a certain level of realism that no game in each respective genre has accomplished thus far." And it was at that point that we realized why making this a tie made perfect sense and Ben had suggested I write an op-ed explaining why Gran Turismo 5 deserved it (that's just how much Ben agreed with my GOTY decision). And so here is why the choice was made.
First off, I'm not one to call out other writers out there, but the "critics" who covered Gran Turismo 5 or rather the "gamers" who reviewed Gran Turismo 5 did a pretty lousy job at it. I won't get into the specifics, because luckily forums like GTPlanet and NeoGAF have already done all of the ego-shredding for me. And believe it or not, but both of these forums are an integral part of this decision. If you've visited GTPlanet or even NeoGAF's official GT5 thread, you'll have noticed a collective of enthusiasts not just gathering to race online, but also doing something that I'm sure was a goal of Kazunori Yamauchi - sharing. Yes, sharing. It is absolutely brilliant how the Gran Turismo community gets online to share not just tips for a race, but things like in-depth car setups, down to the very increments of a damper setting on a vehicle's suspension. And if those suspension settings are still not working out for you, how about borrowing an absurd 800HP Toyota? It has a better power-to-weight ratio and it handles better than the impossibly insane Shelby you were trying to win with (like I was).
Yes, you can hand someone the keys to your virtual car and help him score that gold, prize money, experience points, and even the bonus car for winning. Hell, a bunch of people simply let you keep the car they've just gifted you. The community is absolutely riddled with gamers who are willing to help each other out, no different than a real life group of guys (and some gals) who post on a multitude of car forums. Somehow, Gran Turismo manages to take the experience outside of the virtual world and maintain it with fellow gamers such as you…and that's just sensational.
But that's not even the end of it. Then you simply start looking at the features list. 1000 cars. Awesome. 70 track setups. Kick ass. Course creator. Yes. WRC. Formula One. SuperGT. NASCAR. Karts. 16-player online gameplay. 60 frames per second. Custom Soundtracks. That list goes on and on, as you know, and it's only going to get longer. Since launch Polyphony has already released four new updates for Gran Turismo 5, nearly every single one having an affect on gameplay. Fantastic enhancements to the online gameplay have made matches exactly the way they should be with update 1.2, and that just came only a number of days after the launch of the game. Another update added a plethora of advanced race events to the game, quelling those who complained there wasn't enough race content in GT Life. Also added was an online dealership where rare and highly sought after cars can be purchased. A multitude of other little updates and additions were made throughout these downloads, and the craziest thing is that there are many more to come. Polyphony has already expressed that they are fully committed to Gran Turismo 5 as a platform that they will add to very frequently. New cars and tracks aren't just what we can look forward to, but also formerly standard cars becoming premiums, complete with damage and interiors. All of that. Free. Absolutely free. Brilliant.
But that's still not the end of it. Honestly, 1000 cars is a fantastic feat no matter how you slice it. I've said this countless times before, but I'd much rather have those 800 standard cars, then an extra 100 or 200 premium cars. The bottom line is that it's more content and more options. Furthermore, I find the cockpit view to be pretty pointless in a videogame, because it is simply not the best way to accurately drive in a simulator - that would be the bumper or hood cam with a Logitech steering wheel in front of you. So if I'm never even looking at the inside or outside of my car to begin with, I'm not too fanatical about how it looks. Yes, I love the premium cars and I love a gorgeous looking game, but unless you're using the photomode all the time, you shouldn't be too concerned. Besides, I've actually noticed a lot of the standard cars such as the Bugatti Veyron and a number of others look shockingly better than other standard vehicles - which implies that Polyphony did add extra touches to a number of cars they felt deserved them.
Yet, I'm not finished. Because its the physics that really reeled me in. Getting in front of my Logitech G27, stepping into my Nissan 370Z and taking it out for a spin is a great feeling. I have my own personal test track in the game, Autumn Ring Mini, and it's become my proving ground for every car I own. I'll race a new car around stock, note the time, get to work on the mods, and then race it around again and mark the improvements. Currently, my 1230HP Bugatti Veyron and 900HP Audi R8 V10 hold the top two seats, though despite being slower, I prefer the more sonorous and lively Audi over the clumsy, dull, and understeering Veyron any day of the week. The Audi can also perform these epic and controlled drifts that I just have to look back and awe at the 1/4 mile long cloud of smoke I left behind as I went through a curve. It's simply sensational how each and every car feels so utterly different than the last. Even the different variants of the 350Z, the Skyline, RX7, etc. - they all have a unique handling or performance characteristics that makes them instantly discernible from one another - no other racing game achieves that level of detail. None.
And while I contest that Gran Turismo 5 is far from perfect, it is simply unparalleled in the genre. It offers so much in such a tiny package, and yet it keeps on giving. I've been glued to the game from the moment I got it, because as a bleeding heart gearhead, who is often the annoying guy who loves to explain the ins and outs of a vehicle, this game captures my attention. It speaks to me. I know that, for the most part, what I do in a real-life car, I can do in Gran Turismo 5. I know that it's more difficult in real-life to drift a high-powered BMW 1-series than a 370Z - because one has an open-differential and the other a limited slip. Going back to what I said about being the annoying car guy, just two days ago my cousin was confused why only one wheel in one of his cars spins when he's climbing out of a mountain of snow (yay, NYC blizzard!). So I sat there and detailed how a differential works, and the types of differentials that exist and how they function. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend couldn't grasp the concept of a manual transmission. She understands the process of clutching and shifting, but doesn't understand the function. So I sat there and explained to her what exactly is going on internally right below the very seat she was in. So you can see that I'm *that* guy. I'm an absolute automotive fiend and I'm extremely critical when it comes down to authenticity in sim racers, and simply put Gran Turismo 5 matches my expectations, and in some cases exceeds them. Is it the most realistic a racer can possibly be? No. But it's really close.
It's a shame that critical reception was so…dare I say it…wrong for the game. And in many ways, I felt pretty embarrassed reading some of the reviews. But, it is what it is, because in a short amount of time Gran Turismo 5 has already added a slew of content and fixed a number of technical issues it had - a testament to Polyphony's commitment to the game. Looking ahead, Gran Turismo 5 is sure to only improve considerably more and we can't wait. So having said that, I'd like to end this piece with a thank you to: Kazunori Yamauchi, the entire Gran Turismo 5 community, Polyphony Digital, Quantic Dream, and Sony for giving PSX Extreme the ability to pick two Game of the Year winners.
1/2/2011 Arnold Katayev