Gran Turismo HD Concept Preview
Our Christmas gift from Polyphony Digital and Sony arrived today; the free playable demo of Gran Turismo 5, and a full day early, too. Entitled Gran Turismo HD Concept, the name is similar to the previously scrapped GT idea that would be specifically for HD, and wouldn't include any cars or tracks. The plan was for you to purchase them online for play, but Polyphony nixed the game to focus entirely on GT 5. And we must say "bravo" to that.
You can see the list of cars available for this demo in the article linked above, but there is some additional news to report. As we knew going in, you'd have to clear a time trial with each car in order to unlock the next, but what we didn't know is what we'd unlock upon clearing the time trials with all ten cars- ten tuned versions of those cars become available, and that allows you to see some major differences. It's clear the tuned racers have suspension, brakes, and power enhancements, thus giving you an even better idea of the new physics engine on display.
You also unlock the Drift Trials upon completing all the Time Trials, and that's just for fun. You can go flying around corners almost perpendicular to the corner, very reminiscent of Ridge Racer 7 or Tokyo Drift. Of course, this isn't the correct way to race, but it's still entertaining, nevertheless. You're graded on each drift with a set of 10 red flags; the more flags that fill, the better you did, and the more points you receive. The goal is to simply get as many points as possible in one lap, but there's nothing else to unlock beyond the Drifting so it's just for personal achievement.
Getting down to the game itself, the first thing you might notice is pretty damn obvious: it's very pretty. If you have the means to view it in HD, don't waste any more time and go download it now. But even if you don't, it looks damn sweet on any TV, and really makes GT 4 look completely outdated. The backdrops are breathtaking in every sense of the word, and there's a ridiculous amount of detail in your environment, from the onlookers right down to the very pavement. And perhaps best of all is the vastly improved draw distance, which was always a hassle in previous GTs. Going uphill was generally risky business because we really couldn't see enough, but now that's been fixed. Thank GOD.
Everything is crystal clear and a joy to behold, although we would've liked to see more movement and animation from the onlookers lining the road. Perhaps we'll see that in the final version, but all in all, the visuals are downright amazing, especially for a demo. We doubt anyone will find much to complain about when it comes to the graphics on display in Gran Turismo HD Concept.
Now, moving on to that vaunted new physics engine, it too was there for the sampling. It still feels very much like GT, but the enhancements are relatively obvious right off the bat. The skidding and sliding isn't quite as exaggerated (racing tires will bite better), the cars respond in a more realistic fashion to impediments (sand, grass, walls, etc.) and the overall stability of the cars feels much better. In GT 4, Polyphony all but repaired the "running on rails" issue we could abuse in GT 3, but it's even better here. More then ever before, despite the fact that this is indeed a demo, it feels like you're really driving. You can even fiddle with the tires, traction, and stabilizing controls in the tuning menu before each trial.
Unfortunately, without opponents, we couldn't take a look at AI or how our cars would respond when hitting other racers. Both of these remain outstanding issues in the GT franchise, and we would've liked to see how the team is progressing in these areas. But that's just about the only complaint we really had. We got to race around with one of the new Ferraris (the last car you unlock), and in general, it felt like a new GT was in our system. You do only get one track, but at least it's a new track, and you can race it standard or reverse once you've cleared all the Time Trials. Even the interface and menus sport a sleek new refined look, and to be honest, after playing, we can't understand how this game is so far off.
Those of you who remained connected to the Network while playing will also have their times automatically registered, and you can check out how you fare against other racers. The 625MB demo took about 25 minutes to download, and it was worth every second of wait time. It also helped a great deal that the demo installed directly to the drive, so load times were very fast. In the end, it's not a long demo, and the challenge is very low. GT veterans will cruise through the time trials, besting the required time by 10 or even 20 seconds. But that's okay; it's just here for us to take a look at Polyphony's progress, and where the game stands.
Where does it stand? Um...lookin' pretty damn good right now. Can't this come out in 2007? Pretty please, Polyphony?
12/28/2006 Ben Dutka