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Gran Turismo 5 Prologue
Graphics: 9.7
Gameplay: 10
Sound: 10
Control: 10
Replay Value: 9.5
Rating: 0

  Please note: Because this is just technically a demo, we can't really give it an overall score. But because people would like to see it in a rated format, here it is.

   Even though we waited an extra four months for our shot at Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, there's no denying that the wait was worth it. The US and European launch coincides with an update that boasts a variety of enhancements over the Japanese version. But of course, by now importers of the Japanese game know that they too got all of those goodies - they just had to wait four months, sort of like we did.

   My kryptonite has, and always will be Gran Turismo. Of all franchises, I've probably spent the most with GT and Final Fantasy. For the past ten years now, Gran Turismo has been Sony's most successful franchise, in addition to being one of the most popular in the world. With only four games under its belt, the series has sold an astonishing 50 million copies to date.

   To put this into perspective: the entire Final Fantasy franchise, which spans numerous consoles, over 20 games (spin-offs included), has sold just over 80 million. There are eight Grand Theft Auto games, again, spanning multi-platform releases: and it holds just over 70 million sold. It took Nintendo over 20 Pokemon games to sell close to 175 million.

   And with only four games, on the same family of platforms, GT sells 50 million. It's mind boggling, but automobiles are a passion that nearly everyone can agree on, and when you're talking about an industry dominated primarily by males aged 18-35, it's no wonder that Gran Turismo is such a phenomenon. What other franchise has ever been responsible for a car manufacturer's (Mitsubishi & Subaru) decision to bring out its four-cylinder turbos to the Americas, solely based on their popularity in a videogame? Gran Turismo is influential, so influential, in fact, that Kazunori Yamauchi (Creator) was chosen to work on an aspect of the Nissan GT-R. GT is an icon of culture, and it is the one franchise I hold dearest to me.

   With that long rant out of the way, here we are, with the first proper sampling of Gran Turismo 5 spinning along in our PlayStation 3s. It's Gran Turismo 5: Prologue; a 70 car, six track demo of sorts that gives you a brief glimpse into the world of the fifth Turismo game, and before you think it's similar to the GT:HD Concept demo or the GT5 Prologue demo, it isn't.

   First off, forget what you played in GT:HD Concept, it was indeed conceptual, as the final physics engine is much tighter. Moreover, forget the Prologue demo, as the complete Prologue offers additional physics management, such as the ability to configure "active steering," an aid which will correct oversteer either mildly or strongly -- I suggest keeping this off. And Logitech G25 wheel owners: the clutch works in the actual Prologue game, as does the Dual Shock 3 - so rejoice away.

   High-Speed Ring isn't the newest track added for the US/PAL release, bringing the total count to six courses. But what's great about the track offerings in Prologue, is that even though you have six tracks, you technically have eight individual courses (and that's not counting reverse courses). You see, you can race on two alternate versions of both Suzuka and Daytona. Fuji also has an "alternate" version, but the difference is the addition/removal of one tiny bend - nothing remotely noticeable. The remainder two tracks, London and Eiger, can be driven in reverse. In case you're wondering, the Eiger track is the mountainous Swiss track we all first saw in the GT:HD Concept demo. It's received a slight face lift, with better road textures, more responsive audience (they look at your car as you pass by, some even get scared when you crash), and a minor aesthetic adjustment at the start of the track.

   Visual cues such as lighting have also been corrected in the final Prologue, and you'll no longer be blinded by reflected glare. The game looks much better for it too, with a more vivid and natural presence. The visual details here are nothing short of flawless. I looked, and looked, and looked...and couldn't tell the difference between the 350Z in the game, and the one in my garage - that goes double for the interior. They've even got the texture of the steeling wheel, and the windshield's sunlight repellent down. The car models are downright flawless - and the only thing to look forward to in the final Gran Turismo 5 is to have some of the some of the aliasing smoothed out. If you're wondering, yes, much of the screen tearing that plagued the game earlier on has been fixed too. I found that the game looks particularly fantastic on native 1080i and 1080p sets, plasma especially, as it minimizes whatever fragments of aliasing the game has (it isn't much).

   But we all know that Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is a graphical madman, so how does it play? Well, like heaven, as you'd expect. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue offers two ways of playing the game - using the standard physics mode or the professional physics mode. Standard is more akin to what you had in Gran Turismo 3 or 4, where as professional is an all new physics code put together for GT5. Standard is still fairly realistic, especially if you turn off the driving aids, but professional pushes it just that much more. Professional is definitely my cup of tea; turn off the 'hold-my-hand' driving aids such as stability control, active-braking, turn down or turn off traction control (depending on the car), and try not to race with R3 tires - and you've got, arguably, the most accurate physics presentation of any racing game. Some may call it downright punishing, I call it incredible and rewarding.

   You'll be able to guide your car around corners with the throttle more so than ever before. But be careful, because oversteer is a bitch. If you shoulder off too much and find yourself riding the sand with two wheels, or even one, apply extreme caution, as any sudden moves may send you into a spiral. Counter steering now becomes more pivotal, and control of it feels especially solid thanks to the in-dash view. Controlling the cars altogether feels a lot more connected when you're playing using the in-dash view as opposed to the rear-cam. Now, you'll make it a point to find a car's 'catch-point' which will allow you to straighten it back out when things get slightly sideways, this is easier to do with a force feedback wheel such as the G25.

   The weight of a car also comes off very precise, as the 3800lb AWD Nissan GT-R feels noticeably heavier going into a corner as opposed to a smaller, shorter wheelbase, RWD Nissan 350Z or BMW 135i. Weight transfer clearly has a lot to do with that, in relation to how each car brakes going into a corner. And it doesn't simply affect the car front and back, but side-to-side, as well. You'll easily learn the quirks of each car you drive, when you notice their individual resistance (or lack thereof) to body roll, how balanced they are through corners, and whether or not they understeer or oversteer.

   And the most impressive thing of all? This is just how the game plays using the controller. Rig up the Logitech G25 wheel with clutch, and witness time waste away, as you're endlessly immersed into the most sublime racing experience you could've dreamed of. I've had a G25 paired up to the game for the past four months now, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world; it is certainly worth the extra coin for the clutch and 6-speed shifter alone. If you're still using the older Logitech wheels, there's no denying that the Driving Forces, with their flappy-paddles, are still a solid bet for aficionados.

   New for the US and European release is not just a total of 70 cars, but also performance customization. You get to unlock car-tuning by completing the first three classes (C-A), at which point you also get an all new S-Class set of races. What'll catch the eyes and hearts of most GT5 Prologue owners is Michael Schumacher's Ferrari 2007 Formula One car, the very same piloted by FIA vets Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. An online mode has also been added, but it isn't very fleshed out and relies on randomized matches. Sony should be updating Prologue's online component with a downloadable patch, and hopefully we're given some additional content, as well. Still, this is a demo, and the online network for the game is new, so the fact that we even have some online capability is nice.

   If you're not going to play online, you can now participate in split-screen races, which is yet another addition made over the original Japanese release. Yet another update allows you to adjust various physics options on the fly, which you also receive when completing classes C-A. So no more do you have to quit a race to make certain adjustments, you can do it immediately with your controller. Lastly, a Drift Trial mode was also put together for this release, which is a lot like the Drift mode found in the early GT:HD demo - it's good fun, but can be very challenging.

   There's a beautiful soundtrack to be found in GT5 Prologue too, consisting of all kinds of heavenly engine ranges, sung anywhere between 150 to 750 (perhaps more) galloping horses. The engine and exhaust notes are all true to each car, and they rumble through a low-range woofer with authenticity. The Mustang GT sounds like the roaring V8 monster that it is, and the 350Z's high-revving 7700RPM V6 lets out both a bassy-mellow tone and an exotic scream as it approaches redline. And the Ferraris are also definitely some of the most pleasing cars to listen to in the game, too. But it's all about that F2007 that revs to a terrifying 19,000RPMs and howls like a swarm of banshees out of hell.

   All of this adds up to something very special, which is exactly what Gran Turismo 5: Prologue is. It demonstrates a taste of what's to come, and what's in store is borderline perfection. So yes, GT5 Prologue is not quite perfect, but in relation to everything else out there, it stands head and shoulders above everything else. It's a monumental achievement that will change the way we look at this franchise once we get the final game. The crazy thing is that Sony has yet to launch a variety of components for Prologue, such car damage, which has been confirmed to arrive as a downloadable update later in the year, among a few extra cars and tracks.

   For $40, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is an absolute steal. I've sunk more hours into the game than I can count, so I'd say that your money won't be going to waste with the game, especially since it's bound to see some free downloadable updates and additions from Sony. Gran Turismo 5 is just one of the PlayStation 3's first most important powerhouse showcases - this is what you've been waiting to see your PlayStation 3 do. It's fascinating to think that Polyphony says that the final game will actually look better too. Heaven knows that with this physics engine, there probably isn't too much room for any more realism.

4/17/2008   Arnold Katayev