Gran Turismo 5 Review
How do you review a game like Gran Turismo 5? To be honest with you, the more I play the more I come to realize this is an extremely frustrating review to write, and I'll explain. Expectations for Gran Turismo 5 have been set so astronomically high that it's almost impossible not to find certain let downs, and thus, have some disappointments. I mean, it's been five years in the making, and with every year we're hearing rumors of more and more features possibly being added to the final product. At the end of the day, about 90-95% of those rumored features made it in. But a lot of people expressed concerns with one in particular, the 1000-large list of cars, of which about 250 are premium from-the-ground-up models specifically made for GT5, including damage and fully modeled interiors. The other 800 are standard vehicles, models out of Gran Turismo 4 and Gran Turismo PSP, but re-skinned in higher-resolution, don't feature modeled interiors, and boast minimal damage.
Now, first thing's first…damage control (no pun intended). I've always felt that the design process is all about giving the gamer/owner options. Do you really not want an extra 800 cars to toy with, even if they are notably weaker in visual quality? That's sort of like saying, "no, I don't want this bag of quarters, because bills are better"…sort of, but you get the point. At the end of the day, money is money, and a virtual car is a virtual car. Options. Hey, if you don't like the standard cars, by all means don't buy them - they're only sold in the used car dealership, all other cars are premium. To be frank, unless you're looking at the standard cars in photo mode or up close in replays, you really aren't that bothered by them during the races. Gran Turismo 5's lighting does a fantastic job at making the lesser models blend in during races. But we're talking a bit too much about the visuals.
It's the gameplay that really sealed it for me. At first, as is par for course, GT5 starts off a bit slow. But things quickly get rolling as you make your way through GT Mode (the career), increasing your driver level, racking up money, buying new cars, winning new cars, buying tons of mods, and so forth. With every level increased, there's always something to look forward to. You see, unlike past Gran Turismo games where you could cheat by grinding and earning tons of money to buy an expensive exotic, tune it, and smoke every single challenge, the level system prevents you from doing that. You can earn money by grinding, sure, but the higher your level gets the more experience points each level will need in order to move onto the next. So grinding for experience points is extremely difficult. But exotics are spread across numerous levels, for example you need to be at level 12 to purchase an Audi R8 5.2 V10, meanwhile above level 20 for a Ferrari F40. Fear not, though, because if you're playing through the career, you'll earn your money and points and unlock not just the ability to purchase a certain car, but also numerous special challenges, including Top Gear, Nascar, AMG School, and a few others.
License tests are no longer an absolute requirement anymore, as the game now relies on your drive rank instead, but they're still present for those devout fans. I will say this, though, some of the challenges, like the Top Gear VW SambaBus challenge are simply brutal and not fun. It took me handful of attempts to complete this challenge, and worst of all…you're driving at an average speed of 50MPH and struggling to go faster, so it was especially maddening when some jerky A.I. decided to clip me at the very end, forcing me to spend another five minutes redoing everything all over again. Ugh. To top it all off, in order to unlock the Top Gear track for regular use, you have to get gold in this challenge. Eventually, you figure it out, and the key is not to be scared of the speed as these busses aren't going fast enough to lose control through most of the curves.
Gran Turismo 5 is about as loaded as a racing game can get. It has a ton of features that seemingly never end. Karts, Super GT, Formula One, LeMans, Rally, and Touring Cars are just some of the extras that went in along side of your everyday pedestrian vehicles. There are over 50 tracks in the game, some of which are reversed courses or various versions of a course (short, standard, modified turns). There is more than enough track diversity in the game as far as cities, real courses, and original courses to keep you happy. But in case you wanted more, a course creator allows you to highly modify a track template to your liking using a number of tools at your disposal.
Now, I've expressed a concern with the frustrating levels of certain challenges, and allow me to express a few more faults I've noticed. First, how come there is no brake upgrade option in the tuning section? It's one of the most common upgrades on cars today, and yet it's completely missing in the game. Sure, your braking will improve considerably with tires and weight reduction mods, but an actual upgrade of the calipers and rotors would've been splendid. Odd. Also, how come I can't slap on new wheels on a standard car? I'm assuming it's because the level of quality between the standard car and the premium wheels isn't compatible, but regardless, they could've just ported over high-resolution GT4 wheels for the standard cars. I also noticed there was no more nitrous upgrade. Additionally, how come we don't have drag racing anymore? Staging some drag races online would've been epic; although I have found a little workaround where racers can just take to the Top Gear runway and line up there.
But at the end of the day, there are simply features and options that Gran Turismo offers that no other racing game does. Even if some other racer features a few options that GT5 doesn't have, it still won't offer as many in total. And what's most impressive is that Polyphony Digital has announced frequent downloadable updates to the game, and already in just five days, we've had two updates, one of which has added new features for online gameplay. Expect cars and possibly tracks to arrive by way of these updates, and it's been said that Sony will not charge for any of them. Don't forget, various updates for GT5 Prologue added numerous cars and enhancements, which no one ever paid a dime for.
Lastly, I should go over the physics. To do this, I will preface this paragraph with a simple comment: if you're playing Gran Turismo 5 with a controller, you're playing a videogame. If you're playing Gran Turismo 5 with a Logitech G25 or G27 wheel, you're playing a simulator. The physics model is far and away the best of any racer I've sampled. Unlike other sims where the cars feel floaty and disconnected from the ground, every car in GT5 feels superbly planted. This feeling of connectivity, or feedback, especially comes across well with the Logitech G27 I've been exclusively using with the game. I haven't even touched the controller for a single round. Also, note that I play using professional physics, professional wheel settings, manual transmission, with all assist nannies off (including traction control). Basically, the most advanced settings possible is how my game is configured, and never anything different. Saving my cars from a drift gone too angular is no different than what I've done on a real car before. Likewise, the same goes for holding a drift too. The physics are simply a treat to someone like me. But don't be put off if you aren't hardcore, because there are other physics settings that even beginners will feel very comfortable with.
I've already mentioned some details about the visuals, but I'll reiterate that the standard cars blend in well during races, just don't take them into photo mode. The premium cars are absolutely gorgeous to look at, they are so precisely detailed that you'll no doubt try everything to avoid smashing them when damage has been enabled later on into the career. That and, well, you have to pay for any severe damages made. The interiors are very true to form, but things like display text on the dash screens and such aren't that great to look at, which was expected. There are visual quirks such as some screen tearing and bits of very slight framerate dips, but all of that will be resolved in the very near future with an update (just like GT5 Prologue's first update). But, what will likely not be fixed is the shadows, which are unusually jaggy and very apparent before races and when you're playing using the cockpit view. Here's hoping that Polyphony pull a rabbit out of their hat and fix the shadowing, because it's pretty much my only major visual complaint. To add to my list of small visual complaints, the tire smoke, while very nice, creates a jagged image when it's engulged the car - this is due to a low-resolution texture mixing/clipping with a high resolution texture. And the rain, while pretty to look at when using the rear or front bumper cam, looks obviously pixilated when in the cockpit view.
While it may sound like I'm complaining too much, all of this stuff really is minor. Gran Turismo 5 is a powerhouse, it's just that because it's so damn beautiful, its flaws stand out that much more. I find GT5 looks best when played using 720p, as it smoothens out the image considerably (720p allows for better anti-aliasing with the game), in addition to mostly preventing framerate dips and tearing. The game also has video options that either sharpen the game, smoothen the game, or leave it with a bit of both. Lastly, as far as track detail, the city tracks look absolutely beautiful with the gorgeous scenery and superbly modeled roads, I prefer them by far. The real courses look nice too, but compared to the other tracks, they're more vanilla for obvious reasons.
Despite what you may have heard about the game's audio, primarily the exhaust and engine notes, Gran Turismo 5 actually sounds fantastic. Having sampled a number of cars in the game that I either own, drive frequently, or have driven numerous times before, I've verified how they all sound. My 350Z, which I've sold literally hours before I began writing this on 11/28/10 sounded pitch perfect as you start it up upon selecting it. Same goes for my 370Z, which is what I replaced the 350Z with, it sounds spot on. Even a bunch of the standard cars sounded good, and sound even better with a few exhaust mods - they truly do come alive if you have a nice audio setup. And yes, even though there is a soundtrack in the game, you are more than welcome to override it by using your own from the hard-drive of your PlayStation 3; always massive points in my book.
So was Gran Turismo 5 worth the wait? Absolutely! Sure there's a few drawbacks, but when looking at the big picture, they hardly seem to matter. The game will be kept alive with continuous downloadable updates, and that's already well under way. So with that said, is it possible that after numerous updates we may actually revisit this score and bump it up to a possible 10? Yes. But let me make something clear, a 10 doesn't quite mean perfection. Having said that, I'll allow Ben to wrap up with a few words he asked me to share at the very end:
"Without making any comment on the game itself, I'd like to remind everyone of something- we can't issue review scores based on expectations alone. For the most part, an overall score takes the competition into account; i.e., the current games on store shelves. Whether or not GT5 measures up to our super lofty expectations does matter, but let's not forget that at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, "how does this stack up against the best of the best of the generation?"
It's not necessarily about comparing it to some picture of perfection in our minds; it's about saying to the consumer, "you should buy this because it's superior to most other products" or, as the case may be, "you shouldn't buy this because it pales in comparison to other options." We hope you understand." - Ben D.
To put it blunt: there is no equal.
11/28/2010 Arnold Katayev