Gran Turismo 5 User Review
For almost fifteen years Gran Turismo has been the premier racing simulator on consoles, and for this reason it has earned the series subtitle of ‘The Real Driving Simulator’. Nothing about this intent has changed for this, the fifth numbered entry in the series. There is no story here, other than that of accomplishment. You choose what events to try, and what medals to go for. Nothing is forced on you, and nothing is expected. It is rare in that you are asked to do whatever you want, and I feel that this was the right choice for Polyphony Digital to take. The reason for this, is that if you are determined to get a gold medal in a certain event that is intensely difficult, the feeling of reward is far more personal than you get from a narrative-based game. It allows you complete freedom, and while some of the tasks verge on impossible, it is relaxing to not be on the set schedule of the developer. All that being said, GT5 is an experience that is hardly to be missed. Keep in mind that I have used the word ‘experience’ in lieu of ‘game’.
This is a conscious choice, which I will explain when I have the technical side of the production out of the way. So, we will start with the visual appearance of the title. From the outset of play, it is clear that two things have been made the focus of Gran Turismo 5, in all aspects. These are detail, and realism. As a result, this is what I have striven to seek out as I have watched the game unfold. We’ll start with the environments, and put simply these are marvellous. From the streets of Rome and Madrid, to the airfield at Dunsfield Park, or the Daytona Super Speedway, all of them are meticulously recreated. One thing that I loved was a certain part of the Rome circuit. I came to an accidental stop as I rounded a corner, and before I fired up again, I took stock of my surroundings. What impressed me most was the driving surface. Layered across the ground was a surface that was unmistakeably, pavers. This detail to such a minor part of the environment is unexpected, and draws you that little bit further into the world. With that being said though, many of the textures of the buildings in the background appear flat. In almost any other game, this would be a drawback, but here, you will barely notice it, except in the replays. Much criticism has been levelled at the ‘bland’ track selection, but this a ridiculous point. A simulator is supposed to capture the realism, and having overblown billboards, and flashy signs will kill that atmosphere. Yes, many of the tracks are uninspired, but it makes sense, as it allows you to focus on the task at hand, rather than being distracted by something unimportant.
Which brings me to the cars. Should you choose to look, you will find over one thousand different vehicles, ranging from the humble Volkswagen Beetle, to the monstrous Pagani Zonda and Bugatti Veyron. Of these, over two hundred are modelled with an unmatched level of detail. These Premium cars are accurately rendered down to the smallest details of the exterior. When racing, or taking photos, they look nothing short of stunning. They are amazingly precise. It is also only in these vehicles that you will find the cockpit view. This surrounds the screen with a digital representation of the interior of the car from the viewpoint of the driver. I know I will sound repetitive, but these are all but perfect recreations of reality. These cars truly have to be seen to be believed.
And then, you have the Standard vehicles. All of them are upscaled versions of vehicles that appeared in either GT4 or GTPSP. This should make it immediately obvious that it is unwise to go in expecting too much out of them. Regardless, some of them are almost on par with the quality of the Premium vehicles, while others show their scars proudly. The lack of work that has gone into these vehicles is most obvious on those with decals, as these can be a blocky mess. They do the job though, and unless you are really looking for the differences, most of the time, it is fairly difficult to pick between them.
The user interface is well presented, with minimalism being key. Depending on the selected view, the speedometer is at the bottom of the screen, along with the status of your tyres. Across the top is the rear-view mirror, and in the upper corners the lap and race details. Your eye naturally flits around the screen to these elements, but none of them are overpowering, allowing you to focus your attention on the race.
The menu system is somewhat cluttered, and some of the elements could have been fused, while the Garage menu could have used a better sorting system, but all that really matters is that it works, and it does. It is not difficult to navigate through the menus, and the only real problem that I had was with vehicle selection in Arcade mode. You are given pretty much every Premium car to choose from, but no way to go immediately to a subset of cars. It is an odd design choice, given the number of vehicles.
Now Gran Turismo 5 renders in Full HD. And to go along with this there is a rock solid framerate. In what must amount to dozens of hours of play, I am yet to notice any slowdown at all. It’s a remarkable feat. But, keeping this in mind, there must be a trade-off somewhere. Mostly noticeable are three small drawbacks that apply to most every track. The first is the undetailed audiences. The people are poorly rendered, polygonal, blocky renditions. They appear as cardboard cut-outs, rather than 3D models. The second is poor particle effects. The smoke looks convincing enough, but the rain and snow is simply dreadful. And the blending of vehicles with these organic elements is downright appalling. The final one is the shadows. It is nice to see them here, but in most cases, they are not in the least convincing. In many cases, they are very boxy affairs that only have the most obvious of similarities to the car that they are supposed to be thrown from.
These are all minor qualms, and they take away from the experience. They are also all the more noticeable due to the immense amount of polish that has gone into the visuals. I think that had there been less overall detail, these small flaws could easily be overlooked. One large drawback was the much vaunted damage modelling. It was stated that cars would deform realistically with each crash, but this only applies to a very small number of them. Most have superficial damage, with bent bumpers and the occasional panel falling off, and I really do feel that this shouldn’t have been included, as it doesn’t have the polish. Perhaps if a larger selection of cars had full modelling and the others had none I would have been happy. To see this half effort is saddening. More prevalent and distracting that this issue is the screen tearing. Almost every race that I participated in suffered from this in some degree. What is worse is that it occurs more frequently in times when there are more cars on screen, which can take it from an easily overlooked hitch to an almost unwatchable problem. If you can get past these though, the visuals of the game are unmatched.
Similarly, the sound is polished to a high standard. This can’t have been a difficult thing to achieve, but it must still be applauded. The sounds of most of the cars fit to a tee. From the weak, muted grunt of a Toyota Yaris, to the furious roar of a Dodge Challenger that has been tuned to over 600bhp, the diversity is insane. When you add in the increasing scream as the revs go up, and the sudden drops as the engine changes gears, it truly does draw you into the experience. Furthering this immersion is the rattle as you hit the sides of the track, or the skidding of brakes. Also, the sound of the engine changes slightly as you cycle through the available camera angles, which is a nice touch. The menu music is repetitive, and must be grating to those people that do not like it, but that is subjective. The same goes for the in-game music, which has more than fifty tracks over a small number of genres. At no point did I find these out of touch with the gameplay, so it all comes together very nicely. However, for those people who do not like the included soundtrack, Polyphony Digital has been kind enough to offer custom soundtracks. These are a very nice addition, but if there is a way to select them at will in the middle of a race, I was unable to find it, and so, I feel that it could have been made better.
I found a single problem though. This is that crashes don’t really have the impact that they deserve. Anyone who has ever crashed a car will agree with me when I say that the dull, muted thud of almost every impact in the game simply doesn’t produce the same feeling of fear that the horrible sound of a one ton vehicle colliding with another does. This is an understandable choice, as it isn’t about demolition derby, but I do still wish that there was more to it.
With that out of the way, we come to the focus of this game. Here is where Gran Turismo 5 can be a simulator, or a realistic arcade racer. By default, the accelerator is mapped to the X button and the brake to Square. Circle is the handbrake. Acceleration and braking is also applied to the right stick for a more precise method of control if you want it. The left stick controls the steering. Pressing down on the D-Pad will let you glance behind you, while the L1 button reflects this function. Finally L2 and R2 change your gears if you elect to use a manual transmission with your selected vehicle. Any other buttons also have uses, but these are mostly superfluous inclusions, such as the wipers, or horns. It is all mapped intuitively, but I found it much better to switch the acceleration to rear half-triggers, as I felt the control offered there was much better than even the stick. Thankfully, every button on the controller can be reconfigured to your liking, so there can really be no complaints about the control scheme.
The thing is, using the Dualshock 3 controller does not offer much of a feeling of realism, as there is no need to fight against the wheel. To achieve full enjoyment of the game, a wheel is required. The quality of available wheels varies wildly, and I think I purchased the least advanced of these, the Driving Force Wireless, only because I could find no others. Even so, the steering function feels much more immediate, and the paddles offer an unparalleled amount of accelerator control. It is near impossible to describe the difference between the controller and the wheel to someone who has not tried it. I would also advise switching the degree of control from the standard Arcade to Simulation immediately. To me, it didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference, but it still felt weightier.
Now, all of this would be for nothing if there was even a momentary lag in the input speed. There does not seem to be. As soon as you prompt something, the corresponding action occurs on screen. Instant reaction is something that I rarely see in video games, but here it is top notch. It feels exactly like driving a real car, without the danger of totalling it if you happen to crash.
In GT Life mode, you will play through either A-Spec, which sees you in control of the vehicles, or B-Spec, which sees you acting as a manager to a stable of drivers. In addition to these, you have the license tests, or the special events, as well as the dealerships, and tuning shops. First of all, the licenses are probably the area to which most new users should go to acclimatise to the controls of the game. This sets you up with a series of challenges designed to get you used to the way that the game plays. None of them are particularly taxing, although to get the elusive gold trophy in some is an exercise in frustration. This is also the case for the Special Events. These range from karting to NASCAR and Rally Racing. Some of them are quite easy, while others are unforgivably difficult. None are impossible, but they will require the utmost dedication.
Both A-Spec and B-Spec offer a level based tier system. As you complete more races and events, your level increases, and more races are unlocked, thus facilitating an organic process to grow into the difficulty. There are five tiers of difficulty, each one with nine separate championships that contain anywhere between one and seven races. Even if you were to focus on one of these, it would last a long time. Some of these events are single model, while others have power, weight or country restrictions, while still others are completely open. Because of this, you feel as though there is a real variety in this, and to go along with it, a reason to continually be buying new cars, particularly if you are like me and determined to achieve the gold standard in every event, rather than being content with a placing.
A-Spec, as you would expect, tests your driving skills. Were it not for the diversity on offer, I feel that it would quickly get tiring, and be easy to set aside. Adding to this compulsion to play is the locked higher levels, and the desire to see what events hide within. Further driving you to seek perfection in your skills is the fact that you will unlock a new car with each tournament that you get the gold trophy in, so it is well worth striving to get them. The same reward system is in effect in B-Spec. Unfortunately, this mode feels very bare and unappealing. Some people will derive great enjoyment from this, but I did not. Every event in B-Spec reflects one in A-Spec, although with double the laps. In most cases, you are relegated to telling the driver to slow down, maintain his speed, speed up, or overtake, and while each of these do occur, it has no immediacy. I suppose that my biggest complaint when it comes to B-Spec is the length of time it takes to watch a race. Most of the time, it seems better to simply walk away and do something else while the game plays itself. In most cases, you are fine doing this, as your driver will probably be good enough. It really would have been aided by the inclusion of the ability to fast forward the races.
When it comes to the driving itself, merit enough cannot be heaped upon it. Taking a corner too fast will see you spin out of control, as will hitting the grass, or the sides of the track in certain areas. The difference in the handling of the vehicles adds to this, as some are fairly easy to control, while others are prone to oversteer or understeer. This comes from numerous factors, including the weight, power and drivetrain specifications. Also, you will occasionally become airborne, and when this happens, you had best prepare for a fight to get the vehicle back under control when you land. It is all very realistic and satisfying. One thing that I found odd was that I was constantly expecting myself to tire of the driving, but after dozens of hours, no such thing has happened. Frustration has occurred from not being able to win a race, but not boredom. It is, in every sense of the word, sublime.
To go along with this, there is a tuning shop, where you will be able to buy new parts for your vehicle. These range from intake valves to superchargers, suspension kits and customisable transmissions. You can also buy items that reduce the weight of your vehicle. Every modification you make has a noticeable effect on the vehicle, and you are able to customise most aspects at will in the tuning menu. I was disappointed by the fact that the customisable transmission was advertised as being able to change the gear ratios at will, but this does not happen. Instead, you are only able to change the top speed, which is quite disappointing. It still does the job of letting you focus on acceleration or speed though. It is all good enough, but will disappoint purists. The garage is the other tuning shop, this one focussing on cosmetic changes. This includes paint colours, wheel rims and racing modifications, most of which are restricted to a select number of vehicles. You also have spoilers, which most cars can use, and other options to restore the original state of your car after races have taken their toll on it.
The game shines in the way that it plays, and this is backed up by a great length. Even if you are intent on simply passing every race, you will likely log hundreds of hours. If, like me, you are determined to attain the gold trophy on every event and unlock every car, one hundred hours is only the beginning. The only game that has more replay value is LittleBigPlanet, but that is because of the community. There are forty five events to choose from in both A-Spec and B-Spec, nine in each of the five tiers, and another seven special events. Most of these have harder levels that are unlocked as you level up, and become better. Attaining gold in every event will usually unlock a new car that is automatically deposited into your garage, or in some cases, new tracks, such as the Top Gear Test Track, or the Nurburgring. The drive to succeed is what will keep you coming back, and if you don’t feel it, then the game will not hold as much charm for you.
I think I had best wrap things up, as by now, there can’t be too many people still reading. At the beginning I wrote how GT5 is an experience rather than a game, and this is one of the key things to remember going into it. If you expect the typical fun of a game, you will likely be disappointed. This is a driving simulator, so this is what you should expect. As I’ve already stated, and have been trying to get across throughout this entire review, the focus here is on complete realism. If you aren’t interested in the races, then there will be nothing here for you, but if you have ever wanted to drive at speeds in excess of 300km/h on closed circuits, this is about as close as most people are going to get. This is what Gran Turismo is about. Giving ordinary people the option of life as a race driver, if only in simulation and for a brief period.
The people at Polyphony Digital have already delivered several patches designed to enhance the experience, and have promised many more, so expect the game to change and evolve as time goes by, becoming better and more in-depth. For now, it feels almost like a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ type of affair, but we can rest assured that the developers will take what they have learnt here and apply it to the next game in the franchise to make it an even better ‘Real Driving Simulator’.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.