By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
5 years in the making and expected to take car racing simulation on consoles to the next level, Gran Turismo 5 is a behemoth title replete with hyper-realistic visuals, a jaw-dropping selection of 1,031 cars, 71 different racetracks and environments all painstakingly detailed to the micro-polygon level. Selling 423,000 copies per day for a whopping 5.5 million units sold in its first 13 days, GT5 is the best-selling video game for the PS3 and a solid contender for game of the year. We take it around the track.
GT5 ($60.00) is a love letter to the automobile industry, the fascination for cars, their design and engineering as well as our obsession with speed and competition. The opening credits are like a Ken Burns documentary, shots of auto plants and foundries pounding out the raw material of what will be the vehicles in the game. Anticipation, and this game demands a lot of it, is further heightened by the dramatic mock-Gershwin-eque tune that unfolds. Credits roll in, graphics astound and you're about to explode because all you want to do is race really fast cars.
Well, buddy, you will need to wait. GT5 may offer 1,031 cars but you need to earn them. Unlike rival sim Forza Motorsport on the XBox 360, which gives you free cars each time you sneeze, press a button by mistake or scratch behind your ear, GT5 doesn't make accessing new cars easy.
You start out with a modest amount of money, enough to purchase a Honda Civic, which you will need to race in order to win money. You find out early enough that racing skill is secondary to the vehicle's performance so you need to get used to the idea of tuning the car to give it more power, stability and race-readiness. All of a sudden, you're in high school again and you've inherited the 12-year old family sedan. Let's lower it and put a big-ass spoiler on the back so we can look a little cooler.
For some players, this is one of the most endearing aspects of the GT franchise, you can get down and dirty and modify your car to maddening detail. This is all rendered accurately with spot-on engine sounds. It doesn't have the amount of freedom some other racing sims have where you can put racing flames on everything and coat your body in carbon fiber but it is possible to get a decent paint job provided you have acquired the paint colours (which only come in cars you buy or win).
Here's the issue with this approach, it takes a lot of time. Seems like you've waited 5 years, you can wait a little longer. So there is a lot of grinding involved which is also useful since it will teach you to gain better control of your car and will also help familiarize you with the varied tracks and conditions. If you want to race exotics straightaway, you can do so in the arcade mode, but this doesn't earn you as much in terms of money or experience.
While the incessant race and grind aspect of the game may seem tedious, it also ensures that the game experience and replay value will last longer. You really need to work your way up to get the Audi R8 or that Lamborghini Murcielago.
The good thing is that the rewards do feel special and nothing beats the joy of having earned something the hard way, after innumerable tries, as you thumbs throb from the severe pounding they received.
The racing mechanics are such that they start off like an expensive version of bumper cars with an embarrassing amount of collisions from the get go.
The key to many of the races is to get ahead early in the race and maintain your course (even if it means bamboozling your way to the front), otherwise once you get stuck in the middle or the end of the group it is incredibly difficult to catch up.
Now, how many of you would gladly plod along in 7th place for two more laps knowing that it is impossible to get to the top 4 places? Anyone? Bueller? That's what I thought.
You also need to acquire specific types of cars for specific races. One micro-car event requires you to race horridly underpowered Japanese toasters-on-wheels around a track. This is harder than you think and not as much fun as you can imagine.
The Visual Feast
Very few games have the distinction of being fun to play and fun to watch, Gran Turismo has always had this advantage.
Even if you're not the slightest bit interested in cars or racing, this is a gorgeous game to look at. Once you see the blowing leaves and trees, the accurately rendered cobblestone paths of Old Europe, the electric city buzz of Tokyo by night and the exhilarating vastness of the Nurburgring Nordschleife with demonic red Ferraris tearing through its corners you begin to realize why this game took so long to come into being. Immersed and playing this game for hours, we seriously considered asking Santa for the Logitech Driving Force GT wheel controller for a more realistic and engaging experience.
Even the voyeuristic replay mode, which brazenly exposes all your horrid driving habits as it reruns the race frame-by-frame, is something you can spend hours watching. The slickness of the paint, the reflection of the clouds and trees on the car bodies, the precise tire movement and uncanny skid-marks they leave behind are all super realistic. We've not tried the game in 3D, which it can do, but we'd imagine that the effect would be similar or even better.
No other game, racing or otherwise, even comes close to the detail, accuracy and execution of in game graphics that GT5 has achieved. In this respect, GT5 is the Taj Mahal of game graphic execution.
It is as if each venue was revisited countless times, photographed under various lighting condition and then lovingly painted by tablet and pen into the game. This is true when the cars are standing still and shimmering in the afternoon sun and it is true when they're accelerating to 180Kph on a city street. The only thing missing in this perfect world are people, who are the only 'things' rendered in a cartoonish and awkward way.
GT5 is a simulator first and foremost, its strength is that it can bring real world physics, dynamics and interactions into a highly advanced game paradigm. They got the accuracy part down pat, its the gaming aspect that's got us a bit perplexed.
The arcade aspects and multiplayer (up to 16 in a race, yo!) element do offer a lot of instantly riveting and visceral moments specially when competing with friends, but its in career mode where plodding away from race to race in your rice rocket starts to feel more like, well, a job.
What worries us is that while there are a lot of hardcore race-freaks who are fine with putting in 40 hours of their lives towards that rare McLaren F1, there are an equal amount of impatient players who might just give up in frustration.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5