Gran Turismo 5 Review
In December 2004, Sony released Gran Turismo 4 on the Playstation 2. In May 2005, Microsoft released Forza Motorsport on the Xbox. By the end of 2009, we’d played two Forza titles on the Xbox 360, and we still hadn’t seen another full, home console Gran Turismo game. GT5 was delayed again and again as Kazunori Yamauchi continued to beef up the game, and then, last week, the game actually, truly, hit stores. The question now, with Forza 3 being the success that it was, is this: Does the long-awaited Gran Turismo 5 maintain the franchise’s status as the gold standard for simulated racing or, now that the polls are closed, can we call Forza the champ? Hold that thought.
Gran Turismo 5 (PS3 [Reviewed])
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: November 24, 2010
Gran Turismo 5 is, without a doubt, as full of content as any game I can think of. It has 1,000 cars, including stock cars and karts and freaking buses, and the events are so varied that you’ll have to try out dozens of different vehicles. It has 70 tracks and a few different ways to race on each one. It has online and splitscreen racing. It allows the player to get under the hood of each car and tinker to his heart’s desire. B-Spec mode returns and lets you be the crew chief and oversee an AI driver. You can take your “premium cars” (these make up 200 of the 1,000 or so cars) and plant them in some picturesque location just fo the purpose of taking pictures.
After about 16 hours of racing, I owned 27 cars and had completed 20% of the events. I noted this, and then hunkered down and raced some more.
While the game is known as being only for the snobs, it is, in fact, very accessible. Racing lines that tell you when to brake are enabled by default, and you can tinker with other settings that can make the game a whole lot easier than you would expect. While I’m not exactly what anyone would call a stellar racer, bumping up the oversteer compensation and ABS settings had me winning races by 30 seconds in my suped up ’71 Mustang, so I imagine pretty much anybody could make this game work for them with the right combination of settings. I would have liked to see the game make use of the rewind feature we’ve seen in a few racers the last couple years, though, because it would probably encourage some of the more apprehensive players to have a go without the other aids enabled if they knew one bad corner didn’t mean the end of the race.
Structurally, GT5 is a Gran Turismo game through and through, which means it’s a grind. That isn’t an insult at all; the grind is a joy. The Gran Turismo experience wants you to enjoy all aspects of the journey, and this is why you’ll come out of a race in which you finished last place with a couple thousand credits and come out feeling much less frustrated than you would otherwise.
OK, so Polyphony spent five years making this bad boy, and it’s on the PS3 and the whole franchise has always been car porn, so how does this s**t look? Well, it looks…. mostly pretty. The premium cars look really good, and the new cockpit view on those vehicles is the bee’s knees, and the new rain and snow effects look great in conjunction with it. Oh, and they dent up a little bit, too. The other 800 cars look pretty good. The environment textures look good sometimes and whatever other times. The humans look downright frightening, and it’s really hard to concentrate when Jeff Gordon is trying to teach you about racing NASCAR when he’s got a fish mouth and extremely disturbing and extremely dead eyes.
You probably won’t notice many of the game’s visual faults, aside from the bland and low-res environments, while you’re doing the driving, but the problems become obvious when you’re watching a replay or playing B-Spec. I should note that very rarely does the game look outright poor, but racer fans won’t be able to help but notice the models don’t look as sharp as the cars in Forza 3. On the other hand, that title only has about half as many cars all in, so I suppose there has to be a trade-off somewhere. On the third hand, though, Forza 3 had to fit everything on a DVD rather than a much larger Blu-ray disc.
So, yeah, the racing. The racing is exactly how you expect it to be, and by that I mean it plays like a Gran Turismo game. There is no learning curve for folks who are familiar with the franchise, and the learning curve for outsiders is no more daunting than it has been in the past; it’s probably a little easier, in fact. The physics are a little different (read: improved) now, as you would hope, but it’s otherwise the same. It is, truly, a Gran Turismo for this generation, which I would say is some of the highest praise I can give the game.
Those similarities are not always a good, however. The AI racers are still on rails, and you can do any given race repeatedly only to find the enemy drivers do exactly the same things every time, which, after a while, gets boring. Also, the sound effect you hear when two cars bump into each other still sounds more like a person punching a hollow piece of wood than metal clashing with metal, and it briefly took me out of the game whenever that happened, which was often because I’m a reckless asshole driver.
Back to the positive. NASCAR is really cool and exciting and intense, probably moreso than any other type of race. Kart racing, too, is crazy neat, although it’s also impossibly difficult at first. My first foray into karting, in fact, reminded me of my first go ’round with Gran Turismo on the Playstation so many years ago because I would spin out pretty much every time I hit the brakes. The effort is worth it, though.
Unfortunately, online racing as it exists today is somewhat of a trainwreck, which is a huge letdown particularly considering the problems with the AI. It’s not the races themselves that are a problem, although it was laggy as hell for the first day or so; the problem is a lack of matchmaking. In lieu of that amazing feature we apparently have been taking for granted is “open lobbies”; essentially, you just take your car and stumble into random rooms until you find one you like. It’s just weird and needlessly complicated and not really unlike Fable’s “join random game” feature except this is a racing game and that doesn’t work as well here. The PSN friends list is, however, integrated into the game, so it’s beyond easy to set up a game that way, but I have no friends so that doesn’t help me too much.
[joke about how complicated and occasionally confusing the game's menus are]
I suppose it’s time to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this review. Is Gran Turismo still the king? The answer: I don’t know. Even after Polyphony toiled over this thing for five years, it doesn’t feel like GT5 is a completed work. Even so, I have thoroughly, for the most part, enjoyed my time with Gran Turismo 5 thus far and greatly anticipate continuing to enjoy it down the metaphorical road, just because there’s two or three racing games worth of content on this BD. I think it’s difficult to say that GT5 delivers less than what we expect from it, but at the same time I can’t help but think it should deliver more than it did, especially now that it has legitimate direct competition, something the franchise had never faced.
- Handles like a GT game
- Grinds like a GT game
- NASCAR and kart racing are wildly awesome
- Mindboggling amount of content
- Old AI problems resurface
- No online matchmaking
- A little visually underwhelming