Monday, 3 January 2011

Game Review: Gran Turismo 5-PS3

Playing Gran Turismo 5 for the first time is a daunting experience. The sheer wealth of cars, events, and game modes on offer is quite staggering and for the first hour or so you’ll find your head in a spin as you get to grips with the sheer scale of it all. An even more daunting prospect is that GT5’s producer and designer, Kazunori Yamauchi, clearly isn’t done with the constant tinkering and fine tuning which has seen the release date of his grand opus pushed back time and again because, (if the continued updates are anything to go on), there’s still a lot more to come. If you’re the kind of gamer who usually bulks at the idea of forking out top dollar for a game that is still in the workshop undergoing further tuning via a series of updates and patches then may I be the first to welcome you to the world of the PC gamer. But don’t let that put you off because, and lets make no mistake about this, Gran Turismo 5 is a stunning racing game, one that will eat away at hours of you’re social life and with each new update it only continues to pull your further into its world of virtual Matchbox racing.

Whilst there is a noticeable jump in aesthetics between standard cars and the-quite frankly stunning-200 premium cars available, Gran Tursimo still manages to set the bench mark in virtual car porn. Like its predecessors, GT5 continues with the series hallmark of photo-realism when it comes to the stars of the show with said Premium cars being so immaculately rendered and painstakingly detailed they can leave some of the more sparse tracks looking a little flat. However, along side the vibrant greens and oranges of Trial Mountain or the lavishly detailed streets of inner city London GT5 can look positively sumptuous. Some may argue that it’s not quite the visual leap expected given the time in development, and while there is some minimal screen tearing and the occasional drop below 60fps during busier moments; Polyphony’s epic racer is unquestionably the finest looking on the market. Weather effects are excellently realised and lends itself to the atmosphere of high powered racing superbly; rain tears across the track obscuring your view, threatening to put you into a spin should your concentration lapse for more than a moment and snow relentlessly battles your every move, daring you to push harder in a bid to gain a few more of those invaluable seconds on your rivals.

Getting behind the wheel of any of the 1000 cars available in the game is where GT5 sets itself apart from the pack. While it may not throw up the instant thrills and accessibility of Forza 3 there’s a real ‘bite’ to the handling and once mastered the sensation of powering out of a corner, using the weight to catapult your machine forward down an open straight can be one of genuine excitement. Even using the humble Dual Shock 3 each vehicle feels unique, and as you move deeper into the world of GT5 having an understanding on how to shift the weight between accelerating and braking is paramount to success in the field. Karting is wonderfully realistic; rallies are visceral and punishing; and thundering around an oval track at 200mph in the monsters that make up NASCAR is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Plug in a decent force-feedback steering wheel and GT5’s phenomenal handling mechanics come alive, delivering a frightening sense of realism and tangibility that is unmatched by any other racing game on any system.

Whereas before one had to complete a series of licences to move through the many events and challenges on offer the game now works with an RPG styled levelling up system; licences are still in place but, save for a few of the later events, are no longer a requisite for progression. With each race event successfully won and for every licence obtained and challenge completed, experience and credits are awarded. As you level up more events become un-locked for you to compete in while more cars become available for purchase via the new and second-hand dealerships. By adopting this play-and-reward approach Yamauchi may have tightened the reigns of progression a little, but in doing so it allows players to experience all of GT5’s facets in a more controlled, yet relaxed environment whilst also neatly removing the fabled ‘brick wall’ that has marred previous iterations upon reaching a certain point in the game.

Most of your time with GT5 will be spent in A-Spec mode where you’ll race across snow capped mountain tops, through the glare of a thousands lights in night time cities and all of the series signature courses; however in typical Gran Tursimo form there are several other modes that demand your attention. B-Spec invites you to systematically ‘train’ a team of drivers by using a collection of simple commands designed to improve their overall driving ability. The better you manage your drivers, the quicker they’ll level-up allowing them to enter races using more powerful cars and garner higher levels of experience for your overall progression. Essentially, B-Spec is a game of trial and error and one that will infuriate during the early stages as low level drivers will often make for some spectacular cock ups as GT5’s erratic AI tries to keep up. But given time the AI does improve and with a little perseverance on your part you’ll soon have a reasonably competent team to bash out those long endurance races. Special Events include Rally, Karting and a step-by-step guide to NASCAR racing along with the chance to hammer a VW camper van around the Top Gear test track. You can also get to grips with the Nürburgring piece by piece before taking on the world famous course in its entirety, and for rally enthusiasts there’s tips and tricks courtesy of seven times WRC Champion, Sebastian Loeb. Arcade mode makes a return along with split-screen multi-player and a satisfying Drift Trial option. You can take snaps of your favourite cars in exotic locations with HD Photo Travel, and there’s also a course maker which is a fun tool to play around with even if it does lack a little depth.

Unfortunately AI is still Gran Tursimo’s weakest element-particularly in the early part of proceedings-and while there is a marked improvement to your CPU opponents decision making they will, more often than not, rather plough into the back of your prized vehicle than attempt to outmanoeuvre you. Having said that, as you advance from the amateur races and into the professional and expert events the AI-as with the aforementioned B-Spec-does kick it up a notch or two; opponents will actually try to cut in deep or pull out wide through a corner thus forcing you to break hard to maintain your position or risk chancing a tight opening to move further up the field.

Since the games launch back in November of last year there has already been several updates to GT5’s online mode, greatly improving on what was originally a horrible, bug ridden mess. The setting up of and getting into races now runs that much smoother than previously, with each race being fully customisable with numerous options to suit any race for any style of play. You can gift cars to friends, follow each others progress via message boards or just hang out in the [much improved] lobby and have a good old natter whilst deciding on what race to put together. A more recent update also means that racing with other players in ‘My Lobby’ dishes out both credits and experience adding to your overall level in GT Life.

There’s still room for improvement of course: For example, should you end up in a room full of strangers the lack of a car classification system always leads to every online race consisting of 4WD monsters with no less than 800bhp thus removing much of the fun to be had from sampling many of the smaller, nipper machines or classic cars of yesteryear in an online environment. But Polyphony have promised that important changes will continue to be implemented, which is welcoming news because beneath the rough exterior of its online mode GT5 has the potential to be come one of the most spectacular racing competitions to ever grace a games console.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy in GT5 ultimately boils down to how much time you invest in it. If you’ve never been a fan of the series and the thought of ploughing hours into a video game to get the best from it makes your toes curl then there’s very little here that will change your mind. If, however, you have an unerring passion for cars, or have simply thrilled at the convoluted delights Gran Turismo has served up since its original outing back in 1998, then Gran Turismo 5 is an essential purchase.


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