Gran Turismo 5 - Review

   29/11/2010 at 09:26       Phil May       10 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Gran Turismo 5, Digital Polyphony, Sony, Playstation 3, Loading, still loading, still...

Perhaps this far into the current console generation, we’ve become spoilt brats. We throw our toys out of the pram if each and every single triple-A release isn’t absolutely perfect and deserving of a 100% Metacritic rating.

The main reason I'm simultaneously pissed off and delighted that Gran Turismo 5 has finally been released is that it’s a game that has the capacity to reward and rob you within the space of a few minutes of gameplay.

The development hell Digital Polyphony seemingly went through with this 5th (not counting prologs, concepts and other daftness) major iteration of “The Real Driving Simulator” was well documented, yet for all that effort and for all those stories of developers kipping under their desks as the game drew close to its release deadline, what exactly has been improved since that original Gran Turismo 5 ‘Concept’ demo first appeared around the launch of the PS3 in Europe?

Deep waters run still

What indeed, because in the first few hours I failed to see any improvement over what we’d seen before. The graphics still tore like buggery; the sound effects were still the same damned awful sound effects I remember from the PS1 version. Menus were still as unfathomably thrown together as ever, and load / install times made the game feel archaic and slouchy.

Diving into the main meat and bones of Gran Turismo 5 – GT mode – you soon begin to realise that the game is like the murky old stretch of water you were always told not to play near when you were a kid. Deep, dangerous and full of hidden surprises that can snag you and keep you glued to your seat.

Digital Polyphony seem to have taken the "let's bung everything in, including the kitchen sink" approach to this version of Gran Turismo 5. Cars of every class pepper the game’s newest Challenge mode and every style of driving to the seemingly mundane left-turn-only NASCAR races to the rough and ready unpredictability of World Rallying are catered for. Each race in Challenge Mode almost acts as a tutorial, showing you how to milk the very best from your driving and your car.

Old Gran Turismo mainstays are still there too. The licences are no longer the punishing gateway to your further progress and merely act as a distraction, seemingly preparing you for the various races you'll encounter but really just offering up a quick set of extremely frustrating challenges that you'll probably just skip through on Bronze just to get them over and done with. A-Spec and B-Spec races are still there and I'm still as confused as ever as to why anyone would want to bother with B-Spec (and judging by the few players on my friends list, no one is bothering with the "direct the race but let your AI driver do all the hard work" mode).

Scattered in between the racing there are the usual sub-RPG elements to Gran Turismo like developing your skill level to unlock more races and game modes (this is actually a welcome addition and should really have been in the game from the very start) , a throwaway track designer (that only allows you to manipulate stats to produce random track layouts rather than sticking things together yourself like a Scalextric set, which would’ve been preferable) and a whole host of car tinkering, tweaks and daft spring-cleaning options to pamper your chosen mode of transport.

Matchbox 20

Gran Turismo's car roster is pretty impressive. Though the bulk of the cars are throwaway Japanese models that you'll probably never have heard of and never want to see again outside this game, there are tons of them and the welcome return of the Used Car Marketplace means that there are always quirky bargains to be snapped up, customised and put to work earning you money in races. The used cars are far more fascinating than some of the rather lacklustre choices you’ll find in the official dealerships available in the game. Perhaps that added revenue from car companies anxious to see their latest box on wheels shoved into the game to make up the numbers was too big a wad to turn down.

There are so many ways in which Gran Turismo 5 feels slightly out-dated and old fashioned. The graphics and sound have already been mentioned. Graphically the game looks seriously last-gen at times, with some absolutely terrible flickering shadows, blobby particle effects and atrociously blocky modelling on Standard cars. Premium cars aren’t that much better either but they’re functional and at lease represent the models they’re supposed to look like. Background graphics are hazy, indistinct at times but sharp at others. Weirdly the game seems to turn into a mess of moire patterns during certain modes and some trackside objects look like you’re viewing them through a pair of thick net curtains.

The game’s music will drive you crazy. The same Megadrive-era cheesy Japanese lounge music you hated in the previous games is still everywhere in this, and when the game pauses for 10 minutes between menu transitions while it tries to contact the game’s servers to update some snippet of driver information on your profile, you’ll be scrabbling for the mute button as looped Japanese Jazz tootles away in the background on a loop. It might be great as an accompaniement to choking down terrible Japanese whisky in a Akihabara Dive Bar, but in a racing game it sets completely the wrong tone (Digital Polyphony should also note that it's the law that each and every driving game should have at least one Pendulum track in it).

Online modes designed in conjunction with Nintendo

Netcode is another part of Gran Turismo 5 that could’ve benefitted from Digital Polyphony talking to some of Sony’s other teams. It’s uniformly terrible throughout and even now it's been patched, you'll still find the game taking undue lengths of time to do anything online (even when you’re in single player mode, annoyingly) - and multiplayer online races are still lag-fests when things get busy or someone accidentally puts a tyre off the track and kicks up some dust.

Navigating your way around Gran Turismo 5 is also a pain in the ballsack. Realising that you’ve got the right car for a race, but need to remove some of its custom parts to bring it in under recommended spec involves three more lengthy menu transitions before you’re at the car customisation screen, able to tweak your car. Then you’ve got to go all the way back to the race and try and enter it again, praying this time you've done enough to meet the requirements. Why the hell DP couldn’t have just lobbed in a couple of shortcuts from race to car tweaking and back is beyond me.

It's a mess of styles too. Some menus feel like the ones in older games, the "home" area feels like a web page and the tweak menus have a lot of graphical fuss and muss that probably didn’t need to be there. You can also have a good old belly laugh at some of the “Car care” stuff as busy little Japanese auto technicians fuss around your car, repaint it (only in paint finishes you have on other cars in your garage, bizarrely), change the oil or give it a low-res spit and polish.

Consistency is lacking throughout and it's probably part and parcel of the game's lengthy development cycle that some parts feel like they belong to an entirely different game.

Jane's Addiction

Gameplay is the most important part of Gran Turismo 5 and here’s where it starts to claw back some points. If you spent hour after hour in any of the previous games, shaving seconds off your track times, endlessly pissing about with your car’s setup and parts, or just tooling around favourite tracks in something ludicrously overpowered you’ll still find plenty of that type of gaming available.

Handling feels slightly different to previous games (unbelievably now it is actually possible to get the arse-end of your car going sideways and do some pretty impressive drifts if you pour on the power and indulge in a bit of opposite lock). It's better but will still feel odd to players who've become used to Forza's tail-happy stuff or Project Gotham's arcade-style handling. In Rally modes and stages, all bets are off as the game still veers from providing fairly grippy and heavy-footed handling to sending your car skidding off into barriers or opponents when you'd expect it to effortlessly slip around a corner. It's hard to describe - almost like some invisible force magnetically attracts cars to each other.

Collision damage is still purely cosmetic and rather disappointingly done. Cars thud together like children's sit-on rides rather than two and a half tons of steel and plastic. AI drivers still insist on gluing themselves to the racing line at the cost of trying to pass right through you if you dare to get in their way.

It's at this point I have to try and turn the review around slightly to justify a high medium score. Gran Turismo has an almost indefinable ability to keep me playing for hour after hour. Perhaps it's the incentive of unlocking specialist races as your driving level increases. Perhaps it's just to try and accrue enough money to afford one of the true racing classics that appears in the game (most of the cars that adorned my walls as a kid are in the game in some form, particularly some of the rallying classics).

Some say his eyebrows are made of the same material as Joanna Lumley's gussets

It's also good to finally see a decent version of the Top Gear Test Track in a game though I couldn't help but feel disappointed that the first time I screeched around that hallowed tarmac, I was driving a Volkswagen Camper van in the game rather than anything beefier. It's there though and you can enter timed challenges on it to see if you can match up with the likes of Simon Cowell or Jay Kay, or even The Stig himself

Whichever way you look at it, whether it's through the fine-tuned lenses of someone who can't abide any sort of immersion-breaking graphical nastiness (of which there are plenty of examples in this) - or through the slightly more forgiving vision of someone who pays more attention to how a game plays than how it looks, there is a hell of a lot of content in Gran Turismo. Sifting through the bad stuff to get at the good stuff takes time and patience though, and ultimately it will all boil down to whether you can stand a game that involves a heck of a lot of track-grinding and thrill-less racing in order to get you access to the challenging stuff later on.

Perhaps then that should be the blip-quote to cut out and keep from this review. Don't expect Gran Turismo to reinvent the wheel, it hasn't. Don't expect it to have somehow completely revolutionised the series. It hasn't. But if you're in the market for a game that will see you through this Christmas providing an occasional deep distraction to punctuate other gaming experiences, then for all its foibles and faults, it might just be worth dipping into.

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