Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Gran Turismo 5 review

Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 is the latest in the very long running series of Playstation driving-sims. After a protracted development with repeatedly delayed release, the game finally came out in November, 2010. Why am I writing about it in April 2012? I don’t know, whatever, shut up. I’ve been playing it a bunch recently, and maybe you want to hear my thoughts on it? Well you’re in luck! Here they are. 

Make no mistake, that lengthy development wasn’t the sign of struggling design, financial troubles or creative incompetence, á la Duke Nukem Forever; the game took eons to make because it is fucking outrageously enormous. GT5 packs over a thousand faithfully recreated cars, 70 tracks both real and original and chillingly accurate physics. This is the psychotic autism school of game development, but the obsessive attention to detail cuts both ways- it’s abundantly clear to play the game that while it soars close to perfection in some areas, others have been left by the wayside somewhat. Car handling, for example, is basically as good as it is possible to be (and I can’t stress enough just how good the physics and handling feel), but AI drivers are soulless automatons, often seeming oblivious to the player’s car. 

 Race physics are top notch.

The career gameplay is fairly open ended. Basically simple, too- buy cars, race cars, use winnings to buy more cars. Most events have some kind of theme, often emulating a real-world race discipline such as NASCAR or Super GT, but many simply confined to a specific nationality or period of car.  There’s an experience level system that places restrictions on the cars you can buy and the events you can enter- family hatchbacks are level 0, while dedicated race cars can be level 20 or even higher. I guess the idea is to give the gameplay some structure and a sense of progression, but it can feel artificial and forced at times- for me, filling a virtual garage with ever more exotic driving machines is progression enough. There’s also B-spec racing, which trades the hands on approach of A-spec for an indirect driver management experience. It’s a little clumsy, and I’m far too fucking ADD to enjoy handing the wheel to some AI chump, but it’s a pretty neat feature. Licence tests, a series staple, return, though they aren’t quite as vital to advancement as in previous editions, but these coupled with a variety of academy-style special events do provide decent instruction to new drivers.

 There's a Photography mode which lets you dress up and parade your car like a daughter you don't really love.

Where GT5 shines, and where all that development time and funding has gone, is in the technical stuff. Gran Turismo always was a good simulator, and GT5 has the best physics yet. Every car sounds and drives just right. Visuals are a little bipolar, however- only about 200 of the cars on roster are so-called “premium” models, with full detail and interior views. These look fucking amazing. “Standard” cars, which make up the rest of the roster, though notably mostly older and unremarkable cars, take a hit to graphical fidelity (most of them seem to be lifted from earlier games), but are nonetheless accurately modelled in their behaviours. Damage, both visual and mechanical, appears for the first time in the series, and works adequately, though most events don’t have it enabled- cars get scuffed and crumpled from collisions, bits fall off after several hits, and the behaviour of the car reacts to the ruination your shitty driving has brought to steering, drivetrain and aerodynamics. 

 This shot looks exciting, but I'm actually driving the van.

If I’m totally honest, there is a slight out-of-touch-ness here, but in an endearing way; few to zero concessions have been made for accessibility, refreshing in today’s market of brain-dead Call of Duty clones. GT5 is a simulator, in the purest sense, and as such it’s a game for car people rather than for game people. Car geeks will find no end of entertainment in the automotive cornucopia that’s on offer here, between collecting and tuning hundreds of cars and driving them in the games very varied selection of tracks and races. I think even non-petrolheads will be somewhat taken by the meticulous attention to detail on display, and I defy anyone not to crack a grin when they open the throttle on a Plymouth Cuda down the back straight, but like I said, this is really for the car guys. That being said, some added usability would definitely be welcome- the game does feel a little obtuse and awkward in places. Since, by now, prices should have dropped dramatically, I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in cars- there is so much raw content here that, with a little patience, it becomes the ultimate motoring toybox.

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