Review by Mcrunfast
"Gran Turismo 5: Sometimes Incredible, Sometimes Frustrating"
Gran Turismo 5 is the latest in Polyphony's series of simulation racing games. It's been five years in the making and has a massive load of cars, tracks and content to prove it. Does it play well? At some points it's utterly flawless and one of the best racing sims out there, and at other points it feels like a frustrating six year old game in shiny new HD paint.
Does it look good?
As will be the answer to many questions about this game, "Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no." By now most people know about the controversial decision Polyphony has made with regards to the cars in game. They have over 1000 in game, but only 200 of these cars are 'premium' cars. Premium cars got much more attention to their details and unlike their standard counterparts, have an interior camera angle and show full body damage and destruction. The standard cars are a mixed bag. Cars new to the series that aren't premium still look great, such as the Bugatti Veyron. Cars that have been in GT4, well...they look like they're straight out of GT4 completely with jagged lines and muddy textures.
Wait, the Bugatti Veyron is a standard car?
Yup you read that right. There's been plenty of outcry from the community when Polyphony announced how the premium/standard breakdown would work, but there's going to be a lot more as players start to see which cars got the premium treatment and which ones didn't. With so many cars in the game, most players will probably have some obscure favorite car that only gets the standard treatment, but there are some that are just baffling, such as the Veyron. Anyone who's kept up even a little with cars recently knows how big a deal the Veyron was in the world of supercars. Getting behind the wheel of these supercars is of course a big draw of a game like this, so it's utterly baffling that the Veyron sit over on the standard bench, while grocery getters like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are premium cars. Yup. Your eyes aren't lying. You can't truly get behind the digital wheel of a Veyron to tear up Trial Mountain, but you can do it with a Prius!
Speaking of Trial Mountain, how about the tracks?
Once again. Some are awesome. Some aren't. Driving along some courses the attention to detail is just absurd. You'll drive along an office building at night and see some lit up windows where you can actually see the furniture inside the building. Another moment you'll be rocketing along a straight on the Circuit de la Sarthe to a setting sun glistening across a still drying course after a rainstorm. However in other moments you'll see paper thin sprites of crowd members cheering you on the sidelines of rally events, or massive buildings pop out of thin air not all that far off into the distance. Speaking of Trial Mountain in particular, the GT4 version of this course almost looks better, and that's not the only course this holds true for. The textures seem muddy and the lighting effects that were in the tunnel for GT4 are oddly not present in GT5. (However other tracks in GT5 will have those tunnel lighting effects. It's not very consistent where you see it and where you don't.) For every track that's jaw droppingly gorgeous, there's one that feels like it's straight out of last gen hardware. However considering the sheer amount of tracks and layouts in GT5, that's still a hefty number of quality tracks in the game.
How are the weather effects?
Weather is in the game for the first time, as well as a dynamic day/night cycle. They're only available for certain tracks however. A decent number of the courses don't allow you to change the weather or time of day on them, but the ones that do look good doing it. Rain from the cockpit camera in particular looks rather good, but it clutters up an already narrow view you'll have of the course that renders the game nearly unplayable from that view in an actual race. Pulling up to setup a pass on a car in the snow or rain is a truly harrowing experience as they'll be throwing up a huge rooster tail of mist that makes it very hard to see where the actual car is, and where the road is. Wet weather also makes a considerable difference in the grip you'll have. This is a Gran Turismo game after all, and realistic driving is the name of the game. You'll need to prepare to drive completely different in poor weather conditions.
So how does it drive?
In a word, awesome. The driving physics of the game is nearly perfect. Every single car handles differently and feels unique regardless if it's a standard or a premium car. The attention to detail Polyphony has paid here is incredible. The drivetrain, engine location, weight, power of your car all make a huge difference on how it feels to drive. Even some of the odd quirks cars might have. You'll find certain cars you'll do more steering with the throttle than you do with the wheel, and this is exactly how it is in the real world sometimes. Even the more eccentric rides are done up right here. Hop into a Tesla Roadster and you'll only have one gear, and the fuel gauge is replaced by a battery meter that recharges slightly on braking. It's these little details that makes GT5 stand out from other games in the genre. So even if you might be disappointed that your Catarham Seven doesn't look as good as your buddy's SLS AMG, you can take solace that it handles exactly as you'd expect a 500kg car with a Hayabusa strapped inside would. This is great news for the true gearhead player as there's almost limitless content as you can tackle each track in the almost unending list of rides in the game. Also for the gearheads, every single car has a history entry about it so you can read more about the background. This goes for both premium and standard cars so you can learn an awful lot about racing and the automotive industry simply by reading these entries, if that's your sorta thing.
Is it hard to jump in and start racing? The last time I played a Gran Turismo game I spent most of it in the grass..
Well, the driving hasn't gotten anymore forgiving. You'll have some of the standard assists like traction control available, but if you're used to racing in the world of Burnout, adjusting to GT5 will take some doing. Polyphony also hasn't been keeping up with the design of any other recent simulation style racing game and modern aids like a replay feature are absent in this game. However to help get users used to the various kinds of corners and the different kinds of cars, the game has a series of license tests. Don't fret though, they're not required this time which actually lets you approach them like they were meant to be, training. I might even go on a limb and call the license tests fun this time since there's no real big let down if you can't get a particular test, you can still go on with the rest the game.
Oh wonderful! So I won't have anything holding me back from accessing all the content in this game aside from my credit bankroll?
Not so fast. The game now includes a level system as well. As you complete events and races you earn xp as well as money. Every event and car in the game also has a level requirement for it, and unless you're the correct level you won't be able to race that event, or buy that car. Early on this isn't a big deal. The xp comes quick and easy and new events are unlocked at a brisk pace and a player is rarely in a spot where there isn't some new event to race. However once you hit the middle part of the game, the leveling slows waaaayyyy, way down. You'll often times find yourself having to grind in order to level up for the next couple events...only to end up having to grind more once those events are completed. In many ways, this is worse than the license system since it isn't simply mastering a skill holding you back from more content, but how much time you've put into grinding the same races over and over.
Aarrgggghhh. Well it's only some of the more oddball events right? Most of the core events are unlocked early?
Sadly this isn't the case. In fact two of the biggest features this game was to bring to the series are unlocked by reaching the highest experience level in the game. That's right, full on damage modeling and realistic AI won't happen at all until you may as well have beaten the game, which takes lots and lots of grinding. Even some of the hallmark races of the series aren't unlocked until very deep into the game, such as the endurance races.
Speaking of big features, how are the special events like WRC, NASCAR and Top Gear?
For the most part, these special events are all a blast to play and offer a great way to break up grinding on the normal events. They also give a great deal more xp and money which helps give a boost to your leveling, but they only give credit for completing them once. Rallying in particular feels like it's taken a giant leap forward compared to previous GT games. The cars weight has much more impact on the dirt/snowy surfaces and the cars behavior to too much throttle is much more believable. You can no longer drift like crazy into every turn and expect to get the best times. The other events are a lot of fun as well and some offer a much different style of racing than what you'll find in the main events. The Kart racing is a much different style and can take some getting used to when making the transition to the first time. The Top Gear events put you into just as silly vehicles as you'd expect given the show it's based on. Also, since the special events usually require you to use a specific car tailor for that event, they have a much more enjoyable challenge since you can't simply buy an overpowered car and soup it up to blow away the competition like you can do for most of the other events in the game.
What about the one make races from previous GT games, aren't those impossible to outclass?
Nope. It's still possible to enter with the correct make of car, but still have a grossly upgraded version of it. The game doesn't do anything to rate the performance of cars so it's very easy to enter in cars for standard events that obliterate the field without even making an attempt to race smart. Yes, it's possible for you to create your own challenges by playing honest and entering in competitive cars, but how many of you out there will do that? Right. Thought so. On the same token, it's also possibly to unwittingly enter a car that's grossly underpowered and get destroyed, but that's more rare.
So you only gave the game a 7, that means it isn't very good right?
Not at all. This game was incredibly difficult to review honestly. When it shines, it's incredible and there's nothing else quite like it on the market. However for every moment that makes you put your controller down and go "Whoa", there's another moment that will make you hurl your controller at the TV and cuss up a red streak. However, to be a bit more helpful than a 7, I'll break down the ideal players of the game.
People who loves cars. Sure you might not want to get your hands dirty on your own car, but you have a stash of VHS tapes of old Group C and CanAm races in your closet and you religiously check car blogs like Jalopnik and Autoblog just as much as you read your gaming sites. This game is for you. You'll be able to overlook all the flaws to enjoy the pure driving experience the game has to offer, and the fact that your favorite car, while it might not look as good, will drive *just* like you'd expect to on a track.
If you're a gamer who likes the occasional sim styled racing game, you'll still enjoy the game, but eventually the drawbacks will get you frustrated to the point of putting the game down before you unlock a lot of its later content, which unfortunate contain some of it's most loudly touted features such as destructible cars.
If the last time you picked up a Gran Turismo game you put it right back down to go back to Burnout, this game isn't going to do anything to convince you it's any more fun than the last one. It's still a simulation style racing game that hasn't really been keeping up with the competition on ways to make it more accessible to other players.
Note: As of the writing of this review I haven't touched the multiplayer yet and no part of that mode has affected my score for this game.
Hopefully if Polyphony goes on to make a GT6 they take the criticisms the game has been receiving to heart, and starts paying attention to what their competition is doing since, well...they have a lot of it now, and they've been getting really good lately. NFS: Shift 2 and Forza 4? Your move.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 11/30/10
Game Release: Gran Turismo 5 (US, 11/24/10)
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