Review by Fanboy Username
The real bumper car simulator
The Gran Turismo series has made quite a name for itself, with each iteration selling millions of copies and can even be called a system seller. Gran Turismo has become known as the racing simulator for console gaming. While the first four games came out with no more than three years between them, Gran Turismo 5 came out a whopping six years after 4, leading to much hype as spending that much time on the game must mean that this game must be the be-all, end-all of racing sims. Does all of that time show though?
The actual roads on the tracks look pretty good. They are not just a homogeneous grey asphalt color everywhere. The road has a textured look to it, like a road should, and there are even lines on the track where the racing line of professional drivers is, giving it a worn look of where it has been driven over for so long. The scenery around the track, however, looks very unappealing. Every time you pass a crowd of spectators, you will wonder why they look so strange, andi f you bother to stop when just cruising around, you will find they look rather 2-dimensional. The buildings and such for the most part look pretty basic, and some of them even look like cardboard like the people. All of the other set pieces look good enough because they are not as large as the buildings or as low quality as the people, and they give live to the tracks and make them look like the real life counterparts. There is also some screen tearing going on a lot of times, but it's hard to notice when you are actually driving in a race. One thing you can notice in a race, however, are the horrible shadow and smoke effects. The shadows, mostly visible when playing from inside the cockpit, are extremely blocky and do not look like shadows at all. The smoke creates a similar effect, and if a car is anywhere near the smoke, it will become a blocky mess or may even have lines going through it for some reason. Overall, the tracks only look decent, but you will not notice how truly bad they are most of the time, because this game is meant to be played in motion, so you don't really have time to look at the details unless you are watching a replay or playing B-spec. What matters most is that the game keeps a solid 60 FPS at all times.
Like the track design, car designs are a mixed bag. There are over 1000 cars in Gran Turismo, but only around 200 of them are premium, which feature high-definition quality, an inside cockpit view, damage modeling, and can be used in photo mode to show off your car. The other 800 cars are ported from previous Gran Turismo games and have very low quality models, no cockpit view, and very limited damage. The quality of the 800 standard cars range from ugly up-close to awful even at a glance. Luckily like the car tracks, you can't notice most of the flaws while racing, but for those that enjoy racing in cockpit view or wanted to use their favorite car that ended up as a standard model in a photo shoot, they're out of luck. The variety of premium cars seems a bit iffy. There are a few joke cars that you will never drive, such as a Volkswagen bus from the 1940s, a WWII-era military jeep, and a few others, and then there are about 8 different NASCAR cars, which are all the same minus the paint job. I wouldn't have as much of a complaint over the selection of premium cars if they would have ensured that there was at least one premium car available for every race so you could purchase it from the dealership, but some require you get lucky and find a good car in the used car lot, which has a whole 30 cars in it, and 6 refresh every race. Out of the 800 cars, finding the one you need or the one you want can be a nightmare. Some of the cars you can find elsewhere, like rewards for completing licenses, but if you don't want to do those or don't know about them, you will be frustrated waiting for that one car you need. There is also one car you need for one of the very last races that costs 5 million credits, when you earn about 100,000 credits in about 10 minutes taking into account loading times and menu navigation, and then you have to hope it shows up and you have enough to buy it. The used car lot is also the only way to buy that car, and it is the ONLY one available for this race. It seems like a huge oversight on Polyphony Digital's part.
As you can probably gather by my review title, GT5's physics are not very realistic and seem little improved over previous titles. The first thing to talk about is the damage modeling. There are around four tiers for damage models, which are: standard models, which will barely get scrapes and dents on them after ramming into a wall for 10 minutes; normal premium cars like a Honda Civic, which will get a bent fender and darkened sides after a few crashes; supercar premiums, which will get more severe damage but still only minor cosmetic damage like normal premiums; and race car/WRC premiums, which might actually get a door falling off if you ram into a wall at 100 MPH for a good 10 minutes. All damage is purely cosmetic and does not hinder your racing capabilities at all.
The second biggest physics problem is the crashing, which does nothing to harm you, whether it be another car T-boning you at 150 MPH or you running headfirst into a pole. All the former will do is push you slightly out of the way, and all the latter will do is make you throw the car into reverse so you can get back on track. It is hard to take a racing sim seriously when the easiest way to overtake another car is to use that very car as a wall and run into them, which slows you down just a little and straightens you out if you were taking that turn faster than you normally should have. The only time there are repercussions for ramming into other cars/objects is during license tests, and then it feels they went overboard with it. If you even as much as let the draft behind your car push another car ever so slightly, you'll be disqualified. Then other times, you can hit a car with a little bit of speed and the game is OK with it. There seems to be little continuity and the game never explains why exactly that was ground for disqualifying you.
GT5's menus are a chore to go through. The options are spread out everywhere and don't seem to have much structure to them, making such a simple thing as changing your tires for a race so complicated. The in-race menu is also extremely limited and does not even let you do something as small as change volume, as in-race music volume is set very low and I cannot hear it over my own engine revving. Then once you're out of the race, the music gets louder in the menus, so you forget to change the in-race volume. I haven't once remembered to change the race volume in all of my very many unhealthy hours of playing, and that is a shame because I hear the music selection is quite nice. There are very many other little inconveniences, such as the ticket system when you win a new car. Every new car you get is sent to a picture of a semi, and you must click on the semi to select the car, and all that does is ask you if you want the car, and then you watch a 5 second animation as the car drives 2 feet. The whole process is overly long and the delivery system should be skipped entirely, but it isn't. Another problem is the loading times and the screen delay. The biggest problem with the loading times is that when you click a race, it will load the track first and then bring you to the menu to start the race. This is a hassle if you accidentally click the wrong event, which means the game needlessly loaded the track, which can take a good while. It should load after you click start to avoid this. The problem with the screen delay is that there are a lot of menus in Gran Turismo, many of which you will be frequenting a lot, and every screen has a small delay added to it. It makes it feel like you are spending more time in the menus than you should, and combined with the overly complicated menu layout, the whole interface needs an overhaul.
The sound has to be the only actually great aspect of the game's presentation. While I can't say I've owned the over 1000 cars to vouch for their authenticity, each car sounds different and match what you would expect them to sound like. All of the car sounds emanate from their direction relative to the camera, which is nice. Your own car's engine sounds different from the cockpit, hood cam, bumper cam, chase cam, and all of the "rearview mirror" variants. If you're in the lead and the car behind you is getting closer, you will slowly start to hear that car's engine getting louder. The in-game sounds are perfect to me. The only flaw is what I stated before, that the in-race music is too soft and cannot be heard very well at normal settings. The tracks for the most part seem varied and have many different genres represented.
As far as gameplay goes, A-spec is the mode you will be visiting most. A-spec is where you are the driver and must win races A-spec has six difficulties, beginner, amateur, professional, expert, extreme, and endurance, each using progressively faster cars than the last difficulty for the most part. Each difficulty has nine cups with anywhere from one to five tracks you must compete on, many of the later ones being championships where you must do all of the tracks at the same time and come out with the highest score for gold. A-spec will take you quite a bit of time to complete, giving even many long, cinematic RPGs are run for their money. While the formula stays the same for each difficulty, the increased difficulty comes from needing to use faster cars where it is easier to make a mistake and more laps that will test your endurance and ability to be consistent. Other than that, there is little difference between even beginner and extreme, except you can use an overpowered race car in beginner and in extreme, it will be race car vs. race car. The big difference between how GT5 handles races and B-spec is its leveling system. Instead of using licenses to open up new races, you must instead beat races to gain experience to level up to face the higher tiers. This is not a problem in the lower levels when leveling is relatively fast and you have many events opened up to you, including special events which help you level very fast, but at around level 20, you will start needing to "grind". Instead of levels coming naturally with playing, you will have to do the same events over and over, slowly gaining experience to level up. Another problem is that the last extreme race is level 24, but the highest level is 40, and the only events after extreme are a few endurance races, meaning that if you want to achieve level 40, there will be an insane amount of grinding to get there. Leveling is very imbalanced and makes the game very tedious and monotonous at the end. When you get tired of simply racing, you can tackle the licenses, which really make you a better driver if you aim for gold, or special events, which give you unique rewards and plenty of experience and money (but only give you them once)
B-spec is just like A-spec, but instead of you racing, you instead teach an incompetent AI to race for you. You can give him commands, but it is limited to pace down, maintain pace, pace up, or overtake. The first three all relate to a pace bar, which is a meter with red and blue on either side. Read means he will take more chances and blue means he will take it easy but driver a bit slower. Overall, the bar does not have as much of an impact as will your driver's innate talents. The events are the exact same except the number of laps is doubled and many have tire restrictions. Early on, you can give your racer overpowered cars to beat the easy events, but around the middle of the game, it becomes extremely frustrating as you watch as your slightly more powerful car has a very bad racer that does not know how to use any racing techniques and will end up in the same place as he started. He will eventually become an actual good driver, but he will still be a worse driver than you. Like A-spec, you will need to grind near the later levels, but it is even more tedious as the races can have 20+ laps and there are no special events or licenses you can do instead to help you out a little. And unlike GT4, there is no way to speed up the races, so a 15 lap race of a 2 minute course will take 30 minutes no matter how boring it is watching a game play itself.
Like the largely unimproved physics, the computer's AI is also very simple like GT5's predecessors. The AI, including your B-spec driver, follow the racing line as close as possible, seldom overtaking if there ever is an opportunity. The major problem with the opponent AI is that in A-spec, they will ram you if you're following your own racing line and you cross the AI's line and brake at different times. This will cause you to spin out of control and many times make you unable to catch up to the leader. The second problem is the lack of using overtaking techniques. Once you pass a computer player, unless you really screw up, there is little chance of them passing you again, making it feel like many times you are simply playing by yourself. This is also a major problem with B-sec, as your own driver follows the same rules of overtaking and you will watch as every opportunity passes them by that they could have overtaken the competition. The AI is all-around bad and is one of the main points that brings single player gameplay down.
Aside from regular racing that you would expect from this game, GT5 also introduces some new and improved modes. There is kart racing, which handles very differently from a normal car and can be fun online, rally racing with randomly generated tracks on either dirt, snow, or tarmac, and NASCAR, featuring the Daytona and Indy 500 tracks. All of these are different ways to play, although none of them are implemented in the single player. Instead, they are all special events, which only give the rewards once. You can, however, play these modes to your heart's content in arcade mode or online. On top of that, you can also make your own tracks for each kind, although they're randomly generated. If you find a track that you especially like though, you can save it and play on it any time you wish.
As Forza Motorsport has come since Gran Turismo's last installment, it's important to note that Forza brought with it many different customization options, from how the car looks to how the car performs. While Gran Turismo has always had the option to tune cars, they seem to have taken a step backwards and made tuning simpler, such as how they removed the ability to alter individual gear ratios. Instead, there is only an option to increase or decrease the top speed. Painting cars is also a chore, as you must first acquire a paint chip, which you get with every car you purchase. You can then use that chip to paint any car of your choice, but once you use the chip, you lose it forever. With hundreds of different paint chips, it's impossible to tell which ones are rare or from expensive cars, so you will likely find yourself saying that repainting a car is just not worth it. If you're looking for a game where you can change every minute detail of your car, GT5 is not it.
Lasting appeal: 10
With all of the content that Gran Turismo offers, you can easily put in 100 hours into single player, and then more time on top of that with trying to get the fastest lap time possible and racing online. If you want a game that gives you a bang for your buck, this is definitely the one for you.
Despite its flaws that have carried over since the beginning of Gran Turismo, GT5 is still a fun game to play, and that is all that matters. If you look at it as a game that has been in development for 5-6 years, you will likely find yourself disappointed. Some areas feel like they have taken a step backwards, such as the leveling system and B-spec, many areas remain the same such as the AI and, to some extent, the physics, but GT fans will still find this game to be great fun, and for people that have never played the Gran Turismo series, this game will feel just right to you. Whether you're a car enthusiast, a racing fanatic, or just a gamer that wants a fun game, you will sink many hours into this. While at some points you may feel frustrated, you still will not be able to put it down.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Gran Turismo 5 (US, 11/24/10)
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