We've waited a half-decade for Gran Turismo 5, so you'll forgive race fans who have expected perfection in return for their patience. Now that the game is out, it's clear what the folks at Polyphony Digital spent their time on: picture-perfect re-creations of the world's finest cars, a reworked career mode, and little else. Though there are plenty of things to love about this extensive, exhaustive driving simulator, there are also plenty of little issues that add up to be a moderate headache. GT 5 is undoubtedly an amazing game, but it also stalls out on some key features.
As is to be expected in a Gran Turismo game, the cars are the true stars. The vehicles are absolutely gorgeous, and the developers have painstakingly re-created every last detail down to the rivets and screws. Though you can't really look around the cabin of your car during a race, one gets the feeling that if you turned your head, you'd see the seams of the carefully hand-stitched leather seats. The level of detail shows just how highly Kazunori Yamauchi and his team think of these vehicles. These aren't machines meant to convey humans from point A to point B, but rather works of art that are meant to be admired and cherished. Even if you aren't a gearhead, it's nearly impossible to look at these models in the showroom and in action and not come away extremely impressed.
The catch to all this is the fact that only about 200 "premium" cars get this loving treatment, as the other 800 "standard" cars are little more than retouched versions of old GT racers. While many of the standard vehicles look fine, they aren't anywhere near as gorgeous as the premium models, and some look like they were pulled straight off a PS2 disc and dropped into the game. Perhaps the most egregious error for hardcore car buffs is the fact that standard cars have no dashboard view, which is the preferred angle for folks who want to lose themselves in the illusion. It is by no means a deal-breaking omission, but it is the sort of thing about which you'll hear plenty of complaints in Internet forums.
In addition to including a whole lot of beautiful automobiles, GT 5 also throws open the gates of career mode, giving users plenty of new opportunities to experience the game. For traditionalists, the license tests and A-Spec races return, and many of the early race cups even progress in the same way as they have before (Sunday Cup, FF Challenge, etc.). However, the team smartly realized that a lot of players quickly hit a skill wall when this was the only way to advance, so they also opted to include a whole mess of special challenges to spice things up.
In some ways, the special events are the heart and soul of GT 5, as they often provide some of the most varied racing and entertainment. The very first thing players will unlock is the game's go-kart challenges, which are surprisingly fun. Sure, there are no blue shells or banana peels in sight, but the tiny karts provide an entirely different feeling to the racing, as their zippy accelerations and overly responsive turning make you drive in a new way. Throw in NASCAR challenges, quirky Top Gear events (a VW bus race, anyone?), rally racing and more, and you've got the makings of a varied and addictive mode. When you just need to get away from the old GT formula for a bit, the challenges are a wonderful distraction.
The only new mode that falters is the management-based B-Spec, where you hand over direct control and coach digital drivers in their own races. Strategies are restricted to such boring options as "Overtake" or "Pace Down," and the end result is something of a game of rock-paper-scissors at 150 miles an hour. While this is a decent grinding mode for those who want to level up quickly or gain some fast cash, it's also terribly boring and strips away the most fun thing about Gran Turismo: driving the cars. It's a one-off mode, and most players won't really notice that it's there.
On top of this, the game still sports the classic Arcade mode as well as online racing, so there are plenty of options to keep most players busy. The sheer amount of content may very well keep fans preoccupied until GT 6 comes out, which will very likely be in another five years. We really can't fault the game for the sheer amount of stuff it packs onto one Blu-Ray, and there's enough variety to please basically every taste.
It appears that with all the time spent crafting the cars and creating the challenges, Polyphony didn't have enough time to fix some glaring gameplay and presentation issues that really mar the experience. While the game touts damage modeling for the first time in the series, it's not unlocked until you reach a very high level, and even then, it's weirdly implemented. At first, players can only do slight body damage, then more substantial body damage, and finally the mechanical systems and chassis. Of course, you'll need a ton of time to save up the credits necessary to hammer out all those dents, as repair bills can be absolutely astronomical, often running more than the cost of a nice new car. This game has always claimed to be a driving simulator, but it seems to do a good job as a mechanic simulator as well.
Other problems include tightly scripted opponent AI as well as a user interface that fell out of 1995. Opposing drivers always take the exact same lines in every race, completely oblivious to anyone who gets in their way. I lost count of the number of races I had to restart because another car sent me spinning into the wall because I was where they thought they were supposed to be at that exact moment in the race. These routines are hardwired into the game, too; if you run the same race 100 times, you'll see each driver do the same things 100 times in a row. On top of that, the game's menus are still an absolute mess, and trying to sort through all the races, cars, upgrades and other junk is just as cumbersome and annoying as ever. For instance, if you try and enter a race but don't have a qualifying car, there's no way to get the game to pull up a list of acceptable vehicles and let you simply buy one and go. No, instead, you have to make mental (or actual) notes, back all the way out to the main menu, go into the dealerships, find the car you want, buy it, select it, and then go all the way back to the race. It's infuriatingly convoluted and downright dumb in this day and age.
Though GT 5 screws up a lot of the details, the overall experience remains one of the best in gaming, and Polyphony proves once more that when it comes to realistic racing, it's on a whole different plane than the competition. When you get through the annoying distractions and it's just you and the open road, the game is poetry in motion. It's easy to lose yourself in the moment and just imagine for a second that you're really driving that super-powered beast of a machine and doing a pretty good job of it. It's these moments that make the wait well worth it and prove that no matter how long we had to wait, Gran Turismo 5 delivers.
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