In 2006, Gran Turismo 5 was being hyped as a major launch title for the PlayStation 3 release. Obviously, Sony didn't meet that deadline, and GT5 became a game that seems to have been in development forever. This situation usually occurs because of a development problem and serves as an indicator that a game is in trouble. With Gran Turismo 5, on the other hand, it seems that the title has been in production for so long because it is receiving an absolutely staggering amount of care and work. During our briefing on GT5 at E3, we were told that so much work and detail had been put into the cars and tracks that it would almost be more fitting for the "next generation" of PlayStations. After seeing the game in motion, it's difficult for me to argue with that seemingly hyperbolic statement.
A large portion of our presentation was devoted to discussing Gran Turismo 5's amazing graphics, and to the developers' credit, this is pretty justified. A lot of hype is made over games with photo-realistic graphics, but Gran Turismo 5 marks the first time I've mistaken in-game graphics for real life. I've played some of the best racing games on the market, but Grand Turismo 5 is stunningly realistic. We saw comparison shots of the actual cars and locations to their GT5 counterparts, and even though one set was real clearly marked, I could barely tell the difference between them. The landscape and the cars are insanely detailed, although there is some variation to that. There are over 1,000 cars in the game, but the vehicles are divided into two groups. There are 800 standard cars that have appeared in previous GT games; these vehicles have been reoptimitized for the PlayStation 3 but are not brand new. The other 200 cars or so are premium cars, which are far more detailed and feature fully modeled interiors and more realistic damage and deformation. Both cars will show damage, but premium cars will be substantially more realistic when they get bashed up.
When I said the graphics are photo-realistic, I wasn't exaggerating. There is a Photo mode that lets you take pictures of cars, either racing around the track or in pre-defined locations. Race Photo mode is pretty self-explanatory and lets you snap pictures during a race. Photo Travel mode lets you pick various stages — such as Kyoto, San Galgano or the Red Bull Hanger #7 — and place your car in various locations within these stages. From here, you switch to a first-person view, and you can walk around and find the perfect angle to take a photo of your car. This seems pretty pointless if the cars didn't look so darn good, but this is probably the closest you can get to some of these vehicles without a lot of money. If you're a car fan, this could be a fun bonus feature.
Another major addition to Gran Turismo 5 is a bunch of new tracks. The ones we got to see were Circuit de la Sarthe, Madrid City, the Nurburgring, Rome Circuit, the Top Gear Test Track and Toscana. Each of the tracks has been detailed in the utmost detail. For example, the Circuit de la Sarthe has been updated to its 2009 layout, complete with all changes, large and small, made for that year. The Nurburgring, in a particularly stunning bit of detail, has replicated all of its infamous road surface graffiti … well, almost all of it, as some of the profanity had to be deleted to avoid rating issues. Even the seemingly mundane Top Gear test track has a lot going for it. The track is designed in a sort of unique "figure eight" shape that makes it more risky to race on because cars go in dangerous loops that could cause head-on collisions. Each racetrack looks extremely detailed and should be ideal for players who want the most accurate racing experience possible … minus a little foul language here and there, of course.
The final bit of graphical prowess involved some of the special effects. The car models are great, but there are also a lot of neat little visual sparks that you wouldn't usually notice. There's a special mechanic in place for illumination of lights through smoke and dust, which adds a lot to the realism of the races on dirt tracks. There will be day-to-night transitions, and even controllable low/high beams to make the night races more intense. Crashes also have special mechanics in place to allow for sparks and debris. There are lots of little touches and details, although it all basically comes down to everything looking ridiculously realistic. The game is also going to be the first game to support both 3-D and face tracking. If you have a television capable of it, GT5 can be played in 3-D. At the same time, you can use the PlayStation EyeToy to implement real-time face tracking while racing, allowing you to alter your view with a simple movement of your head.
We also got a glimpse of GT5's online mode. You have an "online home" that is connected to your online features; from here, you can check out the cars that you own, game progress, licenses, statistics, and so on. You also have access to a personal lounge, where you and your friends can gather to do various things. You can gather friends to race, hop into the lounge to see who is already racing and join in, or simply watch the competition. You also can chat with your friends at the same time. This can be done through the usual methods, such as voice chat or typing. You can also leave messages on an in-game BBS, which lets you communicate with other people in your lounge, even if you're not online at the same time. The lounge is supposed to be a persistent thing, so you don't have to gather friends before every game, but you can hop in and see who is on and what they're doing.
Most of our Gran Turismo 5 demo was dedicated to the visuals, and with good reason. There is very likely not a better-looking game on the market than Gran Turismo 5. Aside from a few moments here and there, it's the closest I've come to seeing a video game be mistaken for real life. The addition of tons of small details, ranging from smoke illumination to real-time head tracking with the EyeToy, simply adds to this feeling of realism. Unfortunately, the gameplay details were a bit on the light side, so it's quite difficult to say how it will shape up to play. Considering the pure amount of work and detail that have been invested in the game thus far, and it's difficult to imagine that it won't live up to expectations. The online mode looks pretty darn solid, there are neat features that make it very easy to pick up and play, and it fosters a "drop in" atmosphere. Hopefully, Gran Turismo 5's gameplay can live up to the visuals and give racing fans what they've been dreaming of since the PS3 launched.
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