One only needs to look at the stats for this game to get a sense of the scale; over 5-years in development, 1031 cars (200 of which are "Premium" models - more on that later), 26 locations and 71 tracks (including the Top Gear test track), World Rally Championship, NASCAR and Super GT licenses, kart racing, online racing for 16-players, damage modeling for Premium cars, a course creation tool, night time racing, Playstation Eye Head tracking, a Gran Turismo TV channel with downloadable videos and support for 3DTV's!
It's certainly an impressive list of features and racing fans should be in heaven with the entire package as it not only provides a complete racing experience, but also plenty of detail about the cars and manufacturers through in-game museum cards and car details. If you're into cars there is no more complete package then Gran Turismo 5.
Also in this Arcade Mode, but not in the GT Life mode, is the ability to use the Playstation Eye to track your head and change the angle of the viewpoint on-screen. It works well in theory but in practice it's probably either not as well implemented, or not quite as useful, as it sounds on paper. Still it's another area where Polyphony Digital are pushing boundaries.
As with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue this game includes an option called Gran Turismo TV. No, this doesn't allow you to watch replays but rather allows you to download hours of video segments and trailers based on the game and car events and shows from around the globe. Impressively there is considerable free content to download here, and if you want there are also videos which you can purchase on select topics from other production companies for a few dollars.
The GT-Life Mode is where you will, or at least should, spend most of your time when playing Gran Turismo 5. Essentially this is the career mode where you can buy new or used cars from dealerships, take them to the shop to be upgraded with new parts for better performance, give them oil changes, car washes or new paint jobs.
But it's the racing that counts and there are three main modes to keep you occupied. First up is the Licenses where, just like previous titles in the franchise, you will undergo a series of skills based tests which may include a time trial on part of a circuit, or having to overtake a number of cars by the finish line. Depending on your performance you'll be rewarded with Gold, Silver or Bronze trophies, and more importantly earn experience points which can put you up to the next level thereby opening up further license tests, or racing events.
The B-Spec mode is something we're still not completely sold on. Rather than taking control behind the wheel you simply watch your racer behind the wheel and issue orders from the sideline such as "Overtake", "Speed Up". "Maintain Speed" or "Slow Down". Your drivers performance will be affected by his skill levels, the car selected and his temperament.
Finally, and for the first time in this series (the main games at least) Polyphony Digital have incorporated online gameplay into the franchise. With support for up to 16-players at once the development team have done a pretty decent job of providing an online racing experience, although we did notice some issues if people have poor connections. Initially the online racing was a pretty poor experience due to a lack of car restrictions however a recent patch has added in more options to make the races more even, and as a result more fun. Still, there's a lot more that could be done here to improve online racing - perhaps further patches will add more features and customisations to the races.
Certainly our biggest disappointment with this game has to do with the damage modeling. Despite it's inclusion it's pretty superficial and despite what the developers claim it is not accessible from the beginning in the GT Life mode - we've heard reports of it kicking in when you reach level 20. We've raced "Premium" version cars (the ones that are meant to show damage) slammed into walls at 300km/hr rolled the car and had it drive on without a scratch. As for mechanical damage, that has just been added in via a patch, but is only for online racing. Sigh...
Another oddity is that car customisation it seems to be the same for almost every car, with no customised parts available. Also bewildering is that while you can reduce the car weight, strengthen the body, tune the engine, install new gearboxes, tyres or exhausts there is no option to put in different brakes to improve braking during races. Surely the brakes you buy at the car dealer isn't the same one you would race around a track with!
As you would have seen from the surrounding screenshots this, for the most part, is a great looking game. The tracks all look sensational from the building laden streets of London, to the mountainous Eiger Nordwand or the concrete oval of Daytona every track has been superbly recreated. Likewise "Premium" cars in the game are sensationally recreated down to every detail including the exterior, and interior of the cars. But there are only 200 premium cars with around 800 cars being "Standard" Editions - essentially upscaled versions of the PS2 and PSP cars in other Gran Turismo titles. Kazunori has confirmed that many of the "Standard" cars will be upgraded to "Premium" models in due course. So how does this affect the game? It doesn't in terms of car physics or gameplay, but these lower quality "Standard" models can look pretty rough around the edges in places, smooth lines show angular polygons and the shadows can be pretty horrible. Speaking of shadows, they are actually pretty horrible in much of the game with plenty of flickering and rough angles which look out of place, and cheap, in a polished title such as this.
Having said all that Gran Turismo 5 really is a technical showcase for the PlayStation 3 and a game which will help sell units. We haven't even touched on one of the biggest selling points either - the inclusion of 3DTV support - mainly as we don't have a 3DTV ourselves, but reports from fellow gamers are positive in terms of increased depth perception albeit with a lower frame rate.
If there is a very minor negative it has to do with speech during the game. While there is no commentary at all during the races it's not required, and as a driver it's not like you'd be listening to commentary anyway. Having said that perhaps some comments from your pit crew or technical advisor would have been welcome.
There is no doubt that Gran Turismo 5 is a key title for Sony, in fact it's their big Christmas 2010 title on the PS3. Amazingly after five years of waiting the game still feels somewhat incomplete, however patches are making rapid improvements and what is here beats every other developers title. We just expect so much from Polyphony Digital. If you want a comprehensive car driving simulator then this is about as good as it gets.
Review By: Dave Warner