Gran Turismo 5
Gears of awe?
Review After spending six years on the waiting list for Gran Turismo 5, new owners might be surprised to find that the pristine Bugatti Veyron 16.4 they thought they had ordered has rolled off the forecourt more like a cut 'n' shut.
Straight into the lead
For those unfamiliar with the term, a cut 'n' shut is the police and DVLA name for a car made from two different vehicles - usually write-offs - where the back end of one is welded to the front of another. In the case of Gran Turismo 5, the back end of that cut 'n' shut is a 1200bhp driving simulator of unparalleled engineering, whereas the front end is a hulking, rusty jalopy of a game.
What GT5 gets right, it gets near flawless. An unimaginable finesse permeates the driving physics through over 1000 cars, 70 track variations and several disparate driving styles. The handling is noticeably more refined than GT4 and GT5 Prologue, with every car feeling unique. Front-wheel drives are unpredictable when tuned with too much power, and rear-wheelers struggle to maintain traction in the wet. And every supercharger, sports intake manifold and chassis weight reduction fine tunes your ride with tangible subtlety.
The attention to detail in handling is matched only by the comprehensiveness of GT5's driving options. If you just want to take a spin, GT5 offers a practice mode to hone your driving skills or break-in new cars, or you can try the full Arcade mode, which offers straight races without class restrictions. But, to progress through GT5 and start collecting some cars, you'll have to compete in the standard GT Mode, which sees A-Spec and B-Spec racing joined by a new Special racing mode.
Stig it to 'em
Although A-Spec returns warts 'n' all, with success still more reliant on car tuning than driving skills, and although opponent AI remains largely absent, it's still the best way to quickly stock your garage and experiment with a wide range of cars.
B-Spec racing was an introduction I largely overlooked in GT4, and developer Polyphony has done little to endear the mode to me this time around. As team boss, you manage a roster of AI drivers, providing basic orders as they race, such as increase speed or overtake. But with limited tactics and aggressive driving invariably punished by overshot turns or spins, it's a mode I still just don't get.
Special racing, on the other hand, is a welcome introduction to the series. It offers bite-sized challenges in alternative driving styles, such as Go-karting, NASCAR and rallying, and even includes challenges driving around the Top Gear test track. It's another opportunity to show off the peerless range of car handling, as Go-karts spin with minimal throttle through corners, NASCARs bunch dangerously close to draft, and rally cars drift with ease.
For all its impressive physics and handling, and for all its vast array of modes, tracks and cars, GT5 is a long way short of perfection. Owing to development origins on the PS2, it's arguably the worst looking Triple-A racer of this generation, miles behind Forza 3, Dirt 2 and F1, and even a few car lengths behind Blur.
A few impressive details enliven the visuals, such as driving snow, night-time fog and excellent car damage decals, which unlock as you progress through the game. But only the premium 200 of its 1000 cars are modelled to current-gen standards, with the rest plagued by lower polygon counts and jaggies.
Get your specs on
Despite being 3D-enabled, GT5's world feels sterile and lifeless, nowhere more so than in track side details. Patently old-gen, with blurred, flat textures and simple reflections, GT5's environs look like model railways, with barren landscapes punctuated by plastic people and candy-floss trees.
Graphics aren't GT5's only shortcomings. The menu and navigation systems are unwieldy relics of the last generation. Every action is made more difficult by bewildering design choices, such as allowing you to enter into the Tuning Shop with a Go-Kart, but only bothering to tell you that you can't tune it when you come to select individual parts. Frustrating enough in itself, navigation becomes exasperating through slow load times. Excruciatingly slow to start with, load times remain lengthy even after GT5's watch-paint-drying 50-minute 8GB install.
The interface most frustrates in online racing. Without a proper invite system, your friends are left to search long lists for your lounge - GT5's persistent online race lobbies. Once found, its a confusing rush to choose restricted races and car types before someone hits the Start Race button, which is available to all lounge members. Any selfishness, momentary indecision or disagreement usually results in several players being precluded from races.
More hairpins than a fashion boutique
That said, with a little teamwork, races start without a hitch. And when they do, GT5 shows itself to be an excellent online racer. With up to 16 racers driving independently-tuned cars it's another mightily impressive display of physics. And with full chat and spectator options, along with basic social networking features, such as message boards and driving statistics, GT5's community features will ensure real longevity to its online offering.
GT5 ultimately feels like a missed opportunity. Polyphony has fallen way short in fulfilling expectations of producing the defining racer of this generation. By spending too much time tinkering under the bonnet, the developer has failed to notice the advancements made by other racing teams. But while many drivers will be put off by GT5's infuriating dashboard and second-rate coachwork, there's no denying the technical genius under the bonnet and the thrill to be had in the drive. ®
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