Monday, July 17, 2000

Gran Turismo 5 | 9.0

*** As I've updated my thoughts on various aspects of this game, I've wound up writing an extremely long and complex review. My apologies, though it's pretty amusing considering the game I'm discussing. Long story short: the game isn't perfect, but it's awesome and a huge step forward.

This game lives up to expectations as a major leap forward from GT4 and a cutting edge PS3 experience, so long as you're realistic and actually wanted a Gran Turismo style game. If you're expecting a game that is fully accessible quickly, instead of demanding patience and repeated accomplishment, or a game where you're forgiven for a lack of finesse, this may not be what you're looking for.

How to play: I've been a fan of this series since the original Playstation edition. I've generally played all Gran Turismo games by acquiring a cheap car (a used Mazda MX-5 in this game), beating a few license tests, racing for money to upgrade my car, and then buying a faster car and yet more upgrades for it. As this goes along, I wind up building a racing empire, beating all the license tests (which open up access to harder races), and having a great time.

In GT5, there's a new element that changes this. You gain A-Spec exp for various accomplishments and have a level for A Spec and B Spec (B Spec refers to the AI driving your car for you). Every race and car and special event has a level (some are level 0) you must reach before accessing. If you hate the licenses, you can see the rest of the game without them by gaining levels (such as by winning races). Personally, I'm still beating the licenses (and you gain levels very fast this way), and playing through as I always have.

Graphics: The graphics are stunning. I was expecting the quality to equal Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, but they are improved somewhat, particularly with regard to anti aliasing. Tracks look lovely, and even the notorious 800 'non-premium' cars look excellent. If these were the best the game had to offer, GT5 would be the prettiest racer yet. And yet the 200 premium cars take that to the next level. Tracks are astonishing. Nurburgring is stunning, as the shadows from trees reflect off the suede interior of my Aston Martin DBS, and the sun sets, the line from 'uncanny valley' to simply 'you're really there' is crossed. I don't see how graphics can improve from this point and my eyes be able to detect it. One neat addition is how lights reflect off mist, other cars, gleam onto things, etc. The shadows are not as well done as I like, leaving some jagged edges, but otherwise the game looks amazing.

Sound: I have always complained that Gran Turismo's sounds are too synthetic and unrealistic. GT5 has made a huge leap forward. Change your exhaust system and you actually can hear it. I can tell if a car is a V8 or a V6. That magestic sound of a Ferrari's 12 cylinders is actually represented. I still hope the game moves forward with a few details. You don't get the throaty idle of an old pony car [edit: I stand corrected... the Cobra 427 has a raspy idle and sounds great)... but then you shouldn't be standing still in the first place. It sounds amazing on my 5.1 system. Lots of car sims support 5.1, but the doppler effect and different engine noises show incredible realism here. I really like the long list of BGM songs and menu music, but the game supports your own mp3s, which is wonderful because I will be playing this game long enough to want new tunes. The audio improvements also make the replays much more exciting. You will know what I mean when you watch some (or play B-Spec, where you command the computer to drive for you), though it's hard to really describe. You feel much more like you're at the race.

AI: It's great. I could swear that a car retaliated against me. GT has tended to have weak AI that drives in a row, and that is thankfully not the problem. In B-Spec you can monitor the mental fatigue and attitude of the AI competitors, and that kind of thing appears to be tracked in the other cars. The AI gets stronger as you progress to harder races (as do their cars).

Physics: Some will not enjoy racing this series on its full realism settings. If you're not talented, this game's maximum realism settings are simply very hard. The game makes some effort to accomodate the rest of us mere mortals with a lot of aids and settings, but actually being competitive with this game takes work. I think the physics scratch that realism itch many PC gamers have been demanding for years. You have to develop some skills before the game can really be appreciated. There don't seem to be mechanical breakdowns (IE: overheating when you damage your radiator), something I've always wanted to see in this series, but otherwise the realism is excellent. I think most gamers can jump into Arcade Mode on beginner pick the F40, and win a race.

Content: I wish there were a few additional car models and that all of them were premium (you get used to the awesome cockpits quickly!). I think the problem is that GT5 has so many cars included that people get the illusion they should have every single car they can think of. It's so comprehensive that you actually are surprised when something isn't there (ahem, Porsche). In other words, it's easy to be unrealistic and hope for everything... that's how much content you have here. There are so many historic and amazing racing cars in this game that it seems unfair to feel this way. Upgrade parts and fine tuning settings are comprehensive and yet easy for anyone to fiddle with. There are many tracks in this game, though my favorite test track from GT4 is missing. Some of the weather and nighttime settings only work for some tracks, but when they do they are absolutely awesome. There are lots of things like photo album and setting up your personal area that just don't appeal to me personally. Online features are fully fleshed out, though, with very large fields of racers, chat, etc.

I think the game is so large that the menu system, for example, the GT World home's dozen+ things to choose from, seems daunting at first. Just remember this is a game many will play for hundreds of hours. Expect to find the menus a little daunting at first, but I'm already finding them very easy to get around after a few days.

I'm surprised by the track editor. It's easy to use, though you can't design each turn exactly as you'd like. But you'll never run out of tracks! The special events are practically entire games to themselves with a real diversity ranging from Nascar to Top Gear to WRC.

Fun Factor: I think a lot of people are going to complain about this. As gaming has become more and more popular as a form of entertainment, games have accomodated more players by being easy. I am not saying this is right or wrong: but understand this product is not an arcade game. You will have to have patience and practice to fully enjoy a more subtle experience. The fun comes from mastery. I think that's a lot of fun, but some people do not. The Kart racing, Drift, and to be honest, Nascar, present some cheaper thrills. You can also dial up the driving aids and have a very easy experience, but if you're looking for Blur or Need for Speed, this game just doesn't offer that experience. I do have one complaint: the game requires a substantial loading time, and the loading of new tracks took longer than expected the first time. Once it's loaded something the first time, it seems to save some of the content on the HDD, and it's much faster to load that thing in the future. I have a huge HDD, but people who have smaller ones should be aware this game will need eight GBs (or perhaps a bit more).

Value: I am stunned at just how much game is here. It is ridiculous. They could cut the content, tracks, and types of racing by half and you would still have two games worth much more than $60. I've only really scratched the surface, but I already can see this is going to be my favorite PS3 game.

My final thought on this: it's the comprehensive game for people who love cars. Old cars, new cars, fast cars, average cars. It's almost like am interactive museum experience for cars (not to mention the actual interactive museum feature). It's also a comprehensive way to race with depth. Setup, driving styles, etc. It's like a racing school in your living room. The quality has exceeded my expectations. This game will impress you, and you will have fun playing it if you have the patience to advance through the levels.

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