Gran Turismo 5 Prologue
The Gran Turismo series has been the game of choice for many car aficionados since its initial launch in 1998. The titles have an unrivalled number of cars, with some of the most realistic handling seen in racing games and graphics that have pushed the hardware to the limit. But this formula is now a decade old and whilst sequels have always remained popular, can the series still make an impact now that we’ve entered another console generation?
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (which is available either on Blu-ray disc, or downloadable from the PlayStation Store) is the closest we’ve come to the full GT experience on the PS3. GT5P is a sneak peak to the forthcoming Gran Turismo 5, which is set for release next year (ish), so think of this as GT5: Light. The game features 71 wonderfully modelled cars, including for the first time several Ferraris. The selection covers the usual range of vehicles from inner city runabouts like the Suzuki Swift, to racecars like the Ford GT40, and the Ferrari F1 2007 car. As is expected from GT each of the vehicles has their own characteristics, and sound completely different.
There’s a choice of six tracks to race on, each of which has two combinations; either a reverse version or a longer track. The tracks include series favourites such as High Speed Ring, Daytona Superspeedway, Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit. New tracks to the series are London and Eiger Nordwand, although the latter of which was seen in Gran Turismo HD Concept that is currently free to download off the PlayStation Store. GT5P‘s tracks all have a different vibe – London feels claustrophobic with narrow roads, and buildings towering over either side, with the odd beam of sunlight penetrating the gaps in the buildings, whereas Eiger Nordwand has an equally narrow road but offers wonderful panoramic views that you’ll want to stop and enjoy.
The best way to enjoy the fruits of Polyphony’s labour is to head into one of the game’s 31 dealerships, purchase a car and go off into the games main single player mode; Events. Events are basically GT5P‘s career mode. Players start off in Class C where they have to earn a Bronze Medal or higher in each of the ten challengers, to progress to the next class. Events vary from normal races, to time trials and over taking challenges, which add some variety to the game. Unfortunately the whole structure of the single player mode seems too linear, with many races requiring specific models of cars, leaving little room to truly customise your garage. This issue is heightened when you consider the low number of credits available, resulting in numerous replays of the same race to earn more. Of course more credits can be earned from playing in other games modes such as dealership races and in online races. If you have patience and determination however you’ll eventually unlock the Class S and the much needed Tune Shop. I say “much needed”, as to win some of the racers without tinkering with the cars requires the driving skills of The Stig, just to place on the podium.
On the racetrack there are a number of changes that are easily noticeable, the first is that all the races have a rolling start, and secondly is that the number of cars on the track has increased to 16. Both of these combined mean that if you start from the back, it’ll take a lot longer than the first corner to take pole position. Another welcome feature is the in-car view à la PGR which looks wonderful, and is essential for the purists out there.
The racing itself is essentially the same old GT and whilst this is all very well and good, I was expecting more. For a game that calls itself a simulation, it seems hard to believe that you can still use cars and walls to steer with little to no consequences. GT stays true to form with its almost iconic dubious AI; in this version they still seem to be just as blissfully unaware of our existence, and are only more than happy to barge into the side of you to take the best racing line. There’s also the problem that many of the computer controlled competitors seem to forget to corner. It’s a frequent sight to see half the pack kicking up dust going wide of corners. It’s an obvious attempt to make the AI seems more human and less perfect, but the frequency of it just seems ridiculous. Another gripe is that cars don’t seem to interact with the environment; they leave no skid-marks and the only signs that you’re driving off road is a difference in handling and a trail of dust which doesn’t show in the car’s mirrors. It’s these little omissions and more like them that drastically let the game down, in some ways it could be a last generation came. GT is still behind the competition in another key area – for yet another instalment there is still no damage.
As mentioned earlier there is an online mode, which is undoubtedly a welcome inclusion, and whilst it has been at the centre of a lot of criticism, I personally found it better than expected. Races are pre-set, like the Events in the single player game, with the only exception being that the AI is replaced with real drivers. The other competitors are the bone of contempt, too many seem more intent on crashing than racing, treating it like more Burnout. Whilst I did experience this, I thought that Polyphony did a great job of minimising the chaos. When a car starts to act erratically it ghosts, meaning that other cars simply drive straight through, and whilst it isn’t perfect – pile ups do occur, and cars become solid at inappropriate times (i.e. right in front of you) – it’s a lot better than it could have been. Progress through the races and you’ll eventually earn the privilege to take part in races which deal out time penalties to poor drivers, resulting in more civilised races. Unfortunately the online mode doesn’t feature private rooms, so you can’t race against friends, nor can you chat to other competitors, although an upcoming patch is apparently on its way to rectify this. Another qualm I have is that you can only race in the cars you’ve unlocked, and it’s the same for split screen multiplayer, and arcade modes. This essentially means that most of the 71 cars will be unused by many which seems a waste.
Arcade mode features the usual race and time trials options for all of the twelve variants of tracks, but is also joined by drift mode. Whilst it’s only a personal opinion I don’t believe the mode suits the game. For the past decade it has been drummed into our heads that drifting is bad, it slows you down and it can cost you the race. It is clear why they’ve added the feature though, namely because its become a hugely successful aspect of street racing, particularly in Japan, where their cars rule supreme.
There are other new features to the game, GTTV enables you to watch car related clips, although at the time of writing the only clip available is the intro movie, and there’s little information given on when or what content will be available although deals have been made to show clips and episodes from hit BBC car show Top Gear. There’s the same lack of content for the news room. The feature will supposedly give information on all the latest GT News, but the only news I saw was regarding the technical problems the game was having.
GT5 Prologue is a difficult game to judge, there’s no doubt that there has been significant changes from its last outing, and it’s certainly no mere demo, but neither does it feel like a retail game. As a benchmark the game shows a lot of promise for the full release which will have significantly more of everything, and hopefully irons out the creases, but as a game it’s just disappointing.