PS3 Review: Gran Turismo 5

In the year 1997 the developers Polyphony Digital created a racing simulator called Gran Turismo, which married a traditional racing game with the addition of variables such as fuel consumption, tire types and suspension and engine tuning. The result is arguably one of the most influential series of racing games ever to be released, having sold roughly 60 million copies since the original’s release in 1997. So in November the first Gran Turismo to be made for the PS3 was released, Gran Turismo 5 (GT5).

Upon starting the engine of Gran Turismo 5 one of the games biggest problems becomes almost immediately apparent. The game features long-long-long-long loading times at virtually every turn. But once you’ve gone and made yourself a cup of tea and come back, Gran Turismo 5 delivers a driving simulator that is thoroughly enjoyable for long time fans of the series as well as newcomers.

After suffering through the lengthy install and load times, and getting into the games GT Life mode, which allows the player to live their own driving career, two more things become immediately apparent, the game’s menu is clunky and somewhat unpleasant to navigate, and the menu music is intensely irritating. The game initially hands you a wad of cash and sends you off to buy your first car, allowing you to purchase either brand-new cars from the games numerous car dealers, or from the used-car dealership. In the beginning your purchases will be limited not only by the amount of cash you have on hand, but also on your driver level, which you will slowly rise throughout the course of your career using experience you get from completing the games events and licence challenges.

The Licence Challenges, which in the previous Gran Turismo games was a necessity in order to progress, are now purely optional to complete. That’s not to say that they should be ignored. These challenges are focused on teaching driving skills that become useful as you progress into A-Spec events. For example, the best way to take corners or using the slipstream from the car ahead of you to increase your acceleration to make overtaking easier. It also serves to give you a taste of the variety of cars you can use later in the game. Each licence is broken into a series of challenges, whose difficulty is based on the level of the licence you’re taking. At the end of each is a single lap race around a track where you try to overtake as many cars as possible without colliding or coming off the track.

The A-Spec events are the traditional racing events. Racing a certain number of times around the track while trying to gain the best position possible. The races often contain restrictions on the cars you can enter the race with. However for the most part these restrictions are lax. This often means that you breeze past most of the AI racers as though they were standing still, and while this lets you unlock races and cars quickly, it often leaves an unsatisfied feeling when you cross the finish line. This isn’t to say that every race is so easy you can finish it in reverse. There are times when you’ll find yourself neck and neck with your fellow racers, struggling for the best position, and it’s these moments which leaves you feeling exhilarated and these moments are what make the game. The only shame is that they aren’t more common then what they are.

The game also features B-Spec events, in which you give commands to an AI racer as they progress around the track. You can command the driver to decrease, maintain or increase his pace, as well as commanding them to overtake. Your AI racer has a series of stats, such as mental and physical strength as well as his all-round coolness. As the race progresses and you give the driver commands, the mental and physical strength decrease the chances of the AI making a mistake and spinning off the track. The challenge in these events is to issue the commands at the right time, in order to keep him in the race, as well as stop him from coming off the track on the corners, and to manage his stats to stop him from tiring during the race.

The final race mode is the Special Events, which contain a mixed bag of other races, from kart racing to NASCAR challenges. For the most part, these races do a good job of breaking up the pace of the A and B-Spec events, though similarly the AI racers don’t always offer up too much of a challenge. Regardless the Special Events are well worth investing some time into, if only to try out a few other races types.

When preparing for a race, Gran Turismo 5 gives you the option to use a fair number of driving aids designed to make your racing life easier. These aids do things like help your car stick to the road – providing a driving line which shows you not only the best path to take around the track, but also when to slow down while taking a corner. These features aren’t requirements and there is no penalty for using them. They are simply there if you need them, and often the challenge of not using them helps to add to that sense of satisfaction you get when you do well without them.

Once you’ve built up some cash in GT5, you can begin to purchase and tune up your cars. While there are a huge number of cars available in the game, you’ll no doubt ignore most them and focus mainly on the ones you are especially interested in. This is not always a bad thing however, since a number of these cars are simply useless for anything other then showcasing in your garage.

When you’re not using your extra money to expand your car collection, you’ll be using it to tune your cars to improve their racing performance. The tuning interface is very simple in it’s layout, providing you with the different aspects that you can modify, such as engine, weight, suspension and exhaust. So all you need to do is select which section you want to improve and choose the level of improvement you want, or can afford. This simple interface allows you to get in, get your upgrades and get on with racing without taking up too much of your time, and once you’ve purchased a few tuning options you will really begin to notice the difference in your cars performance.

GT5’s online multi-player supports up to 16 racers, and has a whole host of options for the host, which can be used to help keep the races clean of dirty driving (running your opponents off the track and then like). You can do this by slowing down players who collide with other racers. The host is also able to pick and choose which cars will and will not be permitted in the race, and allow players to pick appropriate cars from their own garage, or to be assigned a random cars of equal strength, as well as give the winning player of the last race a handicap by ensuring they have the slowest car. For the winning player it helps to keep races interesting by adding an extra challenge, and for everyone else it helps to even the score and increase the chances of sneaking across the line in first place.

Unfortunately getting into an online race isn’t always as easy. The game is missing an automated matchmaking system, meaning that the only way to find a game is to pull up a list of all the games that aren’t all ready full and pick the best one. Another issue is that there is no way to filter your search, meaning that you have no way of telling what the level of cars the host has allowed in the race. Your best hope is that the hosting player has taken the time to make their race options clear in the title. The only filters that are available are Region, Track and whether or not driving aids are allowed. It also seems to be quite difficult to race with, or against, your friends online, since the game has no easy way of inviting your friends to your current game. The only way for them to track you down, is by visiting your GT Life profile page, or through a unique code issued to each game.

The Game’s visuals are for the most part quite impressive, however it is let down by the seeming lack of care given to the cars which do not fall into the ‘Premium’ category. These cars haven’t been given the loving finishing touches which the Premium cars can boast, making it look as if most have them have been brought straight over from the PS2 without a second thought. The Premium cars on the other hand look stunning. Everything about them smacks of model designs, which have been carefully attended to, and when driving them you will want to change the camera view to inside the cock-pit, for at least a little while.

Aside from the painful menu music, the game features an interesting soundtrack, which features several licensed tracks from several famous bands, and if you find that the music isn’t for you, it’s a simple matter of playing any tracks you have stored on your PS3 while you drive. The game’s sound effects are everything you would expect from a driving simulator such as GT5. It’s roaring engines and squealing tires help the game to feel that much more real. The only thing missing is the smashing of glass and twisting of metal when you mess up that turn, which has been replaced by a dull thudding noise.

Overall GT5 is held back by a series of small disappointments, rather then glaring issues. Infuriating menu music, the long and frequent road times, and the seemingly indifferent treatment given to the non-premium cars, as well some startlingly easy races, make the game feel that little bit less impressive then otherwise should be. Especially when coupled with the mountainous struggle you face when trying to race with friends online. But once you get past these small faults, Gran Turismo 5 delivers a fun driving simulator, which has some fantastic races, great looking Premium cars, and some great moments when you’ve performed well in a tough race and come out on top. It should please veterans and newcomers alike.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

About the Author

I'm a student who, like many, spends more time studying games than my coursework. Games are a bit like food. You need to try as many different types as you can, otherwise you might miss out on something that you didn't even know that you liked.