Gran Tursimo 5 finally arrived in late November after years of development and one last, crushing delay. Perhaps, then, it should not have been a surprise that the game still shipped as a work in progress.
It is the culmination of Kazunori Yamauchi’s obsession with creating the ultimate driving game, but its user interface is a confusing, dated mess. Gran Tursimo 5 is an idiosyncratic, uneven, perplexing, and yet masterful celebration of all things automotive. Should you play it? Read on for Game Rant’s full review.
It is simply not possible to discuss Gran Turismo 5 without immediately acknowledging the brilliance of its on track performance. No other driving game even pretends to the level of immersion, the whole and total fusion of driver and car, player and game, present in Gran Turismo 5.
The game’s stunning ability to communicate the slightest, most miniscule adjustment to a car’s configuration is not merely unmatched, it verges on the unbelievable. The enveloping feedback delivered to players via the game’s visual presentation, audio landscape, and supremely tactile force feedback is monumental. In this respect, Gran Turismo 5 is a masterpiece of the higest level, a testament to all that digital entertainment is capable of.
Yes, the long-standing criticisms of the series still apply to Gran Turismo 5. Computer controlled opponents are drones that stick so close to the driving line that they appear to be painting it on the track. Players can still smash into and bounce off of opponents without penalty — in fact, it’s often an effective strategy. But none of those things take away from the brilliance, the marvel of driving a car in Gran Turismo 5. Nothing could. It is simply that good.
Unfortunately, Gran Turismo’s on track performance can not quite ameliorate a user interface experience that ranges from mildly annoying to patently absurd.
Of the game’s many, many options, most players will likely spend the lion’s share of their time with Gran Turismo 5 in GT Mode. Its home screen is a veritable Rorschach test of menus and alternatives. It is not unattractive, nor is it impossible to come to grips with, but it bears the unmistakable earmarks of a system that was envisioned as one thing and ultimately became another. One gets the sense that menu after menu was simply bolted on to the existing template as Gran Turismo’s designers added more and more features to the game.
Menus are hidden within other menus, information vitally necessary to progressing through races is not readily accessible to players — even the keystrokes required to navigate these menus are confusing.
It is also a chore to identify the proper car for a given race. Although a list of Typical Opponents is presented for each event, that list can not be carried into the game’s car dealerships, nor can the dealerships be accessed from the events menu. It’s a complete failure of usability, and there is no excuse for it. This reviewer once spent 10 minutes merely trying to identify the best car to buy for a specific race. (Eventually I simply started taking pictures of the Typical Opponents list with my iPhone.)
And yet, once out on the track, all is forgiven. Gran Turismo 5 is the most accessible game in the series’ history. The addition of the now ubiquitous driving line, and the elimination of license requirements for each of the ever more challenging events, means that this may well be the first Gran Turismo game that most players finish.
The game prides itself on realism, but its visual presentation outpaces reality. The real world doesn’t look as clean, as sharp, as Gran Turismo’s hyper-real race tracks. Heading into the sun on Mazda Laguna Seca, wispy clouds decorating a brilliant blue sky, is a transporting experience. On the whole, the game is often stunning to behold, though as with nearly every element of its design, there are notable distractions.
Shadows cast by the cars, for instance, look fine when everything is in motion, but while the cars are stationary those same shadows are as jagged and jittery as an NES game. The gorgeous, endlessly detailed streets of London and the Rome Circuit are staggering in their realism, except when large chunks of them pop-in in the distance.
Then there are the cars themselves, over a thousand of them in the game. I am not, in the real world, predisposed to salivating over exotic automobiles. But if the lingering, lustrous beauty, the sheer mechanical and artistic perfection of, say, the Lamborghini MurciÃ©lago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce ’09 as recreated in Gran Turismo 5 doesn’t stir something deep within you, I fear for your happiness.
The cars could not be more lovingly rendered, more gorgeously realized. Some of the cars, anyway. Gran Turismo’s autos are divided into two primary categories, Premium and Standard. The Premium cars, available from the dealerships in the game, have an order of magnitude more detail than the Standard cars.
There is a clear visual distinction between the two, and though the Standard cars are not necessarily any less fun to drive, they simply don’t inspire the same kind of automotive lust that is Gran Turismo’s stock in trade.
There are a seemingly limitless number of events in the game. In addition to working though the A-spec races (which will be, for most, the real meat of the game), there is B-spec, Arcade Mode, a Course Maker, and a number of Special Events including Kart Racing, NASCAR, the Top Gear Test Track, and Rally races. The special events are largely fun (though I am no fan of the NASCAR races), but stand apart from the primary experience.
Much more interesting is the way the game has continued to evolve post release. Major additions have come in the form of title updates, and more are on the way. Those issued so far include multiplayer damage for the vehicles, an online car dealership, and best of all, Seasonal Events — special races that pay out spectacularly.
Winning a few Seasonal Events, and thus stockpiling a fortune in Gran Turismo currency, instantly makes the rest of the game more fun, removing as it does the grind of running the same races over and over in order to save up enough scratch to take on subsequent events.
Seasonal Events also advance a player’s Driver Level at a massively accelerated rate, which in turn opens up ever more A-spec events. Those playing Gran Turismo 5 on PS3s not connected the internet are being robbed of features that make the game far more playable, which is a real shame. As an ongoing, constantly revised experience, Gran Turismo feels alive in a way that few games do.
For such a high-profile mainstream title, Gran Turismo retains an idiosyncratic edge. The unexpected opening movie, mellow jazz accompaniment to menu screens, and quirky touches like forcing players to race the Top Gear Test Track in an old Volkswagen Bus attest to as much.
Then there are the dated design decisions, like requiring that players upgrade each individual component of their cars themselves, or search through pages and pages of cars across multiple menus to find just the right one. Though these decisions fly in the face of much modern game design, the result is that players are literally more involved in Gran Turismo than they are in similar games.
Perhaps that is the ultimate secret of its success. Despite the genuinely massive scope of the experience, in the end the game feels decidedly personal.
Though it may not be the personification of perfection that Yamauchi envisioned, Gran Turismo 5 is nonetheless a remarkable achievement. Again — and this can not be stressed enough — its recreation of driving is unparalleled, the absolute benchmark for the genre.
At the same time, some of its user interface issues are inexcusable. Still, the game’s continuing evolution is fascinating to experience, and one suspects that it will remain so for quite some time.
Gran Turismo 5 is a touchstone title. Both its triumphs and shortcomings will likely shape the genre for years to come, and the game deserves a place in the library of all but the most driving-game-averse PlayStation 3 owners. Strongly recommended.
Gran Turismo 5 is available now, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.
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