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 Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)

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Join date : 2010-10-09
Location : London, England

PostSubject: Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)   Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:43 am

Gran Turismo 5 - Can a game be worth a five year wait?

Format: PS3

Gran Turismo 5 has been something of the golden fleece or holy grail for gamers ever since it was announced. We’ve heard tales and legends of what the game would be like, we’ve seen trailers and caught glimpses, we even had the release of a sub-game that was a protracted trailer, but we never got out hands on the real game. We were close on very many occasions, but each time it looked like those shiny discs would finally drop into the shops, it was cruelly snatched away from us. Spring 2009 became Autumn 2009, became Christmas 2009, became Spring 2010, became Autumn 2010, became Christmas 2010. And when you consider that the game had been worked on for a couple of years before even the earliest of those dates was announced, gamers have been ridiculously patient.

But finally, its here, so the question is whether its worth the wait.

I’ll be honest - I don’t like the PS3 gamer experience. I don’t like the front end, I don’t like the desktop, I don’t like the loading and installation process, and I don’t like the unfriendliness of the whole affair. I always feel like the PS3 thinks its doing me a favour. Nevertheless, I’d already done a system update for the machine the day before, so I slipped the disc in in great expectation that I’d soon be lapping the tracks....

....No. First of all I needed to do a game update install. Which the game told me would take over 50 minutes to download and install!! Now, I have a pretty good broadband connection. Its not lightning fast fibre optic or anything like that, but it works perfectly well to stream video, download from iTunes, and to download XBox game updates quite quickly. So the idea that I’d need to wait the better part of an hour for a game install is frankly ludicrous in my eyes. Nevertheless, I left it running and went to make a coffee and a sandwich.

Fueled by my lunch, I returned to the PS3 to find it had done the install and the game was ready to go.....or so it seemed. When I pressed the button to advance I was greeted with the option to install car and track data to save loading times. I decided at that juncture not to bother as I simply wanted to play the game.

Mistake - I’ll explain why later.

Then the game kept asking me to log into the PS Network. I didn’t want to, but it insisted so many times that in the end I said yes.

Now the main game menu screen, and as usual we have Arcade mode and GT mode, but we also have track creation mode. I warn you in advance that I haven’t yet tried that, so a review will come later. The main bulk of the game is GT mode, so that’s where I went.

I’m now confronted with a screen that tells me I need to set up my welcome page for other users to see. Why? I didn’t want to be logged on in the first place. Still, I do as I’m asked and I now have the main game screen. I’m offered A Spec and B Spec races (A Spec I drive myself, B Spec I coach a computer Avatar) Special races, seasonal races (Which are online races and change) Licence Tests, the practice arena, the New and Used car dealerships, the Tuning Shop, and the GT Auto maintenance shops. I also have my own garage present, and a few other options. I’ll go through the mechanics of these later, but right now I’m struck by the fact that all this looks more complicated than it needs to be, and more than a little unfriendly in comparison with a game like Forza Motorsport 3 on the XBox. It wouldn’t be so bad if the manual that came with the game wasn’t so minimal. Still, once you know where things are, it makes sense.

So, lets get into a race then.....

....Oh, I can’t.

Before you do any of the A or B Spec races, you need to to prove to the game that you are actually good enough through earning your various racing licences. And before you do that, you need to buy a car. I understand the reason for this and it does give a sense of realism in having to build up to being able to compete, which fits with the “Real Driving Simulator” tag of the game, but even so, after an hour of waiting to play the game, it would have been nice to have had to opportunity to do some real driving right from scratch.

So into the new car dealerships. Where you will find two other problems. Firstly, new cars tend to be far above the meagre budget you have been allocated, and secondly many of them are level restricted, meaning the game won’t actually let you drive them until you have proved you are good enough. This is an issue Forza 2 had and it annoyed me. It annoyed me here as well. Have credits prevent me from buying a Bugatti on day one, fine, but levels I don’t really agree with - with the possible exception of the racing models.

So my best option is the used car dealerships. In the end I plumps for a used Mazda MX5 to start off with, figuring I can cut the weight, add a turbo, and have something competitive. I don’t mind this. Some of the best fun you can have on these racing game is obscenely tuning a car which starts as a piece of crap.

So I’m into the licences. Now the licence tests in GT games are infamous. They were a frustrating pain in the ass in the first game and have been so ever since. They still are a frustrating pain in the ass. Its not that the tests are really that difficult to pass (unless you want to aim for silver and gold passes) its just that they are very very picky about how you do them, and thus can be very frustrating, which takes all the fun out of them. You have the drive at exactly the right speed, take the right lines, don’t slide the car, don’t put a wheel on the rubbing strips or cut the corners. I feel less like I am playing a game and more like I am taking an exam - Arguably, that is the point I suppose, but lets not forget, this is a GAME. I don’t believe anyone can enjoy that element of the game. They are a chore to be completed, that’s all. There are roughly 10 challenges to each licence, so you are going to be doing the chore for a while.

So I finish the first two licences, and now can race. I get a couple of minor cars added to my garage as a reward. Cool.

One attraction of the game for me, being a massive Top Gear fan, was the presence in game of the Top Gear Test Track. I couldn’t wait to rip around the track from the TV show. So I head straight into the practice option to pick the track and have a go. Practice allows you to do free runs, timed runs, or one-make races on the various world and original tracks in the game, and the ones you make yourself. Seeing the ice and rally courses, I opt to try those first.....

....Oh, you need to buy dirt of snow tyres first. OK, I guess that makes sense. Never mind, I can use the Top Gear Track......

....Except I can’t. Its not one of the tracks you can practice on.

Pissed off at this, I check online, and it seems you need to unlock the track by winning the first special race on the Top Gear track. Again, slightly frustrating as its a major selling point of the game here in the UK. Still, lets forget practice then and go into that race to unlock the track.

So into special events, and this is basically to get you used to the various disciplines. There’s a series of Kart races (You get a free Kart when you complete the first licence) a NASCAR series with an (apparently) famous NASCAR driver, the Top Gear races which test you on a tight circuit, the AMG Driving Academy where you race various Mercedes Benz cars on the famous Nordschleiffe, Rally events, Ice Driving Events, and world tours.

I dive into the Top Gear one, and am confronted with a race featuring 12 1960s Volkswagen Vans (or Samba buses as the game calls them). OK, should be fun. You start in 12th and need to finish 9th of better to qualify, with better prizes for the top 3 spots. Obviously, winning the race unlocks the track. Its a 2 lap race from a rolling start which each lap taking about 2 minutes, so you need to work quickly.

NOW comes the point I wish I’d installed the car and track data. It takes an AGE for the game to load. Literally a couple of minutes. For one race. It will not surprise you that I went back to the menu screen later and installed the data.....

.....Another 55 minute install!!! So in other words if you did all the installs on this game from scratch, it would be the better part of two hours before you could actually play it. That is just farcical in my eyes.

But anyway, the race loads, and now we get a chance to consider the much vaunted graphics. I have to say here that in this case they are fantastic. The Top Gear track is perfectly modelled, down to the buildings around the outside, the 747 jumbo jet and ancillary vehicles at the airfield, the lights at the side of the runway, its all pretty perfect and very very impressive. This lives up to the hype and arguably does outdo the likes of Forza.

The vehicles are also very very impressive. The level of modelling on the old VWs is superb, and the interior view especially is excellent. In this case, you can see where the time has gone. The game is looking worth the wait....

...and then the race starts.

We all barrel into the first corner, and while they run wide, I cut across the inside, taking the Stig’s line through the corner....

...and the race stops, I have been disqualified.

I try again, this time going wider, and I take them on the outside, putting a wheel on the grass...

...and the race stops, I have been disqualified.

I try again, make the first corner, and going into Chicago, I cut up the inside

....and the race stops, I have been disqualified

Fourth time, I bump another van coming into Chicago...Disqualified
By now, this is getting stupidly frustrating. Basically, the game has determined the racing line, and marked out a narrow course. Deviate from that course by cutting a corner, using rubbing areas, nudging another vehicle, or doing anything else you might need to do to overtake 11 vehicles on a 2 lap race, and you are DQd.

The only way you can succeed at the game is to learn how IT wants you to play, and follow a very strict formula for the race of overtaking at the exact moment it think you should in the exact WAY it thinks you should. The aim is, I assume, “Realism” in that you can’t power and slide and fight your way through. But it doesn’t feel like real driving I’m afraid, it feels like learning a routine and that I am just there to press a button when the machine tells me. All individuality - all sense of FUN - has been erased because its not “Realistic”.

And that seems to be a constant for much of the game, especially these special events. In the anal pursuit of detail, they seem to have forgotten that they were creating a GAME, which is supposed to be a fun experience. Yes I want realism, yes I want a car to handle like it should and I want to tell the difference between front wheel, four wheel, and rear wheel drive. But I want to be able to have fun with it. Forza Motorsport got the balance right. I don’t think GT5 has.

In the end, after many many tries I win the race and unlock the track. Excellent. Now I can practice on the Top Gear track.

So I go back into practice and select the track, using my MX5. Now, anyone who has seen the TV shows knows that often celebrities (or the Stig himself) will get a corner wrong, and slide onto the grass. Celebs also cut the corners and go onto the grass (especially at Bacharach and Gambon corners). The wide open airfield track is built for such spectacular getting it wrong....

...Not on this game. If you drive wide and go onto the track by more than a couple of metres the car slams into an invisible wall!!! How “Real Driving Simulator” is that then? Once again, it takes all the fun out of the game because you can’t get it wrong and are forced to drive how the game tells you. I’m not loving that, not at all.

But enough with the practice, lets actually race. And lets ignore the computer avatars and leap into the races you do yourself.

Races are divided into levels - beginner, amateur, professional, and so on, with each rank consisting of several cups and challenges. Obviously you earn more money as you progress, but there are sometimes restrictions which prevent you doing so easily with an overpowered car. I’ll start with the most basic race, the Sunday cup. Using my Mazda and racing on real world circuits familiar from both GT4 and Forza.

After a brief loading period, we’re ready to go......


....oh dear.

Now we see the biggest problem with GT5.

The game boasts 1000 cars and 20 different locations, and it has them. But not all of those cars and all of those locations are equal. What the makers decided to do was full scope just 200 of the cars in the game, giving them the high detail gloss and interior work that I mentioned on the impressive VW Samba buses. These are the “premium” cars. The remaining 800 “standard” cars have been done at a lower quality resolution, with many being directly ported from GT5 Prologue, or worse still, GT4. These have no interior views, tinted windows you can’t see through, and a distinctly flatter look to the textures. My MX5 is one of these cars, as are the ones I am racing against. The downturn in graphical polish is very very noticeable and if these cars are compared to competitor games (and remember, they do make the bulks of the vehicles in the game) then GT5 lags behind not just Forza 3, but several other games as well. The problem is worse if you get into a situation where trackside dust of tyre smoke flies up. Then the edges of the car get so jaggy they literally look like someone has cut and pasted the car into the scene. Its beyond ugly and not at all what I was expecting.

Added to the problem of the cars is the locations. Some of these have likewise been ported across from earlier games and again, don’t you just notice. There’s no real improvement from a game you were playing 5 years ago, and frankly, after that sort of wait there bloody well should be.

Lets be clear, the new locations are stunning, the new cars are stunning. When the game is pushing those it is superior to just about anything out there and utterly lives up to the hype. But the problem is that for most of the time you play, it won’t be pushing them, and I think its therefore slightly misleading to make the claims they have. It would be like releasing Smackdown with “500 wrestlers” but actually they are all the same but with different hair. What’s more, you can tune and improve the performance of any car in the game, but for most of the standard ones, you can’t make cosmetic changes like wheels, paint, body kits, etc. A little disappointing when compared to the likes of Forza and its huge range of options.

But to the actual racing itself, and this they have got right. Car handling is different to other racing games and less forgiving. There is less ability to slide the cars around corners (you can at least get them wrong and go onto the grass in races, unlike licences and special events) and at first the game seems a mess of understeer. But once you adjust to the style of driving required, and drive more as if you would drive a real car, then you do start to see the class of the game come through. Technically, from a driving mechanics point of view its incredibly impressive and the game handles very very well. The maklers have done their job here, you can’t argue with that.

Once again though, in the final analysis, I do come back to the “fun” element. The game is very realistic, but is it as much “fun” as some others. Now I have to be careful here. I like a level of realism to driving games and I hate stuff like The Need for Speed and those other “crash bang wallop” arcade racers. I want GT5 to be “realistic” but I don’t want it to be so realistic that the game becomes a chore. When all is said and done, I think GT5 is a technically excellent game in places. The car mechanics are spot on, and if on a premium track with a premium car, its beautiful to look at. Its also a big game that has a lot of life in it. But for a 5 year wait the lower resolution content is very poor, and I think the game is sometimes too frustrating for many gamers. I think the balance is off, and for me, Forza Motorsport 3 on the XBox remains a better overall “game”.

So my mark is 7/10

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