chamberlain's Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (PlayStation 3) review

Shiny and hollow.

The Gran Turismo series has always intimidated me. Between the realistic handling, obnoxiously difficult mandatory license tests and extreme depth of content they ended up feeling like work after a relatively short time. Even so, I have played them all because they look incredible and you get to go fast in un-dent-able cars that no normal human being could ever own, much less throw around corners at the very edge of losing control without going to jail afterward. The first 10 hours of each game was a blast before frustration edged out the manly glee of 200+ MPH. It was because of this that I hoped Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, being a glorified and slightly over priced demo (and unsubtle way for Sony to push the DualShock 3), might just leave off the end game and give a taste of the beginning. Instead it compresses the entire experience, bringing on the tedium of grinding races for cash much too soon.

There have been a few changes, concessions from previous iterations almost, that make the actual racing more enjoyable. The handling, when set to normal, is much more forgiving then in previous games. It lands somewhere neatly between Forza and Project Gotham, not quite simulation but definitely not arcade. Memorizing a track is still a requirement to have any success, but heart crushing last lap mistakes are no longer as common. To help out novices (or people who suck, like me) further Prologue has blatantly stolen the racing line assist from Forza. It is an absolute godsend in the beginning, keeping a new racer from careening into walls by miss judging corners, but it is also a very conservative line. Following it exactly will not win many races, only keep a new player from embarrassing himself too much.

Apart from these tweaks there is no mistaking this for a Gran Turismo, which is not really a compliment; parts of the game have not aged well. There is still no car damage. When compared to any other modern racing game this is inexcusable. I understand not doing damage because car manufactures do not allow it or because Polyphony Digital simply doesn't want their amazingly rendered car models dented up, but other racing games have done it, worked it convincingly into the game play, and made it look good all at the same time. DiRT is a perfect example of this, as are Forza 2 and PGR 4. Playing car billiards around corners is still quite possible, in spite of supposed AI upgrades and a penalty system, and is about an unrealistic as can be in a game dubbed 'The Real Driving Simulator.' Computer drivers behave less like slot cars then before, even making an occasional unforced error, but there is still no personality. If I cut a guy off or trade a little paint with him on a straight I expect him to return the favor, and that just doesn't happen here.

Prologue also marks the debut of online racing for Gran Turismo, though it may have been better to let it cook a little longer before showing it off. Races fill up quickly but there is no way to invite friends and they are an absolute laggy mess. Seeing cars slide along the track sideways leaving behind a trail a smoke is amusing at first, but it does not make for good racing. It is very obvious that it is their first attempt, it feels very last gen. Unfortunately for Gran Turismo there is a lot more competition in the genre then there was 5 years ago. This kind of performance is simply unacceptable in a retail product.

Most other missing pieces can be chalked up to this not really be a full game: 60 cars, 6 tracks, no photo mode, no car customization; it's anemic. It took a fair amount of hubris to release Prologue and charge $40 for it, and it may not have been a good idea. Gran Turismo has shown its hand before the game is finished, and what it had to show does not compare favorably with the games already available. My only hope is that it turns into something like an episodic game; car and track releases on a semi regular basis for free would be a good first step. As it is now I will be hard pressed to throw more money at a title that turned from racing to repetition in the space of a few hours.    

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