Giant Bomb Review330 Comments
Gran Turismo 5 Review3
by Dave Snider on
A grind-heavy career mode and inconsistent visuals keep this otherwise fantastic driving simulation from finishing first.
I feel it's important to mention that I played GT5 primarily with a racing wheel. While the game is certainly playable with a controller, you'll begin to hit a wall on more technical courses once the cars get faster. The force feedback and information you're given through the wheel is excellent, and feels unique with each car. When you drive through a tight turn you’ll immediately know whether you’re in a front or rear engine car by the amount of over-steer that sets in as your wheel goes slack. Pavement, gravel, and grass all feel different and help indicate just what you can expect out of your next turn. This natural wheel grip sensation, combined with some zoom and shake effects in the modeled cockpit view as you brake and accelerate, really put Gran Turismo's driving on a pedestal when compared with just about any other racing game on the market.
That visceral realism isn't always consistent in the cars themselves. Although the back of GT5’s box mentions there are over 1000 vehicles available in the game, only 200 of those carry the "premium" tag, which means they include a modeled cockpit and extra detail to their exteriors. If you're not someone that likes to race inside the car, that may not be such a big deal--but even among the 800 standard cars, the exterior quality is uneven. The worst-looking of these feel like touched-up ports of cars from the PlayStation 2 era. For me, though, the premium cars were more than enough, and the only real grievance I have with the standard cars is that they make up the majority of your racing rivals in each race.
Damage modeling is poor, bordering on unnoticeable, and even at higher levels with premium cars, the largest of crashes will only cause minor dings and deformities. At the most, bumpers or hoods will dislodge and hang a bit loose, but for the most part the crashes in Gran Turismo 5 are mundane affairs that feel and sound more like cardboard boxes bouncing into each other. What is noticeable, though, is the cost you’ll have to pay for structural damage that isn't visually persistent on your car between races. Chasis repair on many of the high-powered cars will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Considering that you can buy a new car for that amount, it often leaves you wondering just what the hell Polyphony Digital was thinking when they decided to add damage into the game at all. While racing purists might not mind, the lack of consistent damage effects in GT5 takes you out of the realism that the cockpit and wheel combo so breathlessly creates.
This graphical inconsistency doesn't only exist with the cars but also with the tracks and the environment as well. The shadow and weather effects specifically seem extremely garish on top of otherwise clean and well laid-out courses. Shadows both in the car and outside have jaggy, aliased edges, and when combined with pixelated rain or snow effects, it'll make you want to jump out of that in-car view to something less in-your-face. Generally, though, the game looks sharp, and GT5 has some gorgeous night-time country driving that makes you consider your chosen car not for its speed, but for its headlight coverage. It looks especially nice when the game speeds up time so that dusk turns to night over the course of a race, and timed fireworks also add some fun to the nighttime sky. For the most part, the tracks in Gran Turismo 5 are fairly static, though incredibly detailed affairs. Almost all of the courses include unbreakable walls or extremely sturdy pencil fencing that feel like compromises in otherwise realistic locations.
What Gran Turismo lacks in flourish it tries to compensate for with variety. You’ve got go-karts, American muscle, Japanese tuners, World Rally cars, NASCAR and everything in between. Only a Formula One license seems noticeably missing from the roster, but open-wheel cars are still there and become available once you get past level 20. A lot of the licensed racing is grouped into "special events," a section of your dashboard devoted towards training or goal-based racing. Some of these carry intro movies that explain a famous track or location you’re about to race in. For the most part they work well, but there are a couple stinkers. A dead-eyed and poorly animated Jeff Gordon, who introduces you to NASCAR, is a prime example. All that variety sometimes makes the game feel like it's been stretched too thin.
You’ll spend most of your time in A-Spec races, which are split up into various leagues from beginner to expert. You can also earn licenses by completing simple tasks such as bringing your car to a complete stop on time, or more difficult tasks, like completing a race without bumping into rival cars. Luckily most of them are not as necessary as in previous games. You’ll earn trophies in the license events, races, and special events, with gifted rewards available as you complete each full set of challenges. Experience points are also awarded and contribute to your level, which is used as a barrier for new events and cars. Around level 15, though, the leveling component becomes a serious grind. Each level takes a couple hours, and you’ll soon wish you could at least see what events come up later so you could plan your garage accordingly. Dropping half-a-million dollars on your favorite car sounds great, until you realize too late that it won’t be useful for your next dozen events.
As you move your way into more challenging races, you’ll soon learn that it’s not so much your driving skill that’s being tested as your ability to tune your car properly. You simply won’t be able to win certain cups without fiddling under the hood first. There’s not a whole lot of explanation to the tuning mechanics, and there’s no Forza-style auto-upgrade option to make things easy on yourself. Like most things in GT5, though, you’ll eventually figure it out and learn that under a clunky mess of menus is a flexible system for setting your car up however you want. Most of the upgrades are easy to comprehend--you pay your money and suddenly have a boost in your horsepower--but a lot of them can only be fully utilized if you manually move some dials. Eventually you learn these tuning systems too well, and since the majority of races don't include any sort of horsepower limit, it's very easy to enter races with overpowered cars and make the game a one-man race within the first 30 seconds. I spent most of the game playing this way, as the lackluster, wooden AI always seems to follow a set line without taking much thought for where your car is on the track. Though GT5 can get more challenging later on, most races are a test of personal endurance, not competition.
If manual tuning as a necessity to progression scares you, take heart in this: I personally know very little about what goes on under the hood of cars. If anything can be said about the lack of arcade functionality in GT’s career mode, it’s that you’ll eventually become a more informed and better driver because of it. Other sticking points for people coming from an arcade background are the lack of a rewind function and fairly poor driving lines. The absence of a rewind function, which has become a common mechanic in driving games over the last few years, is going to hurt novices most. While the early races are fairly short affairs, you won’t see many single events under eight minutes after level 16 or so. Eight minutes is a long time to keep your concentration up at over 100 MPH. Given that it takes hours to move a single level in the late game, and that you usually only earn XP for placing at the end of the race, things can get frustrating quickly.
It’s especially unfortunate then that you can’t gain XP in the online races to spice things up a bit. Although I never had any problems finding races through the game’s lobby system, it was almost impossible to figure out what the requirements were for each race I joined. If the host didn’t take the time to create a proper title, it meant I had to join the lobby first, then view a separate menu to get the requirements. From there I usually had a short time to tune one of my cars to qualify or select from one of the suggested arcade cars. Although you can use a limited amount of favorite cars from your garage, you can’t favorite separate load-outs. To be honest, the menu system all throughout GT5 is bad. Exiting out of anything almost always requires a confirmation or extra key-press, and unusually long load times for simple menus can sometimes dampen the fun.
Included as part of the dashboard is some social networking functionality that allows you to share rides, photos, and Twitter-style short messages with your friends. I don’t know why you’d want a walled message board for yourself just for GT5, but it’s there if you want to shout at people you know who are also playing the game. A gifting feature comes in handy when you need to send cars to another person, since some races require specific cars to complete and often people need to trade between accounts. The photo mode in the game lets you take still shots of any of your cars lined up in various locations that you unlock as you progress. It’s extremely well done and gives you a virtual DSLR to take pictures with where you can adjust ISO and focus manually.
There’s also an AI-driven B-Spec mode where you give commands to a driver that levels separately from yourself. Essentially you watch a race in movie mode and have the ability to tell the driver when to pace up and down, and when to try to pass another driver. If it sounds boring, that’s because it is. The only positive to the feature is that it’s a great way to earn early credits. Once you have a decent garage you can put your driver in an overpowered car and go have some lunch or something. Even without commands he’ll likely win the race, and you might receive a special car or two for placing in first.
Gran Turismo 5’s core problem is that the broad scope of all these game modes diminishes the polish of the general product. There's no denying the feel of the actual driving, but everything else that makes up the game feels tedious and half-baked. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but for people who value an authentic driving experience, enjoy a bit of difficulty in their games, and are willing to look past a multitude of minor flaws, GT5 could very well satisfy your driving needs for years.