My Complete Review
To me the best racing game is one that offers the best racing experience on the track and that lets you really drive how you want to drive pushing your and the cars limits.
I'm a huge moto-racing fan, in particular F1 because it gives you the chance to see the best drivers in the world drive the fastest cars in the world around the best circuits in the world. I've been playing and enjoying racing games all my life, and in fact my first ever console game was the original Gran Turismo (I was late to the console party). I'm not really a racing sim guy, though I can appreciate them for what they are, but I'm also not someone who really enjoys the silly arcade racing games like the Need for Speed series, I like my racing serious but fun, something which Gran Tourismo gave me back in the day, so how does GT5 the newest version fair?
For comparisons sake I'm going to be using the new Codemasters F1 series, as for me personally it's the only other racing game on the market anyone should care about (I'm going to ignore the Forza games because I've yet to actually play any of them).
To me this the most important part of the GT games, how the racing feels. What car you're in and where you are, are also important but if the core driving engine isn't very good it will ruin your game (ala NFS:Shift). This is something that GT5 does very, very well. It feels exactly like it should, for the most part and you never lose that sense of speed or control over the car your driving, but it's not perfect. For me the only major issue I have with the core driving engine is the tire's and how they react and work on the track.
The only tires that ever seem to give you anything at all is the racing soft tires, but once you start going down you basically just slide anywhere you try and turn and if you get down to the road tires your car becomes almost laughably slow, slower ever than my car in real life. The problem with this however is that, how do you possibly simulate tires when there are hundreds of thousands of types on the market, for games like the F1 series this hasn't been a problem because the tires they used are governed by the FIA and can be simulated fairly realistically, but with GT because there is no standard of car really it's very difficult to do.
But this isn't the biggest problem I have with the racing, the biggest problem isn't the racing engine, but the fundamental racing its self and how its designed.
Qualifying, to be blunt, there isn't any, at least not enough of it to make it actually important to mention (It's been many months since I finished the core GT mode so I might be wrong but I'm sure there was quali for some special events). This means that with no qualifying to be done before a race your seemingly randomly placed in the pack, which makes no sense, how can you have a driving sim or at least something that's trying to be that, with no quali? Every major race series uses qualifying of some description, from karting to F1 they all have it, so why has it been missed from GT5? Well from what I can gather, the reason is, the AI.
The AI in GT5 is, horrible. It really is terrible, they seem to be driven by mindless zombies all trying to find some randomly generated racing line, weaving about on the track blind to other people who might be there. They don't block at all, which makes driving round them very easy and boring. The best BEST part about motor-racing is the overtaking it's the fighting through the pack, it's what separates legends from good drivers, and it's totally void in GT5. To compare it to F1 2011 or F1 2010, in the F1 games when you approach a driver to over-take they will move their car onto the inside of the approaching corner, this means that if you want to over-take them, your going to have to basically drive the long way round the corner, this is blocking at its most basic form and the joy of racing against an AI that does that in the F1 games, is that you can dupe them, or anticipate the block and then try to outbreak them on the racing line to make it past them and around the corner. But you can't do this because either they won't block and you can just take the inside line and push past them (because they never move out of the way) or they wobble around in the breaking zone and you end up crashing into them, it makes for dull and frustrating racing.
The poor AI is best highlighted at Monza, when you do a race there (from the back) making your way around the AI is done mostly at the chicanes, and turn 1 is the best place for it. Unfortunately for the AI they haven't mastered this at all and so when they try to over-take into turn 1 at Monza, all that ends up happening is that the two cars bump clumsily into each other as the AI over-taking breaks too late and the AI 'defending' just drives into the front of him, because he never knew he was there, and because they have put massive concrete barriers at turn 1, they just block the road...
The cars & tracks
This is another area that GT5 is a bit of a letdown, because while it has every car under the sun its track selection is still mostly filled with made up nonsense tracks which make for horrible racing. Why in god's name is there so many bastard city circuits?! They are at the best of time a precession because there are so few places to over-take, so why are there so many.. especially when there are so many GOOD real circuits. This is especially annoying when a lot of these tracks are used every year by the F1 guys, and it really is a bit poor of GT to not include as standard most of the major F1 rated tracks around the world, and even poorer of a show for them to make you pay for one of them which should have always been in the game, given that its one of the greatest tracks to ever be used to motor-race on, Spa.
On the whole
GT5's overall design seems to have been lost in the dreary awfulness of B-spec and all of the other pointless additions like photo mode, and it feels like a game that's lost its purpose and direction. What is GT5 suppose to be? I'm not sure, I thought it was suppose to be a game that took you from racing road cars to racing the fastest cars man could build in a realistic environment, but if that's what they were aiming for I think they failed.
To me GT5 lacks that core racing experience, of fighting with other drivers, which getting purple sectors and managing tires for all kinds of cars. But there is still a lot of fun to be had with its good racing engine and mind-blowing selection of cars.
Where GT goes from here I don't know, Project Car's seems to be nearing and that seems to be the only game that is going to come close of what I thought GT's original objective was to be, but who knows...
It's a great game, let down by horrible AI, poor tracks and an amalgamation of excess rubbish that adds nothing.