Bonus Goodies: PSP Import and Photo Mode
Gran Turismo 5 is packed with cool little technological features. GT4 allowed players to get a leg-up in the game by importing a GT3 game save and bringing across some of the cash. GT5 has a similar trick. By connecting your PSP to the console via USB, a simple and straightforward sync process allows you to bring over cars to the PS3 game.
There are limitations that dent the cool factor though: PSP imports can only be used in the arcade mode of the game, for example. Presumably this is to retain the game balance in GT Mode, but there is an argument that the levelling system in GT5 (which keeps ultra-powerful cars out of the reach of lowly players) might have been enough not to upset the flow of the game too much.
Photo Mode also returns, evolved from what was found in Gran Turismo 4 and once again capable of some staggeringly good-looking results. Any one who owns a digital SLR should be instantly at home with the way this mode works, as the ways and means with which you set up a shot are remarkably similar, with settings for exposure, aperture, white balance, ISO, shutter and focal distance. Like GT4, there are two separate and distinct photo mode options: the normal gameplay derived version along with Photo Travel which allows for some utterly sensational results if you're willing to invest the time in experimenting with the options.
Intriguingly there is also 3D support for the Photo Mode too, so long as you have the 3D mode engaged. Gran Turismo 5 allows you to export screenshots in the .MPO format, which should allow for playback on USB-equipped 3DTVs, the PS3 itself and additionally via a recent version of NVIDIA's 3D Vision stereoscopic photo viewer.
Gran Turismo 5: The Digital Foundry Verdict
Gran Turismo 5 is in many ways a remarkable technical achievement over and above the range of cool little features Polyphony has implemented. In terms of the basic graphical make-up of the game, the level of detail Polyphony Digital crams into a 60Hz refresh effortlessly seems to exceed the quality of many, if not most, of the 30FPS racers out there. There are evidently a range of compromises required to get close to that 16.66ms per-frame budget, but there are many moments of pure visual elation to enjoy with this game. Audio-wise it's a treat too, with 7.1 LPCM, 5.1 LCPM, Dolby Digital and DTS supported - so even those without HDMI-supported amplifiers should be able to get some brilliant surround sound from the game.
The pseudo-simulation handling model still feels right in a way that surpasses just about anything else out there - Forza 3 is strikingly close as a very different, but competitive drive but certainly in terms of the pseudo-simulation niche of the market, few games handle as well as GT. That said, in putting together the GT4/GT5 comparison video which featured the same cars on the same tracks, I was struck by how similar they felt and also by how much smoother the PS2 title appeared to be across the run of play.
Personally, I came into GT5 wanting some key enhancements over and above the visuals: in common with many I was looking for decent crash damage and proper consequences for bouncing off the series' traditionally rubber-esque walls and CPU cars. I wanted a revolution in artificial intelligence to make me feel that I was in a proper race rather than a procession of vehicles. And I wanted a state-of-the-art online gameplay mode.
In all of these areas, you can't help but feel that cosmetic work has been done but that it's not as good as hoped for. GT5's cars often act as though they're constructed of adamantium, such is their resistance to damage - a head-on collision with both vehicles travelling in excess of 100mph should produce a write-off, or at least a crippled vehicle. Instead, you get a shunt, or maybe a roll-over. To be clear, I doubt anybody is expecting Burnout Paradise crashes here, but some grip on the realities of high-impact collisions would be welcome. Update: Thanks for the comments here: it appears that more realistic damage is implemented the further you get into the game, as evidenced by YouTube shaky-cam video of simulation level damage which kicks in at level 40.
AI has been improved. However, maybe it is the nature of Gran Turismo and real-life racing in general, but there is still a sense of predictability about most of the action that unfolds.
Online is perhaps the biggest disappointment, for all the reasons that Oli Welsh pointed out in his excellent appraisal of the situation. There are some very nice ideas in there - spectating events is really well handled and the ability to gift cars and items is a cool touch. Beyond that, the experience left me cold. Coming in the wake of the nigh-on flawless online feature-set and implementation found in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, it's quite astonishing how slow, cumbersome and poorly designed GT's online mode feels, and how glitch-ridden the gameplay experience is. For the time being, stick to friends-only races and steer well clear of the open lounges.
There are hints of an integrated online/offline experience bubbling under with themes similar to what we saw in Hot Pursuit, but as of now the implementation, and crucially the experience, fails drastically. Loading the game this morning reveals another 133MB patch - 1.02 - so it will be interesting to see just how much has been fixed. But to put it another way, if it is indeed a matter of days to implement no-brainer features, what on earth has been happening at Polyphony Digital in the last two years since Prologue shipped, let alone the nigh-on six years since GT4 was first released?
Look instead towards the positives of the package and what we have is still a game that demands attention, excelling in key areas. There is some genuine thought and a range of great ideas put into the GT Mode, and plenty of variation in the challenges set out for you. It is this, combined with the basic magic of the visuals and the handling that really makes this game worthwhile. There's simply so much to do that you can lose yourself in this game, dip in and out of whatever takes your fancy and have a great time doing so no matter what you choose to take on. As Oli pointed out in the Eurogamer review, the dreaded grind that beset the previous GT titles is nowhere near as much of an issue, as you feel that there's always something new and fresh to try out: the levelling system and special events make a big difference.
The fact that the positives are so strong in no way excuses disappointments like the online mode, but at the very least makes it a title worthy of your time and money. Just make sure you don't overlook Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit in the process - a very different style of racing experience, but brilliantly executed in almost everything it sets out to achieve.