Conspicuously absent from the Sony press conference, Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 5 appeared on the show floor in a specially prepared demo build that showcased the game's damage model for the first time.
The demo itself gives you an HD version of an old track – Toyko R246 – and a Subaru Impreza WRC rally car to drive, and initial impressions are that the core technology that powers GT5 hasn't been that much improved over what we've seen in the Prologue. It's still 60FPS, with a 30FPS replay mode, and the level of tearing is again approximate with what we're used to in the existing GT5 preview.
The damage model itself is an obviously welcome addition, but somewhat limited. There is no actual deformation of the cars taking place – body panels remain totally pristine. Instead the Sabura is outfitted with a number of removable parts: front and rear bumpers, doors, the bonnet – these are the elements of the vehicle that work loose then fly away leaving just the barebones of the car. In this sense it is somewhat "last gen", very similar to Burnout 3 if you're looking for a direct comparison.
It also means that smaller collisions, such as side-swiping scenery or other cars, leave your motor completely unscathed with no scratches to the paintwork or any kind of subtle indication that your vehicle has seen "action". It wasn't until I saw a flapping driver's side door in-game that I realised that the technology behind the demo build had progressed at all from Prologue. Right now there's no debris, no impact damage, and no breaking glass. Combined, this says to me that the implementation is on its early stages.
Another telltale sign is that it appears that your car is the only one to sustain damage. On the plus side, the consequences of a shunt aren't only graphical – the car's usual top speed of around 200kph on this circuit dropped down to a pathetic 115kph after a series of impacts, but even here, there was no indication that location-centred damage causes any specific effects.
So, in all, an interesting demo, but far too little was shown to allow for any kind of feeling on just how much more advanced the final game will be and as such, it was probably a wise decision not to include this in the original press conference.
By contrast, the PSP version of Gran Turismo, running alongside the monster-sized PS3 pods, was nothing short of glorious – looking and feeling similar to GT4 on PS2. Just one track in this one, but it was one that counts: the legendary Nurburgring. I had the chance to take it on with two wildly different cars: an almost uncontrollably fast Audi A8 Race Car, and at the bottom end of the scale, a Peugeot 206 (!). Impressions here are hugely positive. It's locked at 60FPS (both in-game and in the replays) and while there has clearly been a drop in resolution and texture detail (not to mention a reduction from six track cars to four), the fact is that finally Polyphony Digital is making good on its promises of bringing a credible Gran Turismo to the handheld.
The only negative element in the demo was actually nothing to do with Polyphony's code at all. Sony is choosing to demo the game on the PSP-3000 (actually the first time I've used one) and the interlacing/scan line issue is very problematic. On fast action, particularly panning, it definitely looks like the 480x136 resolution you would expect from interlacing the native 480x272 display. Play it on a non-3000 model though and all will be well. Great stuff.