For Gran Turismo's many fans, the game's realisation on PlayStation 3 can't come quickly enough. The build up to the last two GT games (A-Spec and 4, mind - if we counted all the stopgaps we'd probably stall) has seen all manner of impressive visual chicanery in every sense, with demo reels that were always in-game but always overshot the finished article by a good few thousand pixels. The problem was resolution, as much as anything, and there's no question that Gran Turismo on PS3 will embrace its 1920x1080 progressive scan resolution as warmly as anything.
Even by simply appropriating GT4's assets in higher resolution, Gran Turismo HD - not just shown off at E3 but apparently constructed specifically for the purpose of showing off at E3 - gave us a taste of what Kazunori Yamauchi and his Polyphony Digital development team have in mind, and while few would claim it blew the competition away, few would contest the claim that PS3 was the ideal platform for all the sexy showcases Kaz 'n co. have spent the last decade teasing us with. Only this time, it's for real.
Purring along at 60 frames per second, Gran Turismo HD swept those immensely impressive old-days aerial shots of the Grand Canyon background into real-time, and in the process demonstrated that Polyphony was already in pole position in some senses - but perhaps without the hardware behind the screen to match the hardware on it. That rally track also spoke of much livelier trackside detail than we've seen even in next-gen racers like PGR3. A feast of flashbulbs, the Grand Canyon had large volumes of PS2-style spectators milling around, shuffling off-track just as the race got to them and a good range of crowd movement, including folks simply wandering back and forth between corners, to add a bit of variety. It is just the backdrop to the race, but the simple steps taken here bade well and put PGR3's well-intentioned but ultimately lifeless spectators to shame.
On the track, the resolution immediately brought the best out of the source material - with Nurburgring's Nordschleife probably matching PGR3's directly comparable efforts, while Circuit de la Sarthe and Tokyo R246 gave us a taste of more traditional race environments, with far more detail going into the track and the trackside than we're used to.
In a sense though, the use of older material also undermined the symbolism of the frame rate and resolution. While tales of Bizarre's struggle to realise true 720p resolutions at an acceptable frame rate were rife around the time of Xbox 360's launch, GT HD's lower-resolution car models barely compare in close-up, all handsome reflections and sleek bodywork but low on depth, while the track is undoubtedly detailed but ultimately still quite barren and looking a bit sterile. The open-wheel racers, to note one point, won't lock wheels the way that similar cars do in Codemasters' TOCA Race Driver 3, betraying a cushioning effect that kept the cars - still devoid of damage modelling, as is tradition - at a firm arm's length from each other at all times.
As a tech demo, which is surely all it was, GT HD demonstrated as much marketing as technical savvy. Accepting praise was easy, while any criticism was easily offset by a simple shrug - it's just a demo after all. And there's a sense that if this is just small steps for Polyphony, the larger ones taken by Gran Turismo next-gen could be anything. We'd love to see proper pie-in-the-sky features, like deformable gravel traps in line with the persistent terrain of MotorStorm and SEGA Rally next-gen, and it's not hard to imagine this stuff is being debated back home in Japan. Along with, you know, imaginative ideas.
For now though, GT HD is a very traditional showcase - complete with rigidly unimaginative computer-controlled opposition and handling and controls thoroughly consistent with its direct predecessor. Indeed, the biggest change beyond graphics was felt - or not - with the loss of rumble, which was definitely peculiar after so much vibration in past GTs.
Although that is, of course, to rather ignore the addition of motorbikes into the mix. With Tourist Trophy, its first stab at crotch-rockets, firmly (and appropriately) under its belt, bikes were seen lining up alongside the cars at E3, and although the camera was quick to cut away in the event of a spill it'll still be enough to whet some appetites. It'd certainly justify some new licence tests - and we all know how popular those are down Polyphony way.
In the end it was hard to take anything all that substantive away from GT HD, as you're probably realising. It's naive to expect it to simply disappear - we'd be thoroughly unsurprised if it showed up pre-installed on PlayStation 3 hard disks or something like that - and it's similarly naive to take cues about how Gran Turismo next-gen will look and perform based on how this largely GT4-era range of visuals ran on vastly superior hardware. For all its casual, shoulders-back approach to the demo - particularly during the conference - Sony can be relatively pleased with what Polyphony managed, but the real proof of Gran Turismo's next-gen vision will be in what the real game does to reinvent itself - and that's something we probably won't know a great deal about until Tokyo Game Show at the earliest. Ultimately, how that relates to this will be more telling than how this demo went down with the E3 cynics.
Gran Turismo HD is considered a prototype, but in a statement chucked out during E3 creator Kazunori Yamauchi said, "The wait for the next generation of Gran Turismo, post launch of PS3, may not be as long as you think." All eyes on TGS then, or perhaps even Leipzig's Game Convention.