Gran Turismo 5 Reader Review
GT5 is a conundrum, capable of moments of greatness while at the same time being genuinely exasperating. It’s a flawed work of art, repaying time and effort while being challenging and irritating in equal measure. Probably a consequence of being in development for five years, it aims high and shoots fairly high.
For every finely crafted gem there’s an equivalent moment of complete failure. The driving experience alone is a tremendous achievement – different cars each have a unique feel and handling experience, each time corresponding to any tunings you make. Much of the track visuals and scenery is well crafted and well depicted. And at the heart of the entire game the Special Events provide a genuinely challenging and rewarding experience.
In contrast much of the game feels hugely undeveloped. The online experience is woefully poor, with races dropping out, no easy facility for finding games you’re looking for, and few racing modes available. Even the online loading screen (just a blank display with a progress par on it) suggests that it’s still work in progress.
Equally the user interface is muddled, consisting of an amalgamation of randomly sized and positioned icons that you select from. Even more bizarre is the way you acquire new cars. The “premium” cars are available through a dealership option, while the standard cars appear randomly in the “used car dealership” section. So if you need a very specific car for a challenge (a truck, for example) then you have to either find a way of winning one or get lucky and find it on the used dealership screen.
While on the surface the significant difference in build quality between the premium cars and the standard cars may be seen as an issue, with 200 premium cars to pick from there’s always plenty of choice available. And unless you’re a complete die-hard you’ll rarely use the in-car view as it blocks out too much of the track. Consequently the distinction between premium cars and standard cars doesn’t make much difference to any real enjoyment of the game.
The A-Spec part of the game, delivering the main part of the career experience is, like the rest of the game, flawed. It contains moments of great racing, but often it’s left to the player to find them. Most of the races are open to many vehicle types (maybe within a certain country or time period, such as the 80’s Japanese race). As you race your level increases unlocking more events, and credits to buy more cars. But it’s often to easy to either buy a car that’s faster than all the others, or tune up a car that wins easily against all competition. This can lead to a grinding experience, where you’re repeating easily won races just to unlock some of the Special Events. But after a while a new challenge emerges – to take a car into a field where it’s hopelessly off of the leading pace. Doing this and emerging with a hard-fought 7th place always feels infinitely more of an achievement than winning with nearly a lap to spare.
The best racing though is found in the Special Events section. This covers very specific racing types – kart racing, rally events, and the Top Gear test track where identical cars race against each other. All of these provide a very satisfying and challenging racing experience, showing what kind of game GT5 really could have been had a similar level of polish been applied elsewhere. The kart racing in particular is tremendous fun. Unfortunately though the races in the Special Events section are limited to just that section – it would have been nice if it could have been extended to a more varied and controlled A-Spec to provide a wider variety of racing challenges.
I have one personal gripe with racing games in general, and one which GT5 fails to resolve. Why does every AAA racing game have to use the same tracks? I’ve seen the Nurburgring, Tsukuba, Suzuka and Laguna Seca circuits enough times to last a lifetime for now. Racing games seem to have a fascination with these circuits. It needs to stop here! Let’s have some different circuits for a change and consign the constantly recycled tracks to the waste bin of history.
There’s still much more in GT5. The licence mode provides you the opportunity to beat certain challenges (times, number of cars overtaken). There’s a photo mode which allows you to put your current car in an astonishingly detailed environment for that all-important photo opportunity. There’s arcade mode, where you can set up your own local races (although there appears to be little incentive in doing this beyond some split-screen fun). And there are the B-Spec races, where you can orchestrate and direct your own team of drivers to success at the wheel.
So GT5 really is the sum of its parts and more. One moment it is the most perfect racing game ever created, but the next it can suffer from being in its own shadow. With further development and patches it could be the greatest racing game ever made. For now it’s one of the best.