The last Gran Turismo mini-release, HD Concept, ended up being very good. Removed from the typically dismal AI competition and focused on one very good track, Eiger Nordwand, getting the most out of every car proved very enjoyable - especially when you factored in the Drift Trial element, which took GT's exacting race model on a tour of Project Gotham-style power-sliding demands. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, which is set to debut on the Japanese PlayStation 3 Store and at retail in the region on 13th December, appears to be a lot more traditional.
Armed with a choice of a couple of dozen cars, including fancy Evo IX rally cars, TVRs and Ferraris, the Tokyo Game Show demo lets you race round Suzuka, Fuji Speedway and Daytona courses in a field of 16. Fancy pods are set up with GT Racing Wheels, while elsewhere on the stand it's possible to play with the DualShock 3. Although set to a 10-lap race, the demo is time-limited to three minutes, so it was necessary to keep coming back to form any kind of conclusion about the content.
First things first, GT5 Prologue continues Polyphony's fine tradition of terrific graphical fidelity. Although race courses rather than city or off-road tracks, and necessarily a bit sterile as a result, it's hard not to be impressed by the attention to detail in composition throughout. Cars bounce on their suspension as they glance off rumble strips, glinting in the sunlight as reflections dance across their shiny exteriors, and, even with the best part of the 16-car grid on-screen, the PS3 has no difficulty realising the entire affair at a steady 60fps, and in 1080p, as was Sony's pledge.
That said, it's as hard as ever to get worked up about the game's art design. We have seen this level of fidelity in other racing games - most notably Forza Motorsport 2 and the forthcoming Project Gotham Racing 4 - and for that reason there's a definite creeping languor about any attempt to sound excited or enthusiastic about the visuals. You know what to expect: as much realism as Polyphony can squeeze out of the hardware, but not an ounce of personality.
Making up for that somewhat is the increased personality of your racing adversaries. Over the course of a few sequential attempts at Suzuka, it became apparent that they no longer take lightly to basic overtaking manoeuvres and happily move to block. That said, they seem as susceptible as ever to the old ruse of braking late into a corner and banging off their inside to gain position and remain on-track at their expense.
The choice of tracks, too, is a little underwhelming. After the fantastic challenge of Eidur Nordwand, a return to the wide tarmac of Suzuka, Fuji and particularly Daytona undoes a lot of Concept's hard work in building anticipation - certainly in this writer, anyway.
Putting that aside, your handling, in general, sticks to the unforgiving standard set by past GTs; you either brake early and position yourself on the track correctly or you struggle to make up places, or even remain on the course. It's hard to put it into any greater context based on the relatively basic opportunity available at TGS, partly because of its brevity, although that also reflects the fact the full suite of GT5 Prologue's options has yet to be made fully apparent (we do know, of course, that there are five tracks overall, and 50 cars). Really it is the online racing element, with support for 16 players, that is likely to have the greatest impact on its value.
That it will probably have to do, too, because while Sony recently moved to reject claims that the game would launch at a seemingly prohibitive EUR 45 cost, the TGS demo was flanked by boards proclaiming the 13th December date flanked by a 4980 yen price tag. That's GBP 20 or EUR 30, which is what you might expect for a Prologue title, but still a fair whack by our reckoning, particularly given the depth to which Concept extends for free. Expect Sony to bombard us with more reasons to be interested - as well as a European date - as we build toward the game's Japanese release just before Christmas.