It's a more impressive achievement than 1000 cars; this one section of GT5 communicates the spirit of motor racing in all its forms better than any other game. The events are testing but well balanced, and they reward you handsomely with experience and money, which in turn means that GT Mode's grind is greatly alleviated until the later stages.
If that weren't enough, there are half a dozen other variations and crazy interactive trinkets. Take HD snaps of your cars in picturesque locales with Photo Travel. Indulge your armchair driver with B-spec mode, where you level up and instruct AI drivers (not really sophisticated enough to propel you through a full-length mirror career). Arcade Mode has a compelling Drift Trial option, and there's the semi-automatic Course Maker (detailed by Digital Foundry), more toy than tool, but still very impressive.
Steep yourself in the world of cars through the HD video content available to download on Gran Turismo TV, or by poring over the collectible and tradeable photographs in the Museum. Indulge your tech lust with 3D graphics – oddly better in replay mode than during gameplay – or by using the PlayStation Eye head tracking. The latter is sadly too jerky to use reliably, which is a shame, because actually looking round a corner when using the interior view is not just an immersive party-trick, it's useful.
This isn't feature creep, it's an explosion in a feature factory. Most of it is just diverting or, at best, specific in its appeal. Would we trade it all for a year off GT5's development time? No – it turns an accomplished racing game into a charmingly eccentric hobbyist lab, and offers plenty of options for downtime. Would we trade it for a decent online mode? Well, that's a tougher question.
Delivered in an eleventh-hour patch, online multiplayer is not wholly bad. There are neat racing ideas, like shuffle races that dole out cars semi-randomly and a free run phase with a 'track day' feel before the race itself (not that anyone's using that, currently). The "community" presentation within GT Mode, focusing on your friends' profiles, is great; you can gift cars and items, chat on messageboards and follow each other's progress here, as well as start private races. Racing is highly customisable and it will suit a consenting group of friends very well.
As a public game, though, GT5 needs a lot of work. There's no matchmaking at all, so you have to browse a list of rooms and pick one, or enter an alphanumeric code, as if you're playing a PC game and it's 1999. The netcode is unstable; after a long pause I started one race alone on the grid, with the rest of the field halfway around the track already.
The game's lack of a car classification system (less of an issue in the offline GT Mode than it used to be) means an unruly free-for-all that will soon stamp out the use of anything other than thousand-horse monsters. There's no persistence or reward for participating in multiplayer: no experience, no money, no ranking, not even points carried over consecutive races.
Polyphony was left behind by online gaming long ago, and it has a lot of catching up to do. The gulf to its upstart rival on the other console is wide indeed. Forza's marketplace for cars, paint jobs and tuning might not be GT's bag, but its brisk matchmaking and comprehensive time-trial leaderboards should be standard-issue in this genre. They're nowhere to be seen.
Half-formed multiplayer is easily the most damaging symptom of Gran Turismo 5's long gestation in Kazunori Yamauchi's parallel universe, and thankfully it's one that can be fixed. Dreamed up five years ago and served up yesterday, it's an off-kilter vision of the future, a cumbersome game with odd priorities, certainly. But it's equally a game that heads off in unexpected and exciting directions, makes a few notable improvements, and overflows with love – for cars, for games technology and for its own mad pursuit. It's good that Gran Turismo's been away so long, because it's all the better to have it back.