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Gran Turismo 5 Prologue - PS3


Gran Turismo 5 PrologueGran Turismo 5 Prologue

You’re a car nut and you love racing games – why else are you here? So let’s cut to the chase. You need this game, and if you don’t have a PS3 then you’d better raid your piggy bank and get one. It’s that good!

Everything about it is better than its predecessor. Better graphics (understatement of the year), better sounds, better car handling, on-line play, and, some would say best of all, Ferraris. Whilst there’s no denying the exclusion of the Prancing Horse brand in previous versions was a major setback for Playstation gamers the world over, the fact is it’s here now, finally...but more on that later. First things first.


Graphics

The power of PS3 meant that GT5p was always going to look stunning but you really have to see it in action, on a wide-screen HD telly, to fully appreciate it. "Photo realism" is a subjective and emotional term in the video gaming world, especially amongst the PC geeks, but it’s hard to see why anyone would need better visuals than we have here – and the screen shots don’t really do it justice.

Car models are beautifully and faithfully rendered not only on the outside but on the inside too. This means that for the first time in the GT series you can clearly see the drivers of the other cars which just adds that little extra to the realism factor.

For me, the best view to use when driving any racing game is the in-car view; it gives you the best "feel", increased realism and a greater degree of control, and in GT5p it is truly stunning. It’s a full-on driver’s eye view with hands on the wheel and working dials. If you play with a steering wheel, pressing left or right on the d-pad allows you to look out of the relevant side window, useful when you’re alongside someone. This is not something you can do with the standard six-axis controller set-up but you can change it in the options menu and it’s well worth it. This driver’s eye view has been done before in numerous games but in true Japanese style, the Polyphony team has taken an existing idea and tweaked it to perfection. The typical GT attention to detail is there in that when you change gear the driver’s hand moves from the wheel to the gear stick (out of view), but if you’re driving a car with a paddle-shift gearbox, like the R8, the driver’s hands stay firmly on the wheel. Another nice little touch is that as you approach the red line the driver’s hand moves to the gear stick, pre-empting your change. Nice.

The six tracks look fantastic – the tarmac, barriers, bridges, buildings and scenery are all incredibly convincing, especially in the new London course, which makes the experience all the more immersive. Spectators are fully animated in 3D but they can seem a little thin on the ground at times, although as you whizz past them at 150mph you don’t really notice.

The replays are a spectacle, in typical Gran Turismo style. You can change the camera views at will and cycle through all the cars on track. One thing you can’t do though is pause the replay. Nor can you fast-forward or rewind, which would be a useful feature as sometimes you just want to review a particular corner or passing manoeuvre.

One thing still missing in this latest GT incarnation is car damage. Does that matter to you? It doesn’t bother me, but others find it a big issue and say it detracts from the realism and pampers to the "who needs brakes – I’ll use the barriers and other cars to slow me down" brigade. Well, instead of realistic damage modelling GT5p uses a penalties system – but more on that later.

Gran Turismo 5 PrologueGran Turismo 5 PrologueGran Turismo 5 Prologue

Sounds

One thing that always bugged me with GT4 were the engine sounds. Considering they were supposedly recorded from the real cars they were usually a bit disappointing (with a few exceptions). I’ve been in a DB9 and it might sound quiet and refined when driven gently but trust me, when you floor it, the banshee under the bonnet screams into life and assaults your eardrums with the most fantastic V12 wail. I’m happy to report that GT5 is a big step forward in this respect with much more satisfying aural accompaniment.

If you’re lucky enough to have a Dolby digital surround system then you can connect your PS3 via digital optical cable and it becomes even more immersive. If you have a rear engined car most of the engine sound comes out of the rear surround speakers. If your engine’s in the front then it comes from the front speakers. Other cars around you generate sound from the relevant speakers – it really is spot on.

I can’t comment on the in-game music soundtrack as this was the first thing I switched off in the options, but the menus still have the same old jazz style tunes. Dull but inoffensive.


Handling

Now we’re getting to the meat. GT4 was a joy to drive but it was always slightly too easy and forgiving. Whilst you could provoke oversteer when braking and turning in to a bend it was always difficult to induce it with the throttle, even in a rear-wheel-drive V8 powered muscle car and with all the driving aids switched off.

Fear not...GT5p has delivered. Turn off the driving aids, select "professional" mode and you really will be challenged. You need to feed the power on gently - give it too much in a RWD car and you’ll need to catch the back end with a bit of opposite lock and some delicate throttle balancing. This is where a decent wheel/pedals combo (like the Logitech Driving Force Pro) comes into its own as the feedback and the extra degree of precision you get will give you the best chance of taming your steed and become a true (virtual) driving god.

Don’t think you can handle it? Stick to standard mode – it’s less of a challenge but more accessible to more people. Not challenging enough? Once you’ve completed all the standard events you’ll unlock "quick tune" which allows you to fiddle with any number of car settings, one of which is the ABS. Turn that off and...well...that’ll sort the men from the boys. You need to judge your braking perfectly...brake too hard and the wheels will lock up and have your car squirming around or spinning out...it’s hard but feels fantastic and looks great in the replays. However you choose to play it though, it’s a joy.

One annoying thing carried over from previous games is having to use the triangle button to reverse. This might work OK with the six-axis controller, but when you’re using a steering wheel, trying to reverse and steer at the same time is challenging to say the least. Why can’t reverse just be a down-shift from 1st? Come on Polyphony, sort it out.

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue
If you haven’t experienced Gran Turismo with a steering wheel,
frankly, you haven’t experienced Gran Turismo

Cars

I’ll not bore you with a complete car list, and besides you can get that off the official website if you’re interested, but some highlights include; Nissan GTR (07), Ferrari F430, Ferrari 599, Aston Martin DB9, Subaru Impreza WRX STi (07), Dodge Viper SRT10, Ford GT, BMW M3, Lotus Elise and more (60+ cars all together). The only problem is, you have to buy them before you can race them. Bummer.

The difference between the cars’ handling is more pronounced than ever. Fancy a responsive front-drive pocket rocket with a tendency for lift off oversteer? That’ll be the Honda Integra Type-R. How about something with rear-drive and great handling for perfecting those drifts? Try the Elise or F430. Or maybe a beautifully neutral 4-wheel-drive barnstormer like the R8. What ever you’re into, there will be something here to get you excited.

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Game Modes

There are numerous game modes to keep you entertained. Firstly are the "Events".

There are initially three classes of event; C, B and A. Buy your first car (Mine was a Lotus Elise) and cut your teeth in the C class events. The events range from your typical three lap race starting from the back of the grid, through "pass them all in one lap" challenges, to "beat the target lap time in ten minutes". There are always some kind of restrictions on the car you can use such as drive-train, country of manufacture or even down to particular car models. Clear an event by finishing in the top three and you’ll earn some dosh so you can save up to buy your next car. Once you’ve cleared a class you’ll move on to the next and the higher the class the higher the prize money. Most races are relatively easy to clear although to achieve gold in some of them will take hours of patience and the perfect lap – great for the perfectionist, not so great for the average gamer.

Once you complete "A" class you’ll unlock a new "S" class and the "Quick Tune" mode. Here’s where Performance Points come into play. Each race in S class has a performance points limit. You chose the race, chose your car, enter quick tune mode and each tweak you make, such as power output, weight, tyres etc., will increase or decrease your performance points. If your cars pp’s are above the limit you can’t enter the race. This ensures that the cars are fairly closely matched. I say "fairly" as it’s still possible to enter a race with a car that has no chance of winning, even if your pp’s are maxed-out. Still, you’ll suss it out pretty quickly and choose your car more carefully.

One new element in "S" class are the in-race penalties. Hit another car, clout the barrier too hard or take a short cut across the grass and for a number of seconds your car is subject to a reduced speed limit. This sounds OK in theory, and for the most part it is, but on occasions the penalties seem unjustified or harsh – In one race a car in front hit the barrier and bounced into my path and even though I barely touched it I received a 4 second penalty. On another occasion I received a "ramming" penalty for no apparent reason – I had to watch the replay to find out that I had only just grazed door handles with the car alongside (and I’d argue he hit me) but he ended up leaving the track. It doesn’t happen all the time but it’s still a spoiler in an otherwise complete game. Still, it certainly encourages you to avoid contact so perhaps that’s no bad thing.

Next mode up is Arcade. Here you’ll find three types of event; Race, Time Trial and Drift Trial. Race is exactly what you’d expect, and you can adjust the number of laps and the AI of the other cars.

Time Trial is great for those, like me, who like to spend ages driving round and round trying to achieve the perfect lap. Best of all, if you’re signed in to Playstation Network, you can compare your lap times with the rest of the world. You can check the on-line rankings, which are filtered to only show times based on your current track, car and driving mode. If you’re struggling to beat the on-line lap record you can even download the ghost lap of the leader so you can see exactly where you're going wrong. Cool.

Drift Trial is a real challenge. Each bend or series of bends is marked by start and end flags, between which you accrue points based on the speed and angle of your slide. Hit the barriers or leave the track and your points for that section are forfeited. Once the lap is complete your points are totalled and again, if you are on-line, your score is uploaded.

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On-Line

For the first time in the Gran Turismo series you can actually race against other gamers on-line. It seems fairly limited though in that you can’t choose who to race against, you only get to choose the class of race and the track. Joining a race also seems to take ages as it matches other players. Once you’re in though it can be a real challenge with all the argy-bargy you’d expect. It does sometimes suffer from similar, overly harsh penalties as the S class races and other cars can sometimes behave erratically – I guess that’s determined by the players connection speed and the number of people on the network. However, it’s early days and, due to the nature of the PS3, Polyphony can issue updates to solve the issues. Winning races on-line is still a huge challenge though and you earn credits for your trouble.

Conclusion

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue might be a watered-down stop-gap until the real thing arrives next year, and although it has only six tracks and 60+ cars, like all the best racing games you’ll be coming back for more, time and time again, even after you’ve completed everything. It looks fantastic, plays even better and, minor issues aside, it’s worth buying a PS3 for...I did!

Gav.

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