After five years of development, Gran Turismo 5 is finally here. For three days we've ignored family, friends and hygiene test driving it to see if it's the most realistic racing game ever. It is. But should you buy it?
The vehicle graphics of GT5 are amazing on any of the 200 "premium" cars that are new to the game (on the 800 cars ported over from previous games in the franchise? Not as much). But the star here isn't the visuals. It's the driving dynamics, where the rubber meets the road. Moreso for Gran Turismo 5 as the franchise has long prided itself in its claim of having the most true-to-life driving dynamics of any other game on the market. Given how long GT5's been in development — five years — the gaming public's got some high expectations.
Level up quickly in the beginning of the game by doing the "Special Challenges" as they dispense experience and credits faster than the Spec races.
The expectation bar's been met. Polyphony Digital's built a driving game with the most accurate individual vehicle driving dynamics mapping I've ever seen. That's right, Gran Turismo 5 is the most life-like racing game ever.
Go ahead, dump the clutch in a Camaro SS for a devastatingly stable tire-shredding burnout. Skitter around a corner like an excited puppy dog in a Mini Cooper S. Take off in a GT-R with launch control. It all feels spot on.
And when I mean spot on, I mean it causes flashbacks. I took a level left-hand corner hard in the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 (no driving aids on other than ABS brakes) on a city course and felt the same sloppy steer-with-your-right-foot cornering I last remembered feeling driving around a Michigan left on Metro Detroit's Woodward Avenue. Entering the corner a touch too fast, I actually felt, through the controller, the rear end shift out from underneath me and start to slip sideways. Applying throttle while exiting the corner corrected the muscle car's big back end just like in real life.
But, for a real treat — and after eight hours of continuous play turned my thumbs raw and blistered from numb-on/off button-controlled acceleration and braking — I decided to pair the game with a Logitech Driving Force Gran Turismo Racing Wheel provided for me by Sony's PR team. The result was a driving experience that let me feel a car's weight, suspension set-up, and road surface in a way I've never felt before in anything but a multi-million dollar automaker simulator. The wheel changed the entire feel of the game, sucking me in for another 12 hours of gameplay.
Having trouble with the Top Gear Test Track Samba bus race? Try ignoring the racing line and follow these rules: Tap the brake at Wilson. Take the inside at Chicago and tap the brake, Take the inside at the hammerhead and tap the brake, then cut the corner when you start turning right, then flat out until you hit Bacharach start outside of the racing line, don't cut the inside so much that you go off the track, but come close, and just tap the brakes, then let off the gas a bit through Gambon, and across the line!
Remember if you hit another bus or try to pull a Tom Cruise you'll be disqualified. You are allowed to sideswipe buses as long they are turning into you also.
After a few tries you should be able to pass them all in one lap.
So, after a Thanksgiving Day 20-hour marathon gaming session, I can conclusively say that the phenomenally realistic driving dynamics and true-to-life individual vehicular profiles make Gran Turismo 5 a must-drive. The game's so real you'll cringe at the thought of trading paint with the other cars on the track.
That's a good thing because other areas weren't quite as straight-forward and realistic — like vehicle "interaction" — an odd puppy for GT5. You don't start the game in GT mode with vehicle damage unlocked. We've been told once you reach level 20 (we're only at level 11), you'll get access to realistic damage including mechanical problems and then, when you reach level 40, you get access to simulation-level damage where parts can fall off and cars can be completely totaled. But, for the first few levels you get a bumper car-like effect that's almost comical. Instead of wrecking, you just sort of smack into each other and bounce off. It doesn't matter whether the car you're driving is one of the 200 "premium" cars or one of the 800 "standard" ones.
But, damage works from the start of the game in Arcade mode. So, after smacking the front end of a Camaro into the rear bumper of my friend's Camaro in front of me in two player mode, I was satisfied to see a crumpled plastic rear end after we disengaged. Sadly, however, after shifting my camera view, I saw my front end was none the worse for wear. So it doesn't seem to be quite perfected.
To get the Penniless trophy, buy a Dhiatsu Copen Active Top and then go to the "Gran Turismo" Dealership and buy a Go-Kart. MAKE SURE you do this before buying any cars or doing any races, otherwise it will probably be a lot harder getting to zero credits.
Still, there's weird times where vehicle interaction works realistically — even before you've unlocked damage mode. For instance, while finishing the second level of the go-karting special event (go-karting, by the way, is far and away the most enjoyable part of the game — with the exception perhaps of Schwimmwagen and Kubelwagen racing), I found that when I smacked another kart in between its wheels with my driver's side front wheel well, it got snagged on the side of it until I braked to break away. Then, just like what I've had happen to me when I've been karting in real life, my opponent spun away in front of me, sending me spinning in the opposite direction.
Nagging problems with vehicle interaction are one thing, but given the time Polyphony Digital's had to put together this game, you'd think they'd have put together a better process for upgrading vehicles. For starters, Gran Turismo 5's menus are like the love child of a first generation iDrive and Jaguar's last-gen non-touchscreen interface — it's a terribly frustrating combination of being ridiculously time-intensive to navigate and completely unhelpful. But I'll let our friends at Kotaku smack them around for those type of user interface complaints.
When you've finished your License tests, turn off "User BGM" and disable "Race BGM" in order to save precious RAM bandwith. Trust us, Gran Turismo 5 needs it.
Instead, let's focus on how realistic it is to upgrade and maintain your cars. To begin with, the 800 "standard" cars — the vehicles ported over from the last generation of Gran Turismo — can't change rims or some body parts.
Although that's silly, there's a more glaring issue we've found with the upgrade function that affects both "standard" and "premium" cars — the ability to upgrade brakes is conspicuously absent. That's right, you can't swap in a set of Brembos or super size them.
The oil change glitch is still present.
When you buy a brand-new car, IMMEDIATELY take it to the shop and get the oil changed. It's only 250 credits, and you can get a significant power bump—on an Audi R8 5.2 FSI it's around 30HP, but it'll be different with each car.
And speaking of where the rubber meets the road, there's also a lack of brands on tires. No Conti SportContacts, no Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s. Instead you're given three options — Comfort, Sports or Racing tires. While that's better than the old N, S and R naming for tire upgrades from the rest of the Gran Turismo franchise, it's still a far cry from realistic.
Still, these are somewhat minor issues given the massive addition of functions available once you unlock the more simulator-like option levels. You can choose a "fuel/tire depletion" mode that allows you to actually run out of gas and burn through your tires. There's a repair shop that's separate from the upgrade store that does everything from car washes all the way up to engine rebuilds and body work.
So what's the verdict? Three days in — and with many more days left to go — I have to say that while Gran Turismo 5's driving dynamics are better than any other racing game on the market, Forza Motorsport 3's nipping closely at its heels*. And given some of the latter's better (and more clearly labeled) vehicular upgrade options, smoother interaction with AI vehicles, and GT5's installation "challenges" (like a 133 MB required update to make multiplayer mode somewhat usable), Forza Motorsport 3 provides a much more compelling option for a car enthusiast looking to jump into a realistic and entertaining video racing game.
But, if you want to lose yourself for days in the most utterly realistic yet overly-complex driving game ever, pausing only to defecate, urinate, sleep and eat (in no particular order), buy Gran Turismo 5.
Or, do what I did. Buy both.
*Full Disclosure: There's been one Jalopnik car pack for FM3 and one more on the way. But that doesn't mean we're biased. We'd love a GT5 car pack as well. Apparently Kazunori Yamauchi, GT5's cultish scion, said he'd like to see one happen too.
Note: Thank you to our readers who provided us with tips in Wednesday night's Gran Turismo 5 Open Thread and here in the comments of this post. We've peppered some of them in the sidebar. We hope they help.