Mar 28, 2011

Review: Gran Turismo 5

Gran Turismo 5 by Polyphony Digital, released late november 2010 for PS3 only
This title was rather hard to write the review for. After numerous delays during development and massive hype for the game, portraying it as the ultimate racing game ever my expectations were sky high. Even after getting the game for myself to check it out I have waited a bit before doing the review, to allow for a more objective look. For me it has been a has been a mixed experience. Objectively speaking though ? Darn good game. Me, I was truthfully expecting a bit more.

The game is based around earning credits and levels for winning all kinds of races, events and cups and spending these to expand your car park and upgrade your rides. This game features over 1000 cars! Its quite ridiculous really how may there are, but the drawback to this is that about 800 of these cars are not that well modeled, so called standard cars. They lack interior view also. The rest of them are called premium cars and look absolutely gorgeous, all of them, the attention to detail on them is very impressive. You'll notice right away though that the difference between the two types of car models are rather big, and I had expected the standard cars to be better made. The premium cars are great, but the rest look like they are mostly directly copy-pasted from GT1-4. There is also a very noticeable difference in graphic quality when it comes to the tracks you race on themselves. It would seem the developers went for giving the most famous tracks all their attention making for some rather impressive visuals indeed, but at the cost of all the others which are merely okay. One particular thing I noticed though is how poorly shaders and shadows are handled. Often especially the shadows around the cars can look plain bad, I had expected this to be top notch.

The audio is also a mixed experience. The engine sounds are amazing, almost all the cars have distinct engine sounds you also very clearly hear the extra kick in the rev after installing car engine upgrades or turbochargers and such. It really is a joy to listen to. In stark contrast to this is the sound you'll hear the first, second and every time your car makes contact with anything, be it crashing full speed into a wall, other cars or trading paint with them. All these things have just one sound, a loud BONK. Imagine a guy hitting a large plastic bottle. Its an awful sound, I really wonder what the heck went wrong, its such a joke. It doesnt even sound like anything remotely similar to any sound a car would make coming into contact with anything, its simply amazing they put this into the game.  Regarding the game music, most of it didn't do much for me. It is a mix of  classic themes used largely when navigating the menues that work well enough, and the race music is what I'd call a mix of light pop music, very uninspiring. It didn't matter that much to me though, I soon turned the music down anyway to hear the engines better. If I could just turn off the damn BONK sound....

Back to the game play itself then. There are a wide variety of modes to play in, and first and foremost is the A-Spec which is your career mode, with single races and cups spread across different levels of skill and car requirements. I found this game mode the most fun compared to the rest, but the difficulty varies wildly. Most races you can just take any car that meets the requirements, tune it up a bit and leave all opposition in the dust off the starting grid. Other races require you to use certain cars that can be damned hard to get hold of. In many of the classic car races especially this becomes a problem, but the cars that fit specific races can also vary wildly in performance, making it sometimes very hard to get not only the required car class, but also one that will actually do well. On the whole though, I could appreciate the wide variety of races for anything from classic cars of various types and pickups up to supercars.

Following this mode is B-Spec which offers the same, except you act as manager instead. Here the AI drives your car, but the player instead directs the driver on how agressive pace he should keep. An interesting idea, but all you really do is tell your driver to increase pace or slow down, based on how "hot" he is getting. When your driver has other cars near and there is overtaking going on, it makes him lose his temper more easily which leads to him making more mistakes, so really the only thing you're doing is watching how agitated he is getting and adjust him accordingly. I like that B-Spec is in the game, its not a bad idea, but I think they should have done a lot more with it as it really isn't that involving for the player, and bottom line it gets rather boring, pretty fast.

There are other races and game modes as well. There are online races of course, and time specific seasonal events, some with online leaderboards which is a very good idea. There is also a very extensive Licences system where you learn the finer details of driving well in races like proper braking, cornering, drifting etcetc. Passing these licences are relatively easy, but getting gold medals in all of them is nightmarishly difficult and require perfect understanding and timing when handling your car. This is all excellent stuff in my book. Finally there are special events which feature things like special races on the Top Gear track, NASCAR driving school and some rather awesome rally events, and more.

In short, game play wise there is a staggering amount of content to enjoy in Gran Turismo 5, easily the most full featured racing game I've played. If you want to get everything out of this game you are in for a long and mostly very enjoyable ride.

There is one more thing I need to bring up that for me is another drawback of the game, and that is the presentation itself of the game through the menu system and some other quirks. I wish the interface would have more functions to help you find the cars you need for the events you want to take part in on the car market. As it is now, unless you have a very good memory you will need to write down specific models of cars allowed in some races before heading to the car dealerships to search. The dealerships could also use more options for sorting and searching cars. Its an inconvenience, admittedly not a huge one but I at least got rather annoyed with how cumbersome it could be to find the right cars needed.  Next is the menues themselves, they are a mess to navigate with buttons all over the place in glorious chaos. I get that they GT mode menu was designed to look fresh and colourful but it should have been a lot cleaner laid out. Also, the load screens... There is loading screens for just about any single menu item you enter, sometimes rather long ones, and then when done ? Just as long load screens to get back to the previous pages. Annoying, this should have been done so much better! The load screens before races are long as well, but that I can live with as I understand there is a huge amount of data to load for them, but the menues?? This may seem like a minor gripe, and perhaps it is, but when I'm playing the game it throws me off a bit with how much time it takes to do everything thats not actually in the races.

So, I think thats about me summed up for my review of Gran Turismo 5. I had as admitted huge expectations. The game itself was a king size mixed bag. It does almost everything right when it comes to the actual racing action, its darn fun to play. It is also extremely full featured, there is so much content here I don't think I will ever truly finish it, and that's totally awesome. But it also has its number of flaws. Some odd design choices, poorly implemented B-Spec mode, very variable quality on the cars, tracks and audio all drag my rating down a bit.

As objectively as possible then, from me this game recieves a 9 / 10, just barely. What you get with this game is so much, and the love for racing shines through in every aspect of the game from the developers. If all of those minor gripes I've touched on in this review were improved on before the game shipped, this would have been a 10. This may seem a high score considering my negative points of the review, but really, some of it is just nitpicking, the game is great, and if you haven't already got it, and want a feature rich, deep and fun to play car racing/"simulator" (still won't call this game a full fledged simulator), then go pick up Gran Turismo 5!

As always, I would love to hear comments about my reviews! It doesn't matter if it was a great read or if it made your face red with rage, I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to reply with any comments or questions you might have.

Official launch trailer:


Anonymous said...

Hi Vads.. what level did you reach when you wrote your review? Just curious.
B Spec grew on me a lot.. especially once you get to the Extreme series and have to figure out a pit strategy - in fact, after a while, I actually found it more fun that driving in A Spec :o If the race is too easy then yes, B Spec is boring, but believe me, as you progress, then it can be difficult. I think it could have been good to have some audio on B Spec between manager and driver.. they could have made that quite fun by adding replies from the driver depending on his mood and your instructions :)
I agree that the menu system is a nightmare tho - so annoying! Another thing that annoyed me is that often, when you win a race you get a car that you actually needed to use for that race. Would have been better to give prizes for the next race maybe rather than the one you have already won.
Licences also unlock special events and give cars as rewards. Certainly you get a lot of game time for the money. I would recommend this game to anyone who is remotely interested in racing games. Need for Speed just fades next to this one!

Vads said...

I've still to try the top level races, and I think I was mid-20 something A spec and 15 or so B-spec at time of writing.

I actually found B-spec harder than A-spec, mostly because the AI drivers tend to follow a set path very closely and so the whole race often becomes just one long file, and overtaking is often difficult even when you have a wastly more powerful car than the opposition for some reason

Vads said...

I put in a marathon session to level my B-spec up to extreme series to see the changes there. I have to say, so far, it seems like just change from the many hours needed to get there.

Stuff that IMO could have made B-spec good:

- Drivers have more personality ie agressive, cowardly, overcondident, hot/coolheaded, vindictive, even destructive. At the moment all drivers follow the same A4 pattern that kinda got boring even after amateur series.
- Pit strategies should have been in from the start. Its not a half bad implementation on its own and its a shame you have to play 9.5/10 of the game before it is even introduced.
-More administration required. B-spec could, with a bit more thought been a full fledged game on its own with hiring pit workers, training/pit equipment, settling hiring deals for drivers, dealing with theirs fame/shame, etc.
- Better race AI. I mentioned this before but it is REALLY getting to me, the way all cars tend to end up in a nice little long file during races, because all the drivers above all stick to the ideal driving line. This is okay for A-spec, but in B-spec it gets damn boring even after the first race.

Vads said...

And actually, despite how awesome GT5 is, the only reason I have for recommending it over Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, is the depth and longevity of GT5. Even when driving a Bugatti Veyron 16:4 or Pagani Zonda, or any other imaginative concept car in its league on GT5, the sheer intensity of racing still falls short (just slightly tho) to Hot Pursuit. They are both awesome games. GT5 does the sim part reasonably well, HP does the racing damn well.

Possibly unrelated:
I really can't wait to play NFS: Shift 2