Simply holding Gran Turismo 5 in my hands, I felt a sense of surprise. It was almost like a dream. After so, so, so, many delays, the game had actually been released. But could it live up to the hype? It is difficult to judge a title that has so much anticipation. Not everyone is in love with the Gran Turismo series and its incredibly complex options, but to those that are, it is a passionate love that demands perfection. So can GT5—or any game for that matter—live up to the hype that this game has created? Well, yes and no.
Gran Turismo 5 is competing against the expectations that only inched higher with every delay. The series isn’t for everyone, but no matter who you are, it is hard to see the games and not realize the care that goes into the series. You can rarely find a fault with the games in terms of technical acumen, and that is part of why the series has managed to retain its loyal following. Despite the grumblings that fans let loose out of frustration, no one was concerned for the finished product. With each delay, although it was frustrating, it simply meant that another level of polish was being added, and the longer the delays, the more the game would rock our faces clean off our heads.
I honestly cannot believe I am saying this, but ironically, GT5 could have used a bit more time in development.
It is hard not to play this game and overlook all the amazing features and details — and there are many — to then focus on the few problems that plague the game. They aren’t major problems, but they are consistent and notable. With the rest of the game being so amazing, the flaws show up like black smudges on a white wall. Still, for the most part, if you overlook the hype, the long delays, and just look at this game for what it is, you will be left with a stunningly complete and full driving game that will fill the hours for months, possibly years to come.
What’s in the garage?
If you have played the previous Gran Turismo titles, then you know what to expect, and I mean that in a good way. The previous games were all classics, and GT5 adds to that without compromising what worked. The game feels like the natural evolution of the series, retaining the best things and adding features that make sense to add. There are over 1,000 cars to choose from, 26 locations, and 71 tracks. There is also a track creator to keep the options going, and you can almost certainly expect to see more and more DLC packs that contain new maps and cars. If you were trapped on a desert island with only this game to play (assuming you have a TV, a PS3, power, etc… don’t think about it too much), odds are you will be stepping onto the rescue ship long before you manage to play and customize every car. The options are extreme, to say the least.
The customizable options are just as overwhelming as they have ever been, and you can spend hours looking at ways to improve your rides. The thing that really sets the Gran Turismo series apart is the detail in the cars, and that includes the balance you need to find with the customization options. Simply buying the most expensive upgrades may not be the best option for a car, and it will definitely not be the best strategy on certain tracks. You won’t want to build a car for speed when it is a curvy track, nor would you want certain types of suspensions on certain types of terrain. This is what has always been the best, and at the same time, most alienating feature of the Gran Turismo series. If you are a fan of racing, if you have enjoyed the series, or if you just want something that will make you think, the upgrade options are a massive selling point for this game. If you are the type of gamer who thinks the amount of plays you can choose in Madden is overwhelming, this clearly is not going to be the game for you.
A new addition to the series is experience. As you complete events, you earn credits that can be spent on cars and upgrades, but you also earn experience that helps you level up. As your level increases, you unlock the option to compete in new events and buy cars that are unlocked by reaching predetermined levels. It feels like a natural progression for the series, and should keep people pushing through races in order to improve and unlock the car of their dreams. In many ways, it is a similar setup to Call of Duty: Black Ops’ multiplayer leveling, where you purchase perks and weapons once you have hit the necessary level to unlock them. As with Black Ops, the experience system combined with credits makes sure that you always have plenty of options on what you want to use, while it also keeps you striving for more.
License tests make a return as well, and these are essentially mini-games that earn you experience and credits, but they can also act as a teaching aide to understand the physics of the game. Most of the early license tests are easy to pass, but difficult to dominate, so you might find yourself almost ignoring the campaign at times to participate in the license tests, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Events also play a part in making the Gran Turismo experience ridiculously deep, and each of these special races offers something totally different and unexpected. Some are just races you won’t see anywhere else, but there is usually a catch. The first event you unlock is a go-kart race, while the second is a Nascar driving school taught by Jeff Gordon. As you reach higher levels, you can return to these events to try out the higher level challenges in the same category, as well as unlock new events that all have a hook of their own. One of these is the “Top Gear” test track, which fans of the UK motoring show will love — especially when you begin the first race and find yourself behind the wheel of a classic VW bus, racing against other buses. It is fittingly bizarre. These events act almost as a palette cleanser before returning to the actual campaign.
As for the full race events, the series brings back the A-Spec and B-Spec races. A-Spec puts you behind the wheel to race, while the B-Spec has you act as a crew chief for your driver. As the chief you issue simple commands such as “overtake”, increase the pace”, and the like. As your racer gains experience, they become better, but their temperament also plays a part. If they are hot headed, that might benefit them when they need to be aggressive, but hurt them when they are in heated situations. Both the A and B Spec races earn you credits, but the experience you earn is specific to that gametype.
The A-Spec is the bread and butter of GT5, and where you will be spending the majority of your time. It is the true heart of the game, and it is immense. As you begin you are offered the choice of what level you want to play, ranging from beginner on up. There are five difficulty levels in total, each with their own types of races. All levels will have a set number of races that are just about winning, but once you polish those off you will be treated to a huge selection of races that require specific conditions, including certain types of cars, cars of a certain year, particular steering setups, and many more. To complete all of them will require you to purchase several cars just to enter, so you will likely bounce between difficulty settings throughout the game.
If you are tired of racing the AI, it is an easy matter to jump online and find a race to either join or watch. The online selection is going to be interesting to see mature. If you want to simply bring out your best car and race, then you will easily find a game. But the deeper you look, the more you will find online. This online model is straightforward enough — find a lobby and join a race to win — but it is also something that will keep this game fresh and compelling when the AI begins to frustrate you (more on that in a bit). The online is streamlined and easy to use, and it is only going to improve as players get used to the racing and begin to customize cars for certain tracks and races. Be warned though, the longer the online thrives, the more difficult it will be to just jump in, as the learning curve will grow increasingly steeper.
GT5 also offers an arcade mode, which is an easy way to just race, and it also gives you an opportunity to play with cars that you might not unlock for a long time. You can play one or two players, and these are typically races that are unrelated to the campaign.
One of the more interesting, although perhaps less important things you will find on the main menu is “Gran Turismo TV”. This is a collection of real videos that range from car shows, to clips of actual races. It isn’t a major part of the game, and you could play through forever without ever clicking on the icon, but the important thing is what it represents. Gran Turismo 5 is a complete package for driving fans. It is immersive in a way that is hard to explain, and the little touches like the video clips just project a sense of class and care that you won’t find in many games. This game is made to impress, and it truly does. Most of the time.