Gran Turismo 5 Review

By Darryl Kaye on December 1, 2010

Out of all the PlayStation brands, Gran Turismo is arguably the most celebrated and for fans, the wait for Gran Turismo 5 has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Every time they thought they game might be within their reach, their hopes were dashed and its a cycle that has caused the wait between Gran Turismo 4 and 5 to be around 5 years long. The wait is now over though, and Gran Turismo 5 is here, but the wait hasn't necessarily been worth it.

As with Gran Turismo games in the past, the main bulk of your time will be spent in the single player GT Mode. Here, you'll undertake the licences, build up your collection of cars and race in a multitude of events as both the main driver (A-Spec) and as the driver's manager (B-Spec).

It's difficult to quantify just how much time you can spend doing all of this, as there's so much to do. Just doing the licences and trying to attain gold trophies on each one will set you back more than a few hours. And trying to get that gold or beat your previous time is rather addictive, especially if you're only a tiny amount of time away from your goal.

Almost everything is now dictated by your level. This allows the game to gently ease you into the game, unlike previous titles where you could tackle the hardest events straight away. Even the licence tests have this same philosophy, as for example, you can't do the International-A Licence until you've attained level 12. It gives the game a nice sense of progression, as you'll be awarded experience points for almost everything you do and there are nice special events which award tons of experience and money, but are one time only gigs.

Said special events are where the game's new licences come into play. Here, you'll be able to tackle the Top Gear track in VW Camper Vans, take part in Karting races, try to mirror WRC legend Sebastien Loeb or try to master NASCAR, courtesy of Jeff Gordon's tutilage. There are other events here too though, like the Tour of Italy and the AMG Challenge and each of the events generally has different difficulties to check out.

Anyway, enough about the events and on to the cars. The range of cars in Gran Turismo 5 is un-matched. There is something for every taste, ranging from top of the range sports cars, to family sedans, old classics and prototypes. If you can't find a car you like, then you probably shouldn't be playing Gran Turismo in the first place.

What's quite disappointing about this, is that it seems to have come at a cost. Gran Turismo has always been synonymous with high-end graphics and that doesn't seem to hold true in Gran Turismo 5. Only a fraction of the cars have been given the loving car that fans would have expected and these appear in the form of "premium" cars. These cars feature sharper models, a bit more in the form of damage mutations and in-car views. The "standard" cars will likely have no damage at all and won't feature as crisp models or an in-car view.

This isn't so bad, but the decisions that have been made as to which cars are in which category can be quite odd. For example, why did the developers decide to make a 1944 Kubelwagen typ82 a "premium" car, while a Mitsubishi GTO is a "standard". Did they think more people would appreciate driving around appreciating the in-car view at a top speed of 50mph in an open top car from World War II?

Niggling issues aside, one thing that Gran Turismo 5 nails is the handling. It just can't be matched by any other title on the market. Switching from car to car, you will instantly feel the difference, as well as the very noticable changes that come from handling cars with different engine positions.

The special events are great for highlighting the sheer brilliance of the physics too, as the NASCAR events are far different from most normal races and when using the Karts on normal tracks, you'll fly around everywhere as they react to the smallest imperfection in the road surface. There's also an event where you have to drive a Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640 around the streets of Tuscany, which is not the easiest of tasks.

You'll also notice this when modifying cars. If you take a car that boasts around 500BHP unmodified, and boost it up to closer to 800BHP, you'll probably find that it just can't cope and will perform worse after the modifications are made. It might be faster in terms of engine capacity, but it comes at a cost and without adjusting the finer details you will struggle to get the best out of the car. It means you can't simply look at your prospective oppoents for a race, buy a car with high BHP and expect to win.

Combining the two features, the events and the cars, there is one aspect that's quite annoying - actually finding cars that will suit the events. A lot of the earlier events are very specific and this feels counter productive. For example, one of them is for European cars made in the 60s and 70s, but finding a car that's good enough for this isn't an easy matter. And this is the same for a lot of the earlier events, hardly any of them are open to any car. This was probably done to stop manipulation, but it makes progression in the A-Spec mode quite difficult as many of the events are also restricted by level.

One of the biggest problems with the experience in Gran Turismo 5 doesn't come from any of the aforementioned though, it comes from the AI employed on the opposition drivers. It's absolutely terrible. Despite there being up to 15 opponents in some races, they will all follow the "perfect" path and will do whatever it takes to follow it. They have absolutely no self perservation and if you're in their way, they will take you out. Their braking patterns can often be quite erratic too and when you lose a race because you bumped in an AI when it wasn't really even your fault, it can be very annoying.

It's also very frustrating to think that the same rules don't apply to the AI. They will ram you like there's no tomorrow, they will clip your tail so you spin out and they will barge you from the side - it's not very accurate to a real-life race at all with regards to the frequency and ferocity of the actions they perform.

To round out the GT Mode, there's also B-Spec, which is rather strange. You can create a driver and your job is then to manage them. They can go through the same races you can in A-Spec and drive all the cars that you own, but they are the ones who do the races, you just watch and give them directions. It's all rather limited really as you only have four commands, but the idea is that it simulates what professional racing drivers might be feeling in certain situations. Like, if they're struggling to overtake someone they might get aggitated, or if they're leading by a whisker on the final lap, they may be prone to make a mistake. It's your job to manage this and guide them. The problem is, they will often just do ok without any guidance at all. So you can just let it go on auto-pilot, go and make a drink, come back and carry on as if nothing ever happened.

As previously mentioned, the graphics in Gran Turismo 5 aren't up to the standard that's expected, but that's probably because the bar has been set so high. It's the first Gran Turismo title on a next-gen system and given the sheer amount of content, it's easy to understand why this has happened. Perhaps it would have been better to have less cars and less tracks, but have them at a higher graphical standard. Some of the tracks do look great and the same applies to the cars, but it's the ones that aren't up to scratch that perhaps dampen the experience.

The soundtrack is also a rather mixed bag. There are a ton of tracks, including the classic Gran Turismo jazz tracks, but this time they don't feel as though they fit as well. The in-game licenced music also doesn't feel that inspired and many will probably use the ability to import their own music, instead of putting up with the stock option.

Outside of the GT Mode, Gran Turismo 5 does offer quite a lot. There's a track creation mode and there's the Arcade Mode where you can take on numerous tracks for fun, and use some of the best cars in the game almost instantly. You can also check out Time Trial and Drift Modes here, and there's also the option to take part in some split-screen action.

If you want to take on more humans though, you can go online. But the system isn't the best. If you want to play with some friends, there's a lobby system which can become a bit of a mess. Anyone can change the options, not just the host, and coordinating everything can be a bit of a mission. The races with random people aren't that much better either and it's very clear that the single-player component of the game is the core feature and multiplayer is just there for people who want it. It's functional, it works, but it doesn't offer anything more. It's not necessarily a bad decision either, especially given the depth of the single-player campaign.

Final Thoughts

Gran Turismo 5 is without a doubt, the best simulation driving experience ever produced. It features a ton of cars, a ton of tracks and the relationship between the two is outstanding. However, there's a big difference between simulation driving and race simulation and it's here that Gran Turismo 5 starts to fail. The AI is terrible and it rather ruins that aspect of the game. The graphics are also not up to the standard that's expected, but that's probably because they've tried to do too much. All in all, Gran Turismo 5 is still a beast of a game and what it fails to achieve certainly shouldn't gloss over what it does achieve. It's a leading light in the world of simulation driving games.

By far, the best simulation racing experience ever made
More than enough content to keep you occupied
Great selection of cars and tracks
Poor racing simulation
Some of the car models just aren't up to scratch
Older tracks look sub-par
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