Review: GT5 – not the real driving simulator

The last time we seen Grand Turismo was version 4 on the PS2 back in 2005, so 5 years on expectations were high for GT5. Branded as ‘The Real...

The last time we seen Grand Turismo was version 4 on the PS2 back in 2005, so 5 years on expectations were high for GT5. Branded as ‘The Real Driving Simulator’ the game has a lot to live up to.

GT5 UI Interface

Interface
After a Hollywood style intro movie, the game fires into a pretty simple interface. GT Mode (Career), Arcade, Course Maker, GTTV and options. Entering the Career section (where you’ll spend most of your time) is an absolute train wreck of a UI. The interface is messy, cluttered and lacking an natural direction for the user. Now of course over time you learn where you need to go, but it’s anything but intuitive. Only after spending around 5 hours into the A-Spec races did I give the Licences section a try. Given they teach you the skills that you’ll need during races, this should be front and centre.

Also Polyphonic Digital, I’d like a few hours of my life back. I lost them going in and out of the race options to the Tuning Shop to spec my car for the race. Would it have killed you to put a link to this within the race selection area. You can enter the garage, which at least lets you choose from the cars you have. The problem arises when you check your competitors and see they have 100BHP (no option to change to kw) more than your car. To strap on a turbo so you can be competitive, you need to back out 3-4 levels, then enter the Tuning Shop, make the change, back out, then dive 3-4 levels deep to get back to where you were. To make matters worse, things seem to take forever to load, despite having installed the game to the hard drive.

Game Modes
Licences
teach you about how to take corners, stop correctly, overtake and handle different conditions.
A-Spec races are ones you drive and is where you’ll spend most of your time.
B-Spec races lets you play crew chief and direct a hired driver to race.
Online play is mixed bag, sometimes you’ll get a competitive, fair race, but usually not.
Special events are challenges using different vehicles on different tracks. Progressing through the levels will unlock events.
Practice / Arcade is your opportunity to play and experiment.  

Cameras
Camera views include in front of car, in-car (premium cars only), bonnet and behind vehicle. There’s something strange in the way the behind vehicle camera is locked to the car. When turning the vehicle it feels like the left, right axis is incredibly twitchy. The camera should follow the car, but not be locked to the vehicle as this results in feeling like your car is still and the environment is rotating. While traditionally my camera of choice, I felt this view is near unusable. None of the cameras allow for rotating the camera, this means you’ll never see the side of your vehicle unless you watch a replay. Its surprising that GT5 developers spent so long developing the internal cockpits of these vehicles, yet you can’t look around it. You can look rearward and see the back seats / engine depending on your car.

If you can put up with the shadows issue, the in-car camera (where available) does provide for an immersive experience. Moving your couch closer to your HDTV will also help.

Graphics
There’s no doubt in comparison to GT4, this game looks stunning. Environments are very detailed, everything from trees, signage, buildings are all done really well. The stars of the game are undoubtedly the cars, where clearly the most attention has been paid to.

Shadows are a real problem in GT5, outside the car shadows on the road and vehicles are aliased badly, or jaggy. Going inside the car (premium cars only), really does feel like your in the drivers seat, only problem is the shadows that rush over the dashboard from the overhanging trees are heavily pixelated, ruining any immersion. The lighting system in general is pretty good, giving a natural feel coming out of tunnels or driving into the sunset give a realistic feel, but shadows are just broken.

Another promoted feature of the game is varied weather. In reality, most of the races you have are during the day in sunlight. Those rain effected races and special events have a nice touch (with premium cars), that the windscreen wipers actually work. Unfortunately the feeling of driving in the rain is ruined when you realise the rain on your windshield is little more than a heavily pixelated texture animation. It doesn’t build up or disperse different ways based on your speed or lateral GeForces.

The problem for GT5, is that GT4 is not the relevant comparison. A more adequate comparison is Forza 3 on the Xbox 360, especially when these A-list games are meant to be console sellers. While environments in GT5 are slightly improved on Forza, there’s one massive issue – damage. Something I’ve done in every driving game I’ve ever played, is had some fun creating spectacular crashes. Back in 2008 I seen an interview with the creator of GT – Kazunori Yamauchi. He said then that they wouldn’t ship the game with damage unless it could be done realistically. Well we’re 2 years on from that and the game shipped with lots of issues with damage.

Damage
Crashing your car in the first 15-16 levels you will see no damage at all. After that damage increases slightly until apparently being fully unlocked in level 40 (I’m currently level 20). If you don’t think damage matters, your wrong. Without damage, your able to smash into the AI cars when taking turns and coming out ahead with no consequences. I’ve also ridden the rail around a tight turn and been able to come out ahead. These is a very un-realistic and frankly broken part of the game which seriously detracts from the GT5 ‘Real Driving Simulator’ tag. The decision to hold damage till level 40 requires weeks of driving to achieve. Something that ultimately means a lot of GT5 racers will only ever see damage on YouTube videos.

GT5 Vehicle Selection screen

Cars
One of GT5’s big selling points is the scale of the game, with more than 1000 cars its the biggest lineup we’ve seen in a racing game. Problem is.. it doesn’t feel that way. While pretty much every manufacturer is represented, the available cars for each feel really limited. What most of us racers do is search for our own car, or one closest to it, but chances are you won’t find it. Take Mitsubishi for example, there are only 5 cars – iMiev, Evo IV, Evo VI, Evo IX and Evo X. Subaru suffers the same fate, only 5 cars, despite both manufacturer having a long list of vehicles.

Cars are broken down into two categories – Standard and Premium. The 200 Premium cars are done in much higher detailed, have working windscreen wipers, interiors and undercarriages modelled. Only premium cars have deformable panels.

This week Polyphony Digital announced they are going to convert more cars from standard to premium via DLC. Another indicator things shipped before they were really done, despite years of delays.

The Good
This is without a doubt the best racing game available to PS3 owners. It has a great range of tracks, environments and premium cars look great. There’s plenty of different racing modes and road types – Tarmac, Dirt, Snow – Go Karts, Nascar, Road, Rally.
If your froogle enough to save up 10Million, you can even get the Ferrari F1 car.

Not since Mario Kart have I had this much fun on a Go Kart. If your racing this mode, please try it using the first person camera. When you take a corner at blazing speeds and your kart just hooks up, its an awesome feeling. They have nailed the nervous sliding in the tyres, being brave is rewarded.

I think the in-car feeling of riding the bumps is the most realistic of any driving game I’ve played. The reality of flying along a road at 300km/h is that the surface would be bumpy, GT5 lets you feel this. There is a lot to love in this game despite its flaws.

The Bad
Music in the game is terrible. Worst yet, when changing the music genre in settings, it doesn’t hold. When you exit the game and re-enter the music setting returns to the default. When I’m driving I want to have motivating driving music pumping and when I exit to the menus I don’t want to feel like I’m at a sketchy 80’s piano bar.

I mentioned the UI, shadows, damage and texture issues above, they are all serious issues that detract significantly from the overall experience.

Replays – it is ridiculous that you cannot skip through a replay, either forward or backwards. This needs to be fixed, but is unlikely to be.

Course Maker doesn’t let you design courses as the name suggests, but rather select from a set of pre-made courses.

GT TV is a strange tack on part of the game. Its essentially a marketplace for GT to distribute videos, for a price, to racing fans. Personally I didn’t find anything engaging enough to purchase.

No Brakes !! – despite being able to increase the power of a vehicle by 100’s of BHP with modifications, there is no way in GT5 to upgrade your brakes. Its amazing bad that brake upgrades were omitted.

Video (in-game)

Overall
If your into driving games and you already have a PS3, its a no brainer, this is the game for you. If for some reason, in the 5 years after this generation of consoles arrived you still don’t have one, I think Forza 3 on the Xbox 360 is a better game overall. The minor increment on graphics in GT5 don’t make up for all of its flaws.

Interestingly Forza 4 is on its way in 2011, likely to lap GT5 when it ships. It’s all a symptom of the lengthy delays in development for the GT5 project. For those of us who bought GT5: Prologue (also known as extra finance for GT5), there really isn’t a lot that’s changed.

Grand Turismo 5 also supports 3D, like many of you I don’t have access to a 3D TV, so was unable to review that part of the game. Reports online suggest this is a good experience.

While the Top Gear track was something I was really looking forward to in this game, it really doesn’t feature very heavily. This would be improved by providing a list of lap times so you can compare yourself to The Stig.

The last thoughts are that this is a good, solid game, but seriously needs updates and fast. Some of the issues I’ve mentioned may be addressable via an update, but things like the shadow issue I suspect are fundamental to the lighting system and won’t change.

More @ http://eu.gran-turismo.com/au/products/gt5/

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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