After more than five years of development time, countless rumored, announced and later postponed release dates, Gran Turismo 5 has finally been released in time for this years’ holiday season.
Does the self-proclaimed real driving simulator offer something interesting for fans of realistic driving or is the Playstation 3 racer yet another mass-market console title relying solely on flashy graphics? Read the review below to find out!
When the first Gran Turismo title was released for the Playstation back in 1997, creator Kazunori Yamauchi single-handedly created a sub-genre among racing games, inventing the concept of a massive car-collecting title.
Gran Turismo combined road with racing cars, fantasy with real life tracks, always paired up with cutting edge graphics and polished presentation, making it the poster-child of racing games. The result is an amazing reach as Gran Turismo is by far the most popular racing title, outselling everything else on the market.
Even though the series has always been (and most likely will be) confined to the Playstation platform, GT titles have regularly outsold even multi-platform titles, Gran Turismo 3 being the most successful with almost 15 million copies sold. The commercial success has resulted in several competitors making use of the same concept, some of which like Sega GT were discontinued while others like Forza Motorsport struggle to find the same success as the GT series.
The series’ last released title, Gran Turismo 4, brought over 700 cars to the Playstation 2, squeezing the absolute maximum of graphics out of the aging platform. When first specs of the much more powerful Playstation 3 were announced, the Gran Turismo series was thought of to make big gains on the new platform.
It seemed like Polyphony Digital struggled to find a working concept on how to use all the new possibilities though. Countless plans were announced and later ditched, ranging from a quickly-converted GT4 that would be available in time for the Playstation 3 launch, to continued updates for Gran Turismo 5 prologue to a heavily online-based concept that would allow players to buy cars & tracks from an online marketplace.
In the end, Yamauchi and his crew opted to create a title that follows the classical Gran Turismo concept, resulting in GT5 as it is now available.
Gran Turismo 5 features 1031 cars from 97 manufacturers, topping both the numbers of its successor and its closest competitor Forza Motorsport 3.
When looking a little closer, you´ll quickly realize that this impressive number is somewhat of a trick as only around 200 cars are brand new while over 800 have been converted from Gran Turismo 4. GT5 calls this concept Premium & Standard: While the 200 Premium cars come with all the details you´ll expect nowadays such as detailed damage, modeled cockpits and high-quality textures, the standard cars lack all these features.
The creators seem to be aware of the huge quality gap between the two groups of cars. While the premium cars are proudly shown off in the car dealerships and the photo travel mode, the standard cars are somewhat hidden in the game. Most players will only encounter them on-track as they make up a large chunk of the competition in career mode races.
Buying the standards is only possible via the used car dealership that works like classifieds in a paper. Only a handful of cars are available one at a time, it is not possible to pick one of the 800 standard cars directly and buy it – You have to wait for it to become available.
Combining this with the lacking quality makes the Standard cars somewhat unattractive, the title makes it very easy to completely ignore them though as players are almost never forced to drive a standard car.
The title’s car list has been the subject of much discussion and when looking a the raw numbers, it becomes obvious that Polyphony Digital favors cars from Japanese manufacturers while lacking European and North American vehicles. Out of the 1031 cars, more than 600 of them are from Japanese manufacturers including 136 Nissans alone.
This is once again influenced by the fact that most of the content comes from Gran Turismo 4 which was heavily Japanese-leaning. The 200 premium cars are actually nicely balanced between American, European & Japanese cars, normal road cars to supercars and racing machinery.
While many sim racers may be disappointed by the number of racing cars in the premium segment, Polyphony Digital has opted for some amazing variety in that regard as GT5 includes Formula One cars among NASCAR Sprint Cup vehicles, Super GT machinery to World Rally cars and of course Le Mans-proven machinery such as the Peugeot 908 and Audi R10. The only thing completely missing among Premiums is touring cars as DTM and ETCC machinery can only be found in the standard car pool from GT4.
In terms of tracks, Gran Turismo 5 tries to please all audiences, combining fantasy tracks and street circuits with real life race tracks. Compared to GT4, several new venues have been added as Monza, Daytona, Indianapolis the Top Gear Test Track & the Nürburgring Grand Prix track are joining old favorites like the Nordschleife, Le Mans, Laguna Seca & Suzuka.
Some tracks from past Gran Turismo series have been dropped though as Infineon Raceway, Motegi and a few fantasy classics like Seattle are nowhere to be found. Some tracks come with added features such as day & night cycle and weather, two new additions to Gran Turismo 5.
Adding to the real life & fantasy tracks are rally tracks with gravel, asphalt or snow surface to make most of the WRC cars as well as the track editor. Given the fact that console players have rather limited input abilities using a controller, the track editor is of course no fully-fledged editor that allows to start tracks from scratch.
PD has come up with a great and very accessible compromise that allows players to edit tracks as using sliders that define the track width, number of corners and other details.
When it comes to graphics, everyone expects Gran Turismo to set new standards with each title and if we look look at the premium content alone, GT5 fully delivers in that regard.
The premium cars are exceptionally well modeled with rich details and great looking textures, the quality even surpasses Forza Motorsport 3’s car models which were already very impressive in that regard.
Gran Turismo 5 opts to create a very photorealistic graphics experience with no overdone effects such as blur, bloom, fictional track side objects or anything else you wouldn’t expect in a tv broadcast of an actual race.
The choice of very natural colors creates a very realistic-looking environment, especially compared to titles like Need for Speed Shift that went overboard with fictional trackside objects or Forza Motorsport 3 which uses much too saturated colors. The comparison below does a great job of showing how Gran Turismo 5 manages to look much more realistic than its direct competitor.
Other aspects of the graphics are splendid as well, including great use of track shadows that make the title’s Nordschleife particularly enjoyable as well as great night & weather effects even though the rain effects fall a little short compared to the standard F1 2010 has set.
The title’s sheer graphical power is most apparent in photo mode that allows players to take high-resolution shots of their cars in various environments. While many people argue that these “photos” are essentially renders that have nothing to do with in-game graphics, only part of that is correct.
While photo mode applies improved lighting and other post-processing effects such as anti-aliasing, the car models used in photo mode are the same as those used in game as in-game graphics don’t differ too much from the results in photo mode aside from a few missing finishing touches.
The term photo-realistic has been applied to graphics ever since Grand Prix 2 and while it certainly has been overused, Gran Turismo 5 is the first racing game that offers literally photo realistic results as some shots taken in photo mode make it extremely hard to tell whether or not you´re looking at a real photo.
Of course, nothing’s perfect and GT5’s graphics have a few shortcomings as well. The least impressive thing about the premium cars is definitely the cockpit view. While the cockpits are fairly detailed and, contrary to Forza Motorsport 3, all come with fully working gauges, they feel less alive and more sterile as those in Need for Speed Shift and are spoiled by very blocky shadows.
Aside from that, some other console-typical graphic flaws are apparent such as texture flickering here and there as well as an obvious lack of anti-aliasing. But none of that is even worth mentioning compared to the quality of the standard cars.
As mentioned earlier, the title pretty much hides the 800 standard cars and it does for a reason as the cars taken over from Gran Turismo 4 range from mediocre to absolutely shocking in terms of graphical quality. While some cars look pretty decent if you don’t get close to them, others sport outrageously low-resolution textures that even mediocre rFactor mods put to shame, leaving one wondering if Polyphony Digital spent any effort trying to improve the GT4 cars at all.
Polyphony Digital seems to be very aware of these issues as standard cars are not usable in photo travel mode and players aren’t allowed to zoom in on the blocky details in track photo mode either.
Unlike the graphics, the audio department has always been Gran Turismo’s weakest link with most cars in GT4 sounding like vacuum cleaners. Gran Turismo 5 has vastly improved in this regard, still sounds aren’t the thing the developers should take most pride in.
Most premium cars sound alright and close enough, don’t expect the sounds to be spot on though. Anybody who has ever driven a NASCAR Sprint Cup car in another simulation or knows how the Citroen C4 WRC sounds from on-board footage will be disappointed with the lacking detail of the audio samples as most engines samples are a bit to generic and weak to be considered spot-on.
The standard cars are a mixed bag, while some seem to have improved sounds most sound as dull as they did in GT4. Sound effects like tire squeal, curbs and others are alright as only the collision sounds deserve special mentioning as cars colliding in Gran Turismo 5 sound like someone beating an empty bottle of laundry detergent with a stick.. not exactly convincing.
The title’s soundtrack is fairly decent and can of course be turned off, players also have the choice to replace it with personal music on their Playstation 3. Overall, the sounds are passable, especially considering where the series is coming from in that regard.
Physics, Force Feedback & AI
Many sim racers considered Gran Turismo’s tag line “Real Driving Simulator” to be a mere marketing scheme but with Gran Turismo 5, Polyphony Digital finally delivers what is promised as the physics may be the most spectacular thing about Gran Turismo 5.
The GT Academy competition was a first hint that Gran Turismo is heading more towards the serious driving route and GT5 follows up with what are undoubtedly the most realistic & challenging physics in a console racing game so far.
To make more challenging physics possible without frustrating the mass-market audience this title needs, the driving aid controls have been majorly refined. Instead of just turning ABS & TC on or off, brake assistance and traction control can be set using a ten-step slider, allowing pretty much everyone to find the right amount of assistance.
Since the majority of buyers play GT5 using a controller, the title always applies some assistance to make it an enjoyable experience using the controller but once a wheel is connected, the gloves come off.
Speaking of wheels, Gran Turismo 5 supports a wide range of steering wheels with matching controller profiles, sadly no profiles for upper-market wheels are included. While the Logitech Driving Force GT is the only semi-pro wheel with a dedicated profile, I found both the Fanatec Porsche 911 Turbo S & the new Porsche 911 Carrera wheel to be working excellent with GT5, all the Fanatec wheels needed to be perfect was some added deadzone to prevent wheel shaking on straights.
Once you head out on track, you´ll realize that this is a pretty serious title as the cars quickly become a handful with all aids off. Driving a powerful road car like the Corvette ZR1 with road tires on the Nordschleife will certainly keep your hands and feet very busy.
Players of former GT titles may be in for a harsh surprise finding out that putting the throttle down like a maniac won’t cut it in GT5 anymore, especially in wet weather races as delicate treatment of the pedals has become as mandatory as in other simulations, otherwise you´ll spin out faster than you think.
The title does an excellent job of simulating the cars behavior over the plenty of modeled bumps and curbs, the suspension movement of the car feels very believable as does the tire grip.
Speaking of tires, Gran Turismo 5 offers road, sport & slick tires in three different compounds with the softest slick compound almost offering too much grip in my book. Braking in GT5 with no ABS requires much more craft than in previous GT titles as locking up tires are properly simulated.
The fine physics are accompanied by very nice Force Feedback that even offers some road surface feedback, a rare feature even with PC simulations. Oddly enough, the Force Feedback effects with the Fanatec wheels improved when lowering the Force Feedback strength in the wheel settings.
Of course, Gran Turismo 5 is nowhere close to iRacing or other hardcore simulations, the physic developments allow to say that the title accurately simulates driving though. Since no one can examine the title’s physic files and we have basically no background info on the used tire model and details like that, it’s hard to tell whether or not the physics are based on real-life values but the results speak for themselves as the physics are the single most impressive improvement compared to earlier GT titles.
Sadly, the same thing can’t be said about the AI as the computer-controlled cars still feel lifeless and fail to provide a challenge for more experienced racers.
While PD has somewhat fixed the issue of cars slamming mindlessly into you, the intelligence of the computer-controlled cars still ranges narrowly above a rock with wheels as the cars won’t fight for position and will very rarely block you or do something challenging.
Experienced sim racers will be having no problems blasting past the competition during the first lap in an equal car, the difficulty-level can only be improved by choosing a slightly underpowered car for the given race.
While the physics may be closer to simulations than ever before, the gameplay of Gran Turismo 5 is still very much different compared to more straightforward simulations. If you think of jumping in a particular car and go racing on your favorite track right away – Forget it, GT5 makes players earn their content.
The title offers an aracde mode with a handful of cars and tracks that can be tried in races or time trials right away – Enough to wet your appetite and to provide motivation to tackle GT’s cornerstone: The Career mode.
Basically, the career mode consists of a series of license tests and special events. The two deciding factors for your career are the licenses and your driver level. Every completed test, event and race will upgrade your driver level, allowing you to compete in more events and buy more cars.
What really sets Gran Turismo 5’s career mode apart from titles such as Forza Motorsport 3 are the special events that introduce players to various forms of racing. Included are a karting mode, the AMG driving school that will teach you how to tackle the Nürburgring Nordschleife, Top Gear-themed events and NASCAR & WRC schools narrated by none other than Jeff Gordon and Sebastien Loeb.
The special events are spiced up with nice cut-scenes that explain some of the basics of NASCAR racing or introducing you to rallying, providing a lot of atmosphere. While the career mode as such is more entertaining than in other titles, the it quickly lacks flow, making it hard for players to progress.
While the first races and events will rush by in an instant and raise your driver level constantly, you´ll soon get to a point where you start grinding for level points to progress your career by repeating races again and again as GT5 simply doesn’t offer enough events to allow smooth progression through the career.
In Forza Motorsport 3, you could complete almost the full career mode just by using the awarded prize cars, allowing you to save the hard-earned credits to buy the cars you rally want. The prize cars in GT5 are pretty much useless, forcing you to buy cars that you might not want and which are only useful once during your career.
This is where GT5 can become really frustrating as it becomes unnecessarily hard to progress your career. The same thing can be said about the credits as earning the virtual money is hard work, especially if you´re eying one of the Le Mans Prototypes or Formula One cars. With precious vehicles priced well above one million credits, a lot of time and devotion is required to get your hands on the most desirable cars and many players will probably give up somewhere in between.
Aside from the GT-Mode, GT5 allows to run quick races or time trials as well as multiplayer events. Also offered is the B-Spec mode that allows players to manage virtual drivers, the nice idea is somewhat spoilt by the already mentioned sub-par AI skills and the fact that you can’t fast-forward longer races – Watching the AI race for 20+ laps can get rather boring quickly.
After over 5 years of development, can Gran Turismo 5 be considered a ground-braking title? Hardly, as the title adds pretty much nothing substantially new to the franchise. Even though there are some new features such as weather, night racing and basic damage, GT5 is a bit short on creative ideas and still lacks some of the more innovative features Forza Motorsport 3 had to offer.
Players who take the text on the back of the box seriously and expect 1031 cars in great quality will be disappointed as GT5 is somewhat of a fraud in that regard. In reality, the title contains 200 beautiful cars and 800 conversions that have to be considered to be merely bonus content.
Still, Gran Turismo 5 offers more than your average console racing title that sells for the same price, featuring unrivaled graphics, very detailed tracks and, more importantly, believable and challenging physics that will please even more demanding sim racers.
In addition to that, GT5 takes players on a journey through the motorsports world like no other, allowing you to experience karting, rally, oval racing, prototypes, Formula One and countless of other cars all in one title.
All in all, Gran Turismo 5 is an excellent title that will provide you with countless hours of driving fun and while there’s still a long way to go for it to really be the Real Driving Simulator, GT5 is a big step in the right direction.