Developer: Polyphony Digital
Before I begin this review, I need to get something off my chest. I am not, nor have I ever been, particularly appreciative of the Gran Turismo games. Now, allow me to validate that statement, or at least attempt to, before you close your browsers in disgust. While the objective quality of each game has never been anything short of spectacular, I’ve often found them to be missing one minuscule and yet ever so crucial ingredient to the video game cocktail; fun.
Every iteration brings with it more cars and tracks, each better looking than they would have been last time around and tweaks the gameplay just enough to warrant its existence next to its predecessor. But there was never much in the way of real innovation between games, not that I could see anyway. No matter how pretty they dressed it up, you were always the same flashy Nissan weaving in and out of the same bloody cones to get the same bloody license. I was more a Burnout type of guy; drive fast, break stuff.
So I tasked Gran Turismo 5 with converting me, a task I don’t consider too tall for a game six years in development (and still being regularly updated) at the hands of a designer so infatuated with cars he has devoted the better part of the last two decades trying time and time again to create the ‘real driving simulator’ that the world, apparently, needs. In fact, Gran Turismo 5 has been delayed so frequently and has taken so long to finally become an actual thing that exists in the physical world, I would consider the whole endeavour a stone-cold failure if it hadn’t have done something, anything, to change my mind.
Thankfully, for the most part, it has.
The first thing that must be said about GT5 is that it looks incredible. Whether you’re into cars or not (I am not), the beauty on display here simply can’t be denied and while most of the games visual splendour will likely pass you by during the actual races, the replays which follow serve as a stage on which GT5s graphics engine is happy to perform. The cars shimmer as sunlight strikes, stalls and slides gently along their reflective metal bodies, almost sensual in a way. How I worded it certainly was. Even the menu screens are worthy of some admiration. Every aspect of GT5 appears on the surface to be visually pristine. But I digress, times have changed and sexy graphics will only get you so far these days. The real meat of any game is the game itself and in the case of GT5 there is certainly a lot to chew on.
GT5 is huge. Massive. Grand in both proportion and scale. There is a ton of game here. On top of the standard Arcade Mode in which you can free-play solo or split-screen with a companion which, let’s face it, is where a lot of the fun is in racing games, there’s GT Mode, your solo campaign through which you can unlock newer, better and faster cars by competing in a dazzling array of events. These include the standard A-Spec races, the bewildering B-Spec races, Carting events, NASCAR events and even a set of challenges based on the misadventures of the team on Top Gear. Unfortunately, the licenses from previous games are back and are once again the obligatory assaults on your sanity
they’ve always been, forcing you to trudge through half of them to get permission to actually do any racing.
And this is where the cracks begin to appear in GT5s magnificent facade. For all its talk of being the ‘real driving simulator’, as I got to know GT5, it felt less and less like a racing game at all. Yes, I was racing, but the simple act of driving obnoxiously fast soon revealed itself to be completely arbitrary as I found myself lamenting not just the loss of races, but the opportunities to level up that those losses deprived me of. If I didn’t level up, I couldn’t buy new cars. If I couldn’t buy new cars, I couldn’t place in the later events. “Holy mother of god”, I exclaimed as I realized, “GT5 is a role-playing game”.
Maybe this is what has endeared me to it this time around. I’m not generally a fan of grind, but in my younger years I did find the levelling-up process of the common RPG to be more satisfying than the generic point-based reward system Mario and Sonic found themselves trapped in. For the record, I am aware that they are essentially the same thing just wrapped up differently, but something about the RPGs just made me feel like I was actually accomplishing something, and that’s what I’ve gotten from GT5. Gran Turismo has always had systems like this in place, but rarely have they featured so prominently or been so generous. The game provides you with points and modest amounts of cash as long as you don’t perform abysmally, and reminds you very clearly at the end of each race exactly what you’ve earned and sometimes, what you can do with it. It’s constantly reminding you (even in the B-Spec events, which you have very limited control over) that collecting money and points is the real goal here, the racing, the cars, the Top Gear events, are all just the means to an end.
Much like an RPG, GT5 blurs the lines between addictive and fun. Even though I found myself frustrated and bored at times, I could never really keep away for very long, so either there is some sort of alchemy at work, or GT5 is a pretty special game. Maybe not quite the earth-shattering masterpiece we were promised, but special all the same.
*Note: At time of review, the online options for Gran Turismo 5 were not accessible.