There are lot of reasons to love Gran Turismo 5, Sony’s flagship racing title for the Playstation 3. Jaw-dropping graphics, ultra-realistic handling and a huge array of tracks and cars to choose from all make it an absolute joy to play, even three years after its release.
But, is it the greatest racing game of all-time? No. Is it even the best Gran Turismo game of all-time? Not if you judge each instalment of the series against the context in which they were released, in which case number five may even be the poorest of the lot.
Yet, when you consider that the good folks at Polyphony Digital had four and a half years to develop Gran Turismo 5 since it was originally unveiled at E3 2006, it could have easily been the best racing game of all-time. More than that, it should have been given the amazing standard set by its predecessors.
The first letdown was evident as soon as you put the disc in your PS3 for the very first time – Gran Turismo 5’s loading times are intolerably long. Admittedly, installing the game on your HDD (which itself can take up to an hour) makes little difference, and you’ll waste even more time negotiating the convoluted menus before you’re able to start tearing up Trial Mountain in your modified Mazda MX-5.
Once you’re on track though, the gorgeous graphics and stupendous driving model come into their own – with one or two distractions. One of these is the game’s inexplicably jagged shadow effects, which look they could have come straight out of a low-budget, early PS2 release.
In fact, on the subject of PS2s, the vast majority of the game’s 1000 odd cars, the ‘standard’ models, are unashamedly lifted straight from Gran Turismo 4 in all of their low definition glory and stick out like a sore thumb in the replays racing against their ‘premium’ cousins.
In some events, even the term ‘racing’ is something of a misnomer, such is the woeful quality of the AI in Gran Turismo 5. Your opponents, as well as not being terribly fast even on the highest difficulty setting, are far too cautious in battle and in some cases seem to slow down slightly as you go by them, almost as if to say: “after you, sir!”
To prevent things from being too easy for the player in light of this, the game features rolling starts across all its single-player races, which give the player a built-in time disadvantage to overcome. But, inevitably ploughing through a pack of cautious AI opponents again is still awfully monotonous compared to the cut-and-thrust action seen in other racing titles.
Another thing that Polyphony Digital having quite got sussed like rival developers is damage modelling, which was introduced with great fanfare in Gran Turismo 5 having been conspicuously absent in previous entries. They may as well have not bothered, though; even a 200mph shunt seems to have little impact on the player’s car beyond some unsatisfying minor deformation of the front bodywork.
Instead of addressing things that players actually care about during the game’s monstrous development time, like loading times, the AI or damage modelling, it seems enormous amounts of energy were expended on utterly pointless details that add absolutely nothing to the gaming experience. These include the endless different paint colours (including 142 different shades of red) horn sounds and ‘museum cards’, just to name a few.
Had Gran Turismo 5 been released nearer to the start of the lifecycle of the PS3, perhaps it would be easier to forgive its flaws, but the constant delays to make the game as perfect as possible created a hype it had no hope of ever matching. With Gran Turismo 6 only a few days from release, let’s hope Polyphony Digital have spent the last three years wisely and have made the perfect racing game its predecessor ought to have been.
Jamie Klein, Sport Editor