With little more than a week before Gran Turismo 5 Prologue finally hits Europe, anticipation for the game is reaching fever pitch. Sony has certainly pulled out all the stops for the series' unveiling on the PlayStation 3; it's nearly impossible to avoid the TV advertising campaign in the UK, and if you're a car fanatic then you've probably heard that the first British showing of the Nissan GT-R will take place at a Gran Turismo media event on March 27. With so much excitement around, it was nice to receive a surprise email from Sony this week inviting us to download the game. Naturally, we wasted no time in doing so to report back.
As with all previous games in the series, Gran Turismo's love of cars is obvious from the moment you load it up. If you're a casual racing fan, you might actually find this automobile obsession almost to the game's fault, given that it prevents you from actually racing anything before you've spent a good few minutes setting everything up. This isn't helped by the car-selection setup, which doesn't seem to offer the option to filter out the cars you can't afford. With a measly 35,000 credits to spend at the beginning of the game, your choice is quite restricted, and you have to root through the various cheaper manufacturers to find something such as a Mini to start you off.
Once you decide to lay out the credits, your reward is seeing your shiny new car parked in your rather illustrious Japanese garages (ours were in Shorenin and Shirakawa, Kyoto). Shiny really is the optimum word here; the cars have been modelled in the sort of immaculate detail that would probably make even the original CAD designers coo with excitement. The presentation of the cars is certainly helped by the fact that they don't get damaged, but that decision is hard to argue with when the camera is tastefully panning around your new motor. You also get to appreciate it in-game with four different camera views: bonnet, in-car, windscreen, and exterior. The in-car view is both practical and attractive in that it lets you get a good view of the road while also looking around to appreciate the work that's gone into re-creating the interior--or looking down at your wing mirror to check out those you're leaving in your dust.
The quickest way to start racing is the arcade mode, which contains four different track circuits, a rally stage, and a city race. Each course has an alternate version, although for most this means simply going around in a reverse direction. A couple, such as Daytona, have substantially different tracks, with both the speedway and the road course available to race around. Given that it's the hometown of GameSpot UK, we wasted no time in burning around the London circuit, and we were impressed with what we saw.
London is the only city-based circuit in the game, and it looks like Polyphony put a lot of effort into making it perfect for the prologue edition. Everything of note has been packed into the Soho loop, with famous sights such as Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square sitting alongside minor shops and businesses. In fact, it was the latter details that really impressed, particularly when individual shops and venues had made it into the game intact. The Curzon cinema is clearly noticeable and well-modelled alongside the area's many theatres, and it's impossible to miss the numerous Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses and Pret a Manger sandwich shops, all exactly where we expected them. Although the backgrounds still look a bit flat in places, the amount of effort that's gone into re-creating real-life businesses is above anything we've seen before. As for the spectators, they're now animated and do the whole "cowering with fear" thing if you hit the barrier, but otherwise they're nowhere near as impressive as the static background elements.
It's interesting to see how Gran Turismo now adopts the Forza-esque racing-line option by default, although unlike in Turn 10's game, you also see an optimum speed displayed above each corner. Although Gran Turismo still wears its sim badge with pride, it offers a number of concessions to make the experience easier for novices, and it also throws in a few options that make it more challenging for veterans. Active steering, active stability management, and traction control are all tweakable, and you can also switch the driving physics from standard to professional to make the game more realistic. Likewise, the opponent artificial intelligence is adjustable on a 100-point scale. Eighteen is the default setting, and turning the setting higher results in drivers that are ever more eager to block your racing line.
After finding our feet with the arcade mode, we jumped into the many events that form the bulk of the challenge. The aim is to work your way up through driving classifications, moving from C to B to A and acquiring new vehicles along the way. The more races you win, the more credits you'll have to spend on new vehicles, which are a necessity because the cars become faster and the opponents more difficult. These events include a mix of both standard races and more mission-oriented contests, such as time trials, or having to overtake a certain number of racers within one lap of the circuit. There are also vehicle-specific cups that require you to own a certain manufacturer's car to enter.
As expected, the graphics in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue are of the highest quality, particularly when it comes to the cars. Every single piece of the exterior designs appears to have been modeled perfectly, and the lighting and environments reflect off of the bodywork in an extremely convincing manner. It really is possible to look at the game in certain conditions and believe that you're looking at a real video, which makes it all the more tragic that the game has no photo mode. Likewise, it's a real shame that the game doesn't save replays automatically, considering that this element of the game is just as addictive as ever. Though it's difficult to see during the races themselves, the vehicles move in an extremely realistic manner, with subtle shifts in weight due to gear changes and inertia all the more noticeable on the high-resolution cars.
The online servers were unavailable when we were looking at the game, but the menu system shows options for news, GT-TV, rankings, and online play. The GT-TV option will offer shows such as Top Gear as well as the in-game cinematics, although you'll have to complete the game to see the end animation. (Those who download the game will also have to download the cinematics.) For those who are either without access to the Internet or just feeling like a more intimate challenge, the two-player split-screen mode works well, with no loss of detail that we could discern.
By going into the options menu, we found a few interesting technical facts about the game. If you've ticked both the 720p and 1080i boxes in your PlayStation 3 setup screen, then you can switch between the two in-game, and if you're using 1080p, then it supports that display mode at 60 frames per second (although Sony states that this drops to 30 for replays). It's also good to see that if you have a Dual Shock 3 pad, even the European version of the game will support the vibration feature. If you want to go one step further, you can invest in any number of Logitech steering wheels and customise the game's setup. In total, the game supports five of the company's steering wheels, from the Driving Force GT to the EX, and it also lets you customise standard wheel setups.
The full edition of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue will be released in Europe on March 28 and in the US on April 15. Check back soon for our full review.