When we last took a seat behind the wheel in Gran Turismo 5, we were playing the demo that Sony had on display at this year's Tokyo Game Show. It was an interesting setup: Attendees had the chance to play the game from within an actual car while using a Logitech steering wheel peripheral. Fast forward a couple months, and we've just had another look at Gran Turismo 5 at a Sony event in New York City. While the demo is the same as what we saw at TGS--sans the full car, unfortunately--spending a bit more time with the game has given us the opportunity to pick up on some subtleties we missed last time. And by that, we mean we smashed cars into a wall at full speed to further test the new damage model. But let's not nitpick, shall we?
First, let's talk about where we were racing. The track in this demo is the Tokyo r246 circuit, a winding bundle of urban streets guiding you past a series of nondescript office buildings and verdant parks. According to a Sony rep, this track features an Easter egg of sorts: One of the buildings along the side of the track is Sony Computer's Japanese headquarters. It was an interesting factoid, but we were more interested in the cars. More specifically, we had our eyes set on how those cars show damage--a feature new to the series.
The conclusion we came away with is that the damage depicted in GT5 focuses more on the gradual wear and tear of a car rather than a sudden, catastrophic loss of parts after a huge wreck. Here's an example: We took our Subaru Impreza WRX and bumped into a wall at a pretty solid speed. Rather than witnessing the crunch of shattering headlights and other debris, the front fender of our car began to sag on one side, dangling further down as we traded paint with more cars in front of us. We thought that was the extent of it, but at the next sharp turn, we noticed that the doors on our car wouldn't latch shut anymore, comically popping open and closed depending on the momentum of the car.
This is the sort of damage you can expect from the vehicles in GT5. You're not going to see significant chunks of the car go missing, but you will see an authentic level of wear and tear like paint scuffs that occur only on the spots where you hit a wall or parts of the exterior that gradually separate from your car as your reckless driving jostles out the few screws holding them together.
It would certainly be cool to see a smashed windshield after a massive head-on collision, but the simple fact of the matter is that Polyphony Digital is more focused on attention to detail rather than spectacle. That, combined with the restrictions that auto manufacturers place on what sort of damage can be shown in their vehicles (smoke and fire is a big no-no) means you won't see any huge wrecks. But no matter where you stand, it's hard to argue against the fact that the damage that is in the game is done well.
It's also worth noting that the damage model will be a little different depending on whether you're in a production car or a racing car. We tested out a Subaru Impreza WRX equipped for WRC events and a stock Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. The Subaru showed more pronounced damage than the Mercedes, though the latter was hardly flawless when we were finished taking it on our impromptu demolition derby. The reason for this relates to the concerns of the auto manufacturers in the game. They're more open to showing heavy damage on cars that you'd never see out on the road, while those cars you can go and buy at a dealer are going to be scaled back a bit. It's not exactly an ideal concession in terms of consistency, but it's hard to say how much of an impact this will have on the overall experience until we see how it works in the context of the full game.
All that being said, Gran Turismo 5 is still a driving game--not a crashing game. So it's nice to see that the driving model in GT5 is just as tight as ever. Little details like the way the camera angles downward when you perform a sharp brake from the cockpit view highlighted our experience. The distinction between the light and grippy Subaru and the V8-powered SLS AMG was easily discernible, as well as provided a much different experience.
At this point, Gran Turismo 5 is looking terrific. The usual kinks apparent in an in-development game were nowhere to be seen, but that might not be much of a surprise considering how long the game has been in development. The North American release is currently scheduled for next summer.