Review in Progress: Gran Turismo 5

Polyphony didn't rush the game; we won't be rushing our review.

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It has been a long time coming, but Gran Turismo 5 is finally here. I've been playing the game for a few days at this point, and while I'd love to post a full review when the embargo lifts at midnight tonight, it's just not going to happen. That's not only because GT5 is a big game with a lot of different components, but also because the game's online functionality (which was just patched in last night) hasn't actually been available for most of today. I daresay it'll be up and running in time for launch, but as of right now I haven't been able to get into a single online race. I was able to set up my online lounge last night, and I unlocked a handful of photo exhibits for my museum just by logging on, but to date that's the extent of my online experience. Clearly, I need to spend some more time with the game before I can deliver a review. In the meantime, though, I thought it might be helpful for me to give you my impressions of the game thus far. To give these impressions some context, I've apparently completed 30 percent of what the game has to offer. I've mostly been concentrating on the GT Mode's A-Spec events and Special events, taking time out only to complete three of the six license tests, to race in Arcade mode using cars imported from my Gran Turismo PSP save, and to start leveling up a driver in B-Spec mode.

One of the first things that struck me about GT5 is how rare the "premium" cars are early on. Starting out in GT mode with only $20K to spend, your best shot at getting a competitive car is to check the used-car dealer where, to date, I don't think I've noticed a single premium model. A handful of new used cars replace old ones at the dealer after every event, so I've gotten into the habit of checking it often, and because I'm a sucker for '60s and '70s models, I've been spending money on plenty of vehicles that I don't really need. I'd love to use some of these classics in the game's Photo mode, but that's reserved for premium cars unfortunately, though it's still possible to pause replays and take photos of standard cars that way. Premium cars look significantly better than standard ones; the former actually look like they're constructed from individual panels, while the latter are more like carefully shaped blocks of wood with details like gaps between panels, door handles, and lights just painted on. Quick tip for when you buy used cars, by the way: Regardless of what their mileage is, used cars always need an oil change before they'll run at their best.

Driving in GT5 feels easier than it has in previous games because there are a number of driving aids switched on by default. These include both traction control and antilock brakes, the effects of which can be adjusted on a 10-point scale. Other aids, like the driving line, skid recovery force, and active stability management are either on or off. It really does feel like GT5 is customizable for players of just about any skill level, and I'll point out that while I plan to use Logitech's latest force feedback wheel for most of the day tomorrow, I've had no problems playing with a regular DualShock 3 so far. Regardless of how you're playing, there's no denying that these cars feature believable handling (I'd say realistic, but I'm not sure my few laps of the Catalunya circuit in an Audi A4 several years back or my limited go-karting experience qualify me to do so) and that it's fun to put them through their paces on some of the world's finest courses.

The A-Spec (you driving) and B-Spec (you giving instructions to an AI driver) modes use the same series of events. I've completed only a few events in B-Spec mode, but in A-Spec mode I've beaten the Beginner, Amateur, and most of the Professional series. All of the Expert series events are unlocked for me now, but I need to hit level 20 before I can see what the Extreme series has in store for me (I'm currently level 19, so not long to go.) You earn experience points toward the next level for just about everything you do in GT5, including the license tests, which are completely optional this time around.

Race events, like those in previous GT games, require you to adhere to different car restrictions. Early on, you might simply have to use a compact, a Japanese classic, or a car with an FF or FR drivetrain, but later the requirements get a lot more specific. This works in the game's favor because while it's possible to "cheat" early events by entering them in cars that are significantly more powerful than the rest of the field, that becomes increasingly difficult as your career progresses. Very few of the events that I've entered thus far restrict the maximum horsepower of your car, so after earning only a bronze or silver trophy I've found that I can often turn that into a gold simply by adding a few parts from the tuning shop and racing again. I know that I won't have that option for much longer though.

The options available to you in the tuning shop are impressive, and regardless of how much you know about cars, it's easy to figure out where your money will be well spent. Not all of the upgrades are available for all cars, but most of the restrictions seem to make sense. You can't make the diminutive Caterham Seven any lighter, for example. I'm a little disappointed that the option to add full-on racing modifications isn't available for more cars, but if I remember correctly, that was the case in GT2 as well, and it's one of the features I remember most fondly from that game.

When I look back on GT5 in years to come, I'm hoping that I'll feel that way about the online play, and I know for sure that I'll feel that way about some of the special challenges. There's a really good assortment of challenges on offer, and they're made more challenging by the fact that none of them give you the option to upgrade or even choose which car to use. The Gran Turismo Karting Experience is the most obvious of the special challenges to call out since it's so completely different from everything else in the game, but other highlights for me have included the Jeff Gordon NASCAR School (a series of lessons that test your high-speed cornering and drafting skills), the Top Gear Test Track (where you race in a VW camper van, a Lotus Elise, and a 1944 VW Kubelwagen), the AMG Driving Academy (timed Nurburgring events in different cars and weather conditions), and the Sebastien Loeb Rally Challenge (chase a ghost car around some of the most challenging rally courses in the game). The special challenges pay really well, but unlike regular events, you can't keep repeating them to earn more money. Earning a gold trophy also pays out for the silver and bronze, and at that point there's no more money to be made from them.

In my garage right now I have a total of 68 cars, 10 of which are premium. I've been keeping all of the cars that I win as prizes thus far, but since I need to start investing in some racecars soon, I think that's probably going to change. I probably don't need four Honda Civics, after all. Even with that many cars to choose from, it's not difficult to find the car I'm looking for at any time because there are options to filter my collection by country, make, and drivetrain, as well as to sort them by manufacturer, maximum power, and a bunch of other options. The only slightly odd thing is that premium and standard cars appear in completely separate lists, so if I'm just looking for a car that's eligible for a certain event and don't care whether or not it looks good, I have to search twice.

Anyhow, I think that's about all I have to say on the subject of Gran Turismo 5 right now. Be sure to check out the embedded movies of some of my replays, and check back next week for the full review.

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