Gran Turismo 5 Prologue: Hands-On With the Japanese Version

We grab the Japanese version of GT Prologue and burn some rubber.

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Gran Turismo 5 is here. Well, okay, it's actually not the full version of Polyphony Digital's fifth iteration of the GT series; it's in fact Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, and no, it's not available in America yet. Instead, we downloaded the game onto the GameSpot office's Japanese PlayStation 3 to get a sneak peek at what to expect once it eventually does arrive here in the States. Nonetheless, the arrival of any GT game is a big event, and we've been happy to explore its various nooks and crannies since its release.

Who knows when Gran Turismo 5 will arrive? For now, enjoy Prologue (if you're in Japan, that is).
Who knows when Gran Turismo 5 will arrive? For now, enjoy Prologue (if you're in Japan, that is).

First things first: The Japanese version of Prologue is available both in disc format and as a downloadable game. We chose the latter and the download took a while to complete, probably close to 30 minutes over our office Internet connection. That's certainly a long time to wait, and it's reasonable to assume that downloading a game of this size on a home connection will take even longer.

With the game installed, we dove right in. The starting screen for the page is quite a departure from previous versions of the game and seems to be built around the online experience. The features available to you will change based on whether or not your PS3 is connected to the Internet. For example, when connected to the PlayStation Network, the main page of Prologue shows the various modes in the game, including race events, the dealer, your garage, Gran Turismo TV, and so on, as well as a calendar and a map of the world with several major cities highlighted, along with weather conditions for several well-known race locales throughout the world (Imola, Brands Hatch, Monterey, Le Mans, and more). If you are playing the game while not connected to the Internet, the same game options are still available to you, but extras like the calendar, map, and weather information do not appear.

Another noticeable distinction between the online and offline versions of Prologue: When connected to the Internet, your options for what you can access in Gran Turismo TV--the dedicated video player that is designed to highlight relevant car-culture videos--are different than the videos available to you offline. Offline videos might include things like the introduction video for Prologue; when connected online, you can download new videos for free. Examples of downloadable content currently include the opening movie, a feature on the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, as well as a pair of specials on the GT-R and the Mitsubishi Lancer X, with the latter featuring a real-life test drive of the Lancer by GT series creator Kazunori Yamauchi. As a matter of interest, the 10-minute-long Lancer X video took just under 30 minutes to download. Beware to those at home with little patience and a throttled Internet connection.

Okay, enough about the periphery that surrounds Prologue; let's dive right into the heart of the matter: the driving. There are two ways to enjoy the game from a driving standpoint: the arcade mode, which lets you race any track (either forward or reverse), or by tackling the "events" mode. Playing in events mode hearkens back to the older games in the GT series, in that you have a set amount of cash at your disposal (3,500,000 credits, to be exact, which sounds like a lot, but considering that your standard Honda Integra Type-R will run you around 2.7 million credits, it's not that much). You use the cash to pick up your first ride (we went with the aforementioned Integra) and then head out to event-mode races.

Welcome to your home page. Now go spend some credits.
Welcome to your home page. Now go spend some credits.

This mode includes C-, B-, and A-class races, and, unlike previous GT games, there are no licenses you need to earn here. As long as you have a car that meets the entry requirements, you're free to run a race as many times as you like. For our first race, we took our Integra to compete in the Sunday Cup at Daytona International Speedway, the world-famous oval down in Daytona, Florida. Your online or offline status matters during these race events, too. If you're connected, you can download introduction videos for each of the tracks in the game, complete with that same upbeat, if slightly saccharine, Gran Turismo jazz-lite soundtrack.

There's no two ways about it: Our race at Daytona was a blowout. The Integra outmatched the Suzuki Swifts and the like on the track, and the two-lap race was more or less over coming out of the second turn. It's good for race fans that Prologue aims to add some variety to the race events that are found in the game. For example, though many of the C-class events we ran were straight-up sprints to the finish, the number of cars in races often differed, from eight all the way up to 16 cars in some events.

In addition, there were several different race types. In one event, we had to enter our recently purchased Suzuki Swift into a time trial in London that challenged us to get our fastest lap within the 10-minute time limit. Beating certain prescribed times will earn you a bronze, silver, or gold trophy (and a bunch of credits to boot). These events were made especially tough by other cars on track with us at the same time, and usually those cars were far more powerful than ours. As a result, we were constantly checking our rearview mirror to see when folks were coming up behind us (or using the R1 button to look behind us and enjoy the expertly modeled rear interiors of the car). Another race type was noted as a "mission race". Here, the challenge was to get to the front of a 16-car pack at Daytona, in just a single lap, a mission that seems to be meant for the Ferrari's and TVR's of the Prologu lineup, rather than our relatively modest Integra. Nonetheless, we managed sixth a few times, and received credits for finishing, so it wasn't a complete wash.

Though it was easy to muscle our way through a number of the C-class events, we did get a dose of challenge from some of the make-specific race events that are tied to the various car manufacturers. For example, the Integra-model race at Daytona challenged us to start at the middle of the pack and work our way to the front, winding around a tight pack of Integras in the lead. As you might expect from an oval track, drafting is the key to success here, and the game's audio plays a crucial role as well. When you're running at high speed on the oval, you can hear the wind shear over the body of the car; when you get close enough to draft behind the car ahead of you, the sound of the air flow across the car is cut dramatically. However, the drafting works both ways, given that the artificial intelligence is just as liable to take advantage of a draft opportunity as you are.

You'll have to pinch your virtual pennies to afford a Ferrari.
You'll have to pinch your virtual pennies to afford a Ferrari.

Everyone knows a Gran Turismo game is going to feature excellent car physics, and Prologue seems to be falling right in line with this trend. Cars feel weighty and solid, and the differences between one car and another can be pronounced (take the tightly wound Integra out for a spin and then try the looser, "floppier" Alfa Romeo 147 for a prime example). That said, some things never seem to change in GT: There's still no damage to speak of when cars make contact, and the admittedly infrequent jumps still feel too floaty for our tastes (and for that matter, cars don't land off of jumps nearly as hard as it seems they should). Nevertheless, when sliding through a corner at high speed in London, or tackling the elevation changes at the Eiger Nordwand, this is pure Gran Turismo through and through.

The five tracks in Prologue are Daytona, Fuji Speedway, Eiger Nordwand, Suzuka, and the London track. It's entirely possible that we could see additional tracks added to the game at a later date, and we're still wondering when online racing will be added to the Prologue package with a patch of some sort. Nonetheless, as a teaser for where the series is heading, Prologue seems to get the job done, if only to stoke the fire of the GT diehards. We'll be keeping tabs on the game throughout the coming months, including looking for a solid release date for Prologue in the U.S., so stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

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