Gran Turismo 5 Review

By Tim Stevens - Posted Nov 29, 2010

Gran Turismo 5 is finally here, and in many ways it's exactly the game that series fans have been waiting for; however, the game's failure to keep up with the growth of the genre is disappointing.

The Pros
  • Amazing detail on premium cars
  • Fun and realistic physics
  • Plenty to unlock and to do
The Cons
  • Interior view on premium cars only
  • Painful load times and inefficient UI
  • Parts of the game feel unfinished

Gran Turismo 5 Review:

Let’s just start by saying that Gran Turismo 5 has been a long time coming. A long, long time coming, but it’s finally here. The product of six years of development and seemingly endless string of luscious, highly polished screenshots is finally at retail and, if your car-loving, PS3-owning friends have been hard to find lately, GT5 is why. In many ways it’s the best entry in the series yet. But, in other ways, it’s the most disappointing.

The Greatest Game

GT5 touts 1,000 cars, dozens of tracks, and countless improvements and new features since the franchise’s last release of Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2. Six years is a long time to wait for a sequel, and with so much new, there’s a lot to try out; however, in reality, the core gameplay mechanic hasn’t changed: gotta catch ‘em all.

As always, you’ll start out with just enough cash to buy a small economy car, though the inclusion of used cars gives you more choices than before…if you aren’t too picky about color. From here, it’s a long road to fill out your collection, tackling license tests, challenges, and (of course) plenty of special events to work through, most of which unlock you some precious new whip.

The basic formula of the series really hasn’t changed a bit, with most single-player races letting you simply dig out a faster car if you’re being beaten. The story is much the same online, where you’ll want something fully tuned to compete. So, if you don’t have a really fast car and the skills to drive it, you might as well just stay offline.

What’s new here is the special events section, and some of those do indeed feel special. You’ll be taught the art of drafting through traffic by Jeff Gordon and learn the art of drifting from Rally World Champion driver Sebastien Loeb. These events tend to be fun, but most are very short--completed inside of a minute--which makes things more annoying thanks to perhaps this game’s greatest flaw: load times.

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The Greatest Wait

Start up GT5 for the first time and you’ll be presented with a choice to install 8 GB worth of files onto your machine, an option that the game tells you will take a scant 30 minutes; however, be prepared to spend up to an hour waiting, watching a sticky progress bar that stays stuck at arbitrary times--like 55 seconds--for 10 or 20 or more minutes. Needless to say, like bringing water to a boil, this is a task best done when you’re not watching.

Despite how painful this is, you want to do it. Installing the game takes load times from unacceptably long (several minutes on larger tracks) to load times that are merely frustrating. The 30-second license tests and special events frequently take less time to complete than they take to load, which leaves me wondering why there isn’t an option to just install the entire contents of the disc on the drive, something that would have possibly sped things up to acceptable levels.

Load times aren’t the only issue. Some nagging bugs and occasional crashes make this game feel decidedly unfinished, despite the endless delays in its journey to launch. Plus, the user interface is inexcusably poor. Most of the UI choices are questionable at best and the mouse arrow motif of the convoluted menus makes for a dismal and inefficient experience.

Thankfully, though, the driving mechanics themselves feel decidedly finished. The physics in GT5 are the best yet in the series, improved over the latest Prologue release and the result is one of the best feeling console racers yet. It still doesn’t compare to the top-level PC driving simulators, but it’s at least on par with Forza 3 in terms of feel and, if you turn off the myriad driving aids, a reasonable replication of the real thing.

The Greatest Graphics

When you’re suffering through those achingly long load times and wondering why some fairly obvious things (like brake upgrades) are completely missing, you’ll get your answers as soon as you jump into a so-called “premium car” and spend a few minutes ogling at the amazing attention to detail.

Of those 1,000 cars, 200 of them are “premium,” which means they’ve been modeled and rendered with a borderline-obsessive level of detail that sees every fin, grille, latch, badge, dial, and interior button faithfully replicated. It’s a dazzling feat, but when you jump into one of the other 800 “standard” cars, ones that haven’t seen much of a touch-up since GT4, things are decidedly different. There are no interiors at all in these cars, meaning you’re stuck with the bumper cam or an exterior view, and the details on the exteriors are more modest looking compared to those of the 200 specials.

Other graphic details are similarly polished. For example, crowds at the side of the track are fully animated and cheer you on with vigor; weather effects sweep in and rain sets wipers a wiping (if you’re in a Premium car that actually has a windshield, that is); the darkness of night sees headlights popping on and lighting up distant signs; and tire smoke swirls and occludes vision realistically. It’s a visually stunning game for the most part, but punctuated occasionally by those relatively unfortunate looking standard cars.

Was It Worth The Wait?

So now, the biggest question: was Gran Turismo 5 worth the wait? That’s difficult to answer. For those who played GT4 obsessively and have always just wanted more of the same on an HD console, then this is the amazing update they’ve been waiting for and things look and feel better than ever. But, someone who was hoping for a total reinvention of the franchise will be disappointed. This is very much a straight sequel to GT4 with more cars and better graphics and, if you’ve become accustomed to Forza’s class-based racing that ensures you always have good competition online or off, you’ll likely find yourself a little bored before long.