Developed by: Polyphony Digital
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Feeling Like: Not so Gran(d) Designs
It’s only fitting that Gran Turismo 5 is one of the only games where I can’t find any of the screenshots I wanted. It’s only two specific instances that I wanted to show my readers why Gran Turismo 5 is my favorite (and the only) simulation racer I’ve ever played.
- Driving through wheat fields at night in a sports car, with the backdrop of an Italian village honoring your arrival with fireworks.
- Careening under a Japanese city’s cascade of lights and Cherry Blossoms
You’d think it would be easy, but nope. Nowhere to be found. Not by searching every variation of those descriptions in Bing and Google, not by scouring YouTube for let’s plays. That’s highly appropriate, since there’s a vast amount of driving goodness offered in Gran Turismo 5 but it’s all hidden away in a terribly packaged presentation. It’s one of the instances where I’ve felt I had to negotiate with the game in order to play it.
Where to start? How about the Main Menu?
As somebody who has never played a Gran Turismo, I was instantly befuddled. Never mind that it took over a minute to get to the first screen, I had no clue how to get going. There was no “Grand Prix” choice. What the hell is A-Spec and how is it different from B-Spec? Are those difficulty levels? Super Mario Kart this was not. My head was spinning. What had I gotten into?
The boring elevator music didn’t help matters; why was I so keen on trying this out? I’d never been a racing guy before, aside from the wacky offerings on Nintendo consoles. It was during a time where I had some disposable income and a lot of free time, so that could have been it. The game looked incredible. The cars were beautiful, true works of art. The reflection of the various environments were gorgeous to the point of distraction. And, like in most video games, it would give me an experience I’d never get to have in real life. My 2001 Toyota Echo is hardly something I’d take on the Nürburgring.
It felt like I was learning a new visual language. Once I became fluent, it was very hard to take my hands off the wheel. There is so much high quality content that’s draped behind a curtain of garbage that it feels like two different teams worked on it. Getting to the level you want to drive on, in the car you want is maddening and cumbersome. Once you’re on the road, it’s a whole different story.
The level of detail is staggering. There’s a million cars to drive, all with every customization option you can dream of. This is a car enthusiasts dream; even as a vehicular layman, I was impressed. The shine off the fresh paint job, the revving of the engines at the start of the race, the sense of speed as you slide around a corner, the satisfaction upon completing a challenge are all worth the price of admission.
Still, there’s too much to do, even if the core gameplay is terrific. Online guides say the time to get a Platinum Trophy is roughly 600 hours and I believe it. Some features and challenges are beyond my scope of understanding. Trying to maneuver the Top Gear bus on a simple, empty track seemed borderline impossible, particularly after spending my entire Gran Turismo 5 span using a completely overpowered Ferrari.
I took advantage of one of the pre-order bonuses and secured an outlandishly powerful sports car right off the bat. As I said before, I’m not a car guy, so I’ll just say it was a Ferrari. And MAN did this break the game, early.
Part of the appeal of the A-Spec (career mode… I think?) is to build your way up and earn better cars as you go on. I got one of the fastest options right out of the gate. It’s hilarious to beat up on Honda Civis or Mini-Vans or whatever paltry opposition you face in the first few races, but whatever; my braking and turning ability was so poor that it seemed like a fair handicap.
One of the trophies is to make a part of your car fall off during a race. Coming from somebody who takes hairpin turns at 70mp/h, you would think this would be easy. Oh no, not at all. Since the game has more licensing from real auto manufacturers than you can count, those manufacturers do NOT want their cars looking damaged in the game. At all. Ever. It seems ludicrously childish at first, but then I suppose they don’t want footage of the game of their products turning into a fiery ball of death and being confused for a real life occurrence by the general public. And before you think that’s too ridiculous, something similar just happened last week.
I chose a mountain course with a few nasty turns. Apparently slamming into a wall at top speed, then grinding along a wooden fence for half a kilometer isn’t enough to put a single dent in your car. The futility of this really took me out of the experience. How realistic a simulation can this be, if my driver side door is made of adamantium?
It’s a mess, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look back on it fondly. It’s cool as hell – everything is sleek and shiny, like an impossible expensive car I’ll never be able to afford. The confirmation on menu selections sound like the game is nodding at you in computer speak. The Grand Tour takes me to locations I’ve never been before, but desperately want to visit. It’ll take some weird timing for me to become interested enough to try another simulation racer (I hear the Forza series might be worth looking into), but for now, I’ll just reminisce about a very curious, obtuse, unique experience.
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