The PlayStation 3 doesn't have many marquee exclusive games this fall, but one its most-anticipated and delayed games has finally arrived on store shelves: Gran Turismo 5. The PS3 update to Sony's long-running hyperreal car franchise has endless vehicles and unparalleled physics, but can it compete with the faster, more action-packed racing games that have flooded the market since?
As racing games have evolved over the years, physics has gotten more impressive, controls tighter, speeds faster, and presentation positively hyperkinetic. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the perfect example of the adrenaline-rush racer, a drift-crazy takedown-fueled game filled with rage and competitive social leaderboards. It's three shots of espresso mainlined in your eyeballs, and a heck of a lot of fun.
Gran Turismo, once the proud owner of the best-racing-gaming-ever title, is a different sort of car game altogether. If Sony's new Gran Turismo 5 were a war shooter, it would be The Thin Red Line of video games. Realism, patience, focus--and education. It's a meditation on automotive technology. No running from one event to another--instead, smooth jazz and a series of menus that look like they were taken from a car dealer's wall calendar. Is it uncool? Compared to games like Need for Speed, yes, but is that the point? GT5, a game that Polyphony has been developing for as long as the PlayStation 3 has been released, is a living car catalog, and as its name broadcasts, a "driving simulator."
To that end, it's also the only game of this generation brave enough to have you race a Honda Civic at 55 miles an hour. This game's not afraid to go slow, if slow means realistic. Speeds vary greatly--in bonus NASCAR races, the hyper pace feels shocking. Switch to a kart-racing mode, and the experience shifts again. Racing old Volkswagen minivans around the Top Gear test track is completely absurd, yet faithful to the experience. Braking is clumsy but necessary, just like driving a real car.
Will any of this appeal to those who don't have a car fetish? Well, it appealed to me, and I don't know the first thing about tuning a vehicle. I can't name the parts in an engine. The education GT5 can offer me, however, is something I can appreciate. I learned about the NFL through Madden, and GT5 can offer the car-curious a similar education that the Need for Speeds and Blurs of the world can't possibly provide. There are more cars, modes, and ways to play than anyone will exhaust in years. It's not a quick fix, however, and it isn't trying to be. Buy Mario Kart or Hot Pursuit if you want that. I'm not even sure if I'd play this game very often...but on a lazy Sunday, it's a great game to take for a drive on your PS3.
Gran Turismo 5 is easily the most realistic racing simulator ever made, but we're not sure this is the year it will break out from its niche audience. To the average gamer that may not sound like much of an issue, but when a game's development cycle eclipses a console's entire shelf life, it's sure to raise some flags.
But aside from the business end of things, GT5 looks amazing and controls quite well. To really appreciate the accuracy of every car's response time, handling, and acceleration is something that's easily overlooked and underappreciated. That said, the auto aficionado will have an infinite amount of true-to-life technicalities to drool over.
GT5 is a great example of a racing RPG; where the player needs to be concerned about maintaining their vehicles, not just picking a color before race time. In fact, you'll need to visit a virtual garage separately in the game to get a new paint job.
Like Scott alluded to, the presentation in GT5 lets you be your own racer, so don't expect a lot of the hand-holding that goes on in other games in the same genre. GT5 stands alone at the top of the racing sim heap, so fans of the franchise should know the fifth iteration delivers as promised.
For those hard-core fans, we can't recommend the Logitech PlayStation 3 Driving Force GT wheel accessory enough for its impressive feedback and weight shifting. It adds a level of realism to the Gran Turismo experience that playing on a controller just can't provide. It's a bit pricey at $150, but for the obsessive racing enthusiast, it's a no-brainer.