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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gran Turismo 5: FPH wrap-up

How often have you heard that in order to do things right, you have to pay attention to the little things, the details? I bet the development team for Gran Turismo 5 had the mantra tattooed on their backs, they cared so much about it.

Watch the video, you'll see:

GT5 boasts weather and day/night variations. Its graphics rendering squeezes out 2,073,600 polygons at any instant. It has proven precision in physical duplication so superior that a race car driver could sit behind a PS3 and produce consistent lap times as close as fractions of seconds when compared to track sessions in real life. Its driving physics are so, as Gamespot put it, "uncompromisingly realistic," that I say a prayer every single time I squeeze the brakes of a Lamborghini Countach with punished tires.

Yet strangely, we must still ask this question: Is it enough?

According to IGN's rating of 8.5/10 and Gamespot's 8.0/10, the verdict is "no."

Forget the whole Forza 3/GT5 comparison. Once and for all, I'd like to just point out one simple fact. If you're reading this article and you are an owner of any one of the consoles, you will simply choose, or have already chosen, the respective game. Neither game is worth the investment of a new console just for the sake of that one driving game. I'm also confident that if you are fortunate enough to own both consoles, you lucky bastard, you'll likely own both games.

However, there is certainly one thing that sets the two games apart. When you purchase GT5, what you're actually receiving is the love, dream and ambition of one man-- Mr. Kazunori Yamauchi. In that respect, Yamauchi-san's passion is translated to his driving simulator even more so than what the iPad could translate from the man behind Apple.

Opening title of Gran Turismo 5.
Piano introduction: Piano Sonata No.7 in B Flat Major Op.83 3rd Movement, written by Sergei Prokofiev, played by world famous pianist Lang Lang.

The license tests were teaching methods that helped aid Yamauchi-san's driving technique back when he participated in a Japanese racing academy in the 1990s. Impressed with their methods of teaching car control, Yamauchi-san made it a permanent fixture in his franchise.  Next, his vision of providing the players with anything that has four wheels has pushed the car list pass the 1000 mark. He adds unique applications such as Photo Travel, Museum, item list, car maintenance and servicing, karting experience, NASCAR school, Top Gear test track, AMG driving academy, Grand Tour, Sebastian Loeb Rally Challenge, drift trial, course maker, GT-TV, and probably even more things that I haven't even had a chance to see yet. He creates a manager-esque feature called Spec-B, allowing players the chance to manage multiple drivers and accelerate their progress through the game. In that respect, GT5 is so expansive, so all encompassing that $60 can sometimes feel like a bargain.

But just because it's a bargain doesn't mean there aren't faults. The most blaring of all? Surprisingly, the graphics. There are times where the shine of the sheetmetal can reflect environments so vividly, the vehicles look more incredible than they ever could in real life. The weather effects and day/night transitions are seamless and really add anxiety to the driving experience. But then there is everything else-- horribly pixelated shadow rendering and flat environmental renderings. Take the video game F1 2010, for example. As you drive through P1-3 and qualifying, the race cars set rubber on the track, giving you more cornering control for race day. GT5 does not.

The second most blaring flaw? 1000+ cars but not a single Porsche! (readers, you do know my favorite marque is Porsche, don't you?) In addition, not all 1000+ cars are available to you at the same time. If I'm searching for a specific car, say a Mercedes Benz 190E EVO, I won't find it in the dealership, new or used. In fact, the cars list on the used car dealership changes all the time! I don't even know how it works! What if I fail to check the used car dealership often enough and the game adds and withdraws the availability of the 190E EVO without my knowledge? Moreover, racing events will not let you know what car you will be rewarded until you win.

You may wonder why this silly little Benz is such a big deal to me and I'll tell you this. Every game, even a simulator, has to let the player feel that there is a reason why he/she must play the game day after day. In Half Life, the aim is to survive and escape from City 17. In Modern Warfare 2, it's saving the world from terrorism. Gran Turismo 5, I have determined, challenges the player to catch 'em all. Yes, Gran Turismo 5 is the car enthusiast's version of Pokemon. Your ultimate goal is to have the largest virtual garage..................................... in the world. And show off to all of your friends all over the................................ world. (obligatory Clarkson reference)

And speaking of friends from all over the world, online play is finally here! You have a choice of racing at the open lobby with people all over the world or you can choose "community" and race with friends in your PSN network. I must say that online play can be so unintuitive sometimes. As a long time player of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I often invite or am asked to join parties where friends in my PSN network and I can enter into the same lobby as a team. This feature is common in many online games, but not in GT5.

It's really difficult to look around that sort of flaw. Little can be worse for a game than unintuitive interface. Maybe if they could have removed the time spent on secondary applications like photo travel, GT-TV, and museum, they could have created a more user friendly experience. And maybe the launch date wouldn't have been pushed back time after time.

After a week of playing GT5, the honeymoon is over. But let's not be pessimists. If it weren't for flaws, there wouldn't be any need to innovate. Kazunori Yamauchi's aim in creating Gran Turismo was to create a franchise that offers the most complete driving experience possible.

How can we make it even better?

What if we considered creating the most complete driver experience as opposed to driving experience?

Live a driver's career, do what it takes to meet contract obligations, understand how decision making in free practice, qualifying, and racing in every venue can affect the outcome of the entire season, earn your seat as the #1 driver of the team, develop your racing car, identify your rival driver, conduct interview at parc ferme, podium finishes rewards you with an ego boosting press conference, etc.

The human variable can push the game to even greater heights of engagement. For everything else?

There's the DLC coming soon.

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