IGN Review of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue
Polyphony Digital has long been the king of simulation racing. Its Gran Turismo franchise broke onto the scene a decade ago on the original PlayStation and revolutionized what a videogame racing title could be. The second game pushed the envelope, while the third and fourth hit the PlayStation 2 and pushed the genre to unparalleled heights. Some 47 million shipped copies later, Gran Turismo is making its first official "full" release on the PlayStation 3 with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.
Much like GT4 Prologue, the game serves as something of a taster for the full Gran Turismo 5 experience, which is still a year or so out. Some folks are calling it a demo, which I don't think is entirely correct. While it's true that the amount of content pales in comparison to what we'll see with the full GT5 release, Prologue still includes roughly 70 cars and a half-dozen tracks, a couple of which feature alternative routes that drastically change their layout, bumping the number of "unique" courses closer to 10, and that's not counting reverse routes.
Content-wise, this means you're getting more cars than some competing racers out there (such as Need for Speed ProStreet), though the track count is certainly less. So what it comes down to is whether or not you love the Gran Turismo racing experience. If do you, Prologue is a no-brainer of a purchase and you won't be able to put the controller down.
One thing that you won't find in GT5 Prologue is license tests. Rather than having to complete a series of tests to earn the right to race, you can jump right into the C class events. Completing all of those unlocks the B class, which leads to the A and then S classes. Each class contains 10 events which can be played in any order and range from standard races to a time trial to having to run from last place to first in a single race.
The progression is pretty good, and I dig the way things are laid out quite a bit. It's easy to tell if your currently selected ride can compete as a flag next to each race will be grayed out if you can't enter. However, the amount of cash that you earn from each race doesn't scale as well as I'd like, so in order to complete every race in the game you'll have to do some serious grinding for cash in order to simply be able to afford the cars you need. The bare-minimum ride selection will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million credits, while the biggest payoff you'll get for any race is around 30k credits. Considering that most of the races pay far less than this, you're looking at a whole lot of repeat laps in order to fill your stable with only the required rides, much less the ones that you just want to own. And if you want to buy the Ferrari F2007 formula car for 2 million credits, well, you'll be driving for a while.
Fortunately though, the driving mechanics far more than pay off and make running the same races time and time again a pleasure for the most part. Polyphony has once again absolutely nailed how each and every car feels (and sounds), giving each vehicle a character and voice of its own. Cars will understeer or oversteer exactly as their real-world counterparts would and drive very, very predictably. You can almost always predict what your ride is going to do in any instance simply because everything works exactly as you'd expect it to. This may sound weird, but once you get behind the wheel of any of the game's cars, you'll know what I mean.
While the previous games, and especially Gran Turismo 4, felt great, they're nothing compared to GT5 Prologue. Each car has its own, very distinct feel. In other games, upgrading to a more powerful vehicle may simply give you a higher top speed, better acceleration or tighter cornering, but Gran Turismo gives you much more than that. You actually get a sense of how the weight is distributed simply from driving a car, with Polyphony pulling off some sort of magic trick as cars actually feel like they have weight to them. Not just mass, but correct and region-specific weight. It's something that's hard to describe with words, but, again, once you've taken a few laps in a Ferrari F430, you'll know what I mean.
Though the track count is limited to a total of six selections, all of the courses are great fun. Even the Daytona Speedway, which is just an oval in its basic setup, becomes interesting to drive when you switch to its largely road-based alternative setup. The cream of the crop in terms of visuals is definitely London, which shows off Prologue's impeccable lighting model. And it's certainly no slouch of a raceway, either.
While we don't usually mention peripherals of any sort in our reviews, I want to point out the Logitech Driving Force GT as it has been designed alongside the game and certainly makes the overall experience more realistic. One cool thing about it is that it features a red on-the-fly tweak adjustment wheel, which you can assign to a number of different options to adjust while racing. So you could slot it to traction control, switch it off for the bulk of a race, and then dial it up a few notches for a particularly deadly corner. You can do this with a regular controller and assign the functionality to the D-Pad, but having the wheel right there at your fingertips is simultaneously much easier to use as well as more realistic.
Speaking of tuning, you aren't able to outfit your car with aftermarket upgrades in Prologue (though it'll assuredly be in the full GT5 release), but that doesn't mean you can't boost your car's performance. After completing the A class events, you'll unlock the Quick Tune option before each race. Here, you're able to save three separate settings for your car and are able to not only tweak things like your gear ratios and ride height, but raise or lower your car's weight, horsepower and more. It's a nice way to allow you to tweak your vehicle without having the robust upgrade system we've seen in past titles.
One of the complaints heard about previous games in the series is the AI. Cars would not really know your whereabouts and crash into you without care. In Prologue, this has been fixed quite a bit, and though it's still not perfect, the AI is much more fun to race against this time out. It'll make mistakes, sometimes running off the track a bit, and different cars will take sections of the track differently. In other words, your opponents won't look like a series of rollercoaster cars moving in sync. As well, the AI does know where you are and generally tries to avoid hitting you or, in some cases, getting hit. It's definitely a major improvement over past releases.
While racing the AI is fun and challenging, your best challenge will of course come from human opponents in the game's online mode. The setup here is pretty basic and doesn't feature anything on the order of racing leagues or anything of that sort, but you will find a series of online events to compete in. These look exactly like single-player races, with car limitations and so forth that you must abide by. One cool thing here is that you earn money for racing online, so it's possible to purchase most of the cars without ever touching a single-player event.
Lastly, it's worth noting that damage has not yet made its way to the series. Regardless of how many complaints this gets, it's not a make-or-break thing for most folks once you get on the track. Polyphony has said that it's working on adding damage as a downloadable update as soon as this fall, though we're not factoring that into our review in any way. But it does give us hope...
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