When does the weight of expectation exceed a game’s accomplishment? Were it not for a certain atomic monarch taking Forever to hit the shelves, Gran Turismo 5 would be the highest profile delayed game of all time. Helmed by car enthusiast producer Kazunori Yamauchi (a man so passionate about his life’s work he actually bleeds petrol), Polyphony Digital has spent five years, 20 gigabytes of Blu-ray disc space and truly outrageous quantities of cash to bring PS3 owners what was supposed to be the perfect racing game.
Perfection is of course something to aspire to rather than achieve, but the margin by which they have fallen short may come as a surprise to devotees of the series. Now, before you all turn the keys in your Abarth 500s to hunt me down and reverse over my head, this is no exercise in sensationalist trolling. Before we get on to the negative, here’s the teaspoon of sugar. Gran Turismo 5 is obviously a breathtaking experience. The series’ reputation for delivering an unrivalled breadth of vehicles, courses and tuning options is intact, its forays into new driving genres add immeasurably to the variety of the mechanics, and GTTV is everything a car enthusiast could desire.
Yet for all of PD’s hard work, Gran Turismo 5 simply doesn’t feel finished. If you thought Yamauchi offering 1031 drivable cars sounded like the over-reaching ambition of a madman, you were right. In a book-balancing compromise, only 200 or so cars are premium with the remaining 800 or so listed as standard range. Premium cars are near-flawlessly rendered, meticulously detailed from bumper to spoiler, including gloriously realised cockpits with not a stitch out of place.
The remaining 800 cars, however, are GT4 hand-me-downs, and noticeably lower quality despite an HD respray. Sporting a generic bonnet cam in place of unique interiors, they come equipped with low-res textures and simplistic shading. Even the developers must have felt pangs of embarrassment, as the Photo Travel mode that allows you to snap your car in picturesque locations is confined to the premium suite, lest the standard models fall under uncomfortable scrutiny.
Responding to the inroads Forza has made with a robust damage model was high on the expectation list with GT5, whipped to fever pitch by stunning screens of concertinaed bonnets and spoilers hanging precariously from boots. You could however easily be forgiven for thinking that they completely forgot to include it after extensive time in competitive races. Having run a 418 BHP Lancer Evolution VI head-on into a wall, we can confirm that the feature does exist, but once again the premium models see the greatest benefit – and it’s definitely skewed slightly to the wrong side of realism, with the amount of effort it takes to put a dent in some of the cars.
Since the first game in series Gran Turismo led the pack visually – from its translating the exhilaration and atmosphere of motor-sports into the environments to those cleverly post-processed replays that, given a squint and the wail of Clarkson, could have been lifted straight from an episode of Top Gear. GT5 maintains this impeccable standard for the most part, but when it falls short it stands out like a key scratch on a new Lamborghini. The game engine seems ill-equipped to deal with shadows, shady little gremlins ruining the photo-realism that the stunning premium models work so hard to achieve. The effect is compounded when racing in low-light conditions, or when the tyres are kicking up clouds of dust or snow, creating some hugely pixellated messes of badly behaved low-res textures.
So why spend so much time pouring over the bad in GT5 when all these criticisms are superficial and so obviously outweighed by the good? Well, this is Gran Turismo, and expectations couldn’t be higher. PD has taken such pains on some fronts that its failings on others are doubly conspicuous. The new game boasts a frightening number of cars, but consistency is lost when such favouritism is shown to a lucky 200. Polish, luxury and comprehensive detail have long been the hallmarks of GT’s success, and when they take a dent, so does the overall experience.