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The first big surprise of GT5 is the inclusion of actual licensed championships. You can’t beat the authenticity of races held with a full championship licence, and as an area of expansion for the series it’s an exciting one. Fans of motorsport will be ecstatic, and regular players will benefit from a richer, deeper and more convincing experience in those portions of the game. The two championships have been designed to cater specifically to western audiences. NASCAR has been chosen because it’s one of the most popular sports in America and claims to have 75 million fans across the globe.
Don’t write it off, though, because the inclusion of NASCAR is excellent news. For a start, it’s not quite as dull to drive as EA has made out. With Polyphony’s physics system beneath the hood, the cars should be challenging and exciting to drive, even on an oval. Trying to keep an enormously overpowered V8 stock car from getting away from you as you dive three-abreast into a corner at 200mph is a bumhole-puckeringly terrifying experience, and hopefully Polyphony’s legendary attention to detail when it comes to simulation will replicate that dicey racing perfectly.
The other licensed championship has a much more European heritage. The World Rally Championship is the most popular point-to-point rally racing on the planet and features the best off-road drivers around. The cars themselves are based on the shapes of common suburban runabouts, but underneath they’re turbocharged four-wheeled scramblers with ferocious acceleration and precision handling. The stages are a mix of long and treacherous gravel, snow or tarmac, and technical super-special stages where two cars compete simultaneously, but out of sequence.
One thing’s for sure: the off-road physics will need a rethink. Prologue didn’t tackle anything other than circuit and street racing, so there’s no evidence of how the PS3’s more advanced physics crunching applies to the slippy stuff, and the last off-road outing in GT4 was less than impressive. Even dedicated off-road vehicles struggled for grip and understeered horribly on GT4’s rally courses, and we’re hoping that with a prestigious licence will come increased focus on getting the gravel-churning handling just right.
There’s little more satisfying than lobbing a rally machine into a corner so the back end steps out, booting the throttle and deftly holding the egregious slide that is the inevitable result – let’s hope that with World Rally Championship, Gran Turismo 5 captures some of that magic.
One interesting and potentially game-changing upshot is the inclusion of official drivers. These championships are nothing without the stars of the sport, and just including the paint jobs on the cars isn’t going to cut it. The recent GT5 demo we saw shows two real life drivers in their respective racing kits. The first is four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, who is seen in the demo walking out to the pit lane at Indianapolis in his Dupont-branded overalls.