Gran Turismo 5 is no looker. You're obviously going to call me crazy. I've seen the screenshots too. Photo mode is photo mode - it's meant to look amazing. On the track, and during the replays, it's a different story. A couple of races do look beautiful, as I say. But there are so many visual shortcomings, I can't believe we're talking about a GT game. Here's a brief, very geeky, list of eyesores that spoil the view:
Above: Even a technophobe would question that shadow's jaggedness. It's like MotorStorm. One
Above: You can see the cross-polygon tree on the right here. A graphical technique dating back to 1995
Above: Even Saturday morning cartoon artists would feel bad for duplicating that many trackside hedges
Above: Is the game better for having cars that look like this? Quantity over quality wasn't GT's old mantra
Above: The GTHD Eiger track returns with its old crowd. So what's with the elbow-tastic people elsewhere?
With any other game, I could rightly be accused of nit-picking. But let's be clear about this. It wasn't the realistic handling that built Gran Turismo's reputation in the eyes of Average Joe. It's the graphics. It's always been immaculate - at least in terms of the hardware it's running on. PSone had its breakthrough bodywork reflections and TV-cam replays. PS2 had environment mapping, particle effects and gorgeous heat haze. The Gran Turismo name is synonymous with the best graphics, so it's sad to see it so far off its game. And while it does admittedly push another boundary by supporting 3D TVs, it doesn't massively enhance the gameplay experience.
To its credit:
There are now 12 impeccably detailed cars on-track at once, which is a fine achievement. The day to night transitions are especially beautiful, which give an indication of how awesome this game could have been. The post-processed photos from replays are also rather sexy and the smoke effects are magnificent.
Above: The smoke hangs in the air for a good while, but even that causes ugly outline glitches around objects
I don't know what's gone wrong, but even the GT HD demo's depth of field effects are missing in the final game. And for every great-looking track (Madrid looks lovely and Suzuka is as great as always), there are three that look a bit duff. The go-kart races look like an XBLA indie game at times and are far too easy. Less really would have been more.
Sony made a point of directing our attention towards the online mode. I'm not sure why, though - the races I've tried were laggy and mismatched. At present, the traffic on the network is currently so bad, my offline game often refuses to load unless I disconnect from the internet. I'm not alone - Polyphony's news feed is currently recommending disconnecting from PSN when you play the game, which is obviously a pretty major problem.
Above: This will get better. But even without the connection issues, online GT5 is lacking major features
When you do get online, anybody can start the race, leaving the host with the wrong car or having to sit out in his own lobby, which is less than ideal. There are no leaderboards, no credits to win, no ranking system at all. With Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's Autolog getting it all so right, GT's clearly getting most of it wrong.
B-spec mode is actually one of the most entertaining parts of the package. This is given just as much space on the Home screen as the drive-it-yourself A-spec mode, which implies it should be given a fair portion of your attention. It sees you raising an AI driver (who can't be named by you – we chose 'V Bosch from the list. The V stands for 'Very') and instructing him on what to do from the sidelines.
It's a lot like Chocobo Racing in Final Fantasy VII or Chao Racing in Sonic Adventure. When you're left to look at the pretty exterior car shots (running at a disappointing 30fps), cheering on your little blokey, it's exciting. A bit like putting a quid on a horse – that kind of exciting. The game can do its physics, the cars can look shiny… it's probably Yamauchi's favourite mode. Why spoil the simulation by driving it yourself?
Above: Obviously, Cloud Strife isn't in Gran Turismo 5. Neither are Chocobos
This is especially apparent when you look at the slowest special events. The first Top Gear Challenge looks just like an episode of Top Gear in the replays, especially with The Stig driving each van. Yet it probably would have been my 'I'm trading this in' moment if I'd bought the game as it's appallingly dull. Look at this video and try to explain why it's been put in the game. Oh, and I've left in the load times, which are with the data installed:
Of course, the level of detail in the driving itself is insane, whether at 20mph or 200mph. You can pore over your data from time trials to see whether your car's acceleration worked better with the sports air filter or the drivetrain upgrade. The little window running the replay itself looks great too, although exactly how much any of this will be of use to gamers is debatable.
Above: Check out that amazing throttle control using the right stick. Reminiscent of Ayrton Senna, eh?
There is one final note of consternation – the damage modelling. I'm amazed I have to say this, but I still haven't unlocked it. Yes, you read that right. Damage modelling in Gran Turismo 5 is locked away, buried so deep in the game I've not seen it after playing it all week. It might be amazing. But internet videos suggest otherwise. Either way, it's limited to the 'Premium' cars, unlocked progressively (reportedly at levels 10, 20 and properly at level 40). I'm at level 19 and I've seen a scuff on a car door… does that count? It's a ludicrous situation. And even if it is to stop beginners spending all their early cash on repairs, why the hell isn't it an on/off option in arcade mode?