We've said before that Gran Turismo 5 must be the best racing game ever. With so many years of development and such a brilliant base of four trailblazing games to build from, it can only be amazing. However, having played it at Sony's London offices, I can confirm Gran Turismo 5 is not a revelation. It is an incredibly stubborn series, steadfastly refusing to follow GRID and DiRT 2's lead and sticking instead to its own idiosyncratic ideals.
If you've been following coverage, you're probably afraid I'm about to confirm your deepest fears. But rest assured that while some aspects are shocking, others are quite brilliant. So take a deep breath - let's take it out onto the track.
The demo room had a 3D Sony TV in it, connected to a PS3 Slim, which in turn had a PlayStation Eye attached. I wasn’t sure why at first, but that soon became apparent. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of 3D and I certainly won’t be dropping a grand or more on a new telly based on GT5’s graphical experience. As with the Killzone 3, Super Stardust 3D and MotorStorm 2 demos I’ve played before, my first impressions were of a display that is much darker than normal and the 3D effect just made it harder to concentrate on the game itself behind the illsuion of depth. But that wasn’t my biggest concern.
Above: Seeing this in 3D is neat, but it doesn't add that much to the experience
Gran Turismo has been a 60fps game ever since GT3 on PS2. I don’t care what the machine and TV are technically throwing out. If the 120fps screen update and 60fps for each eye were in fact running at full whack, it didn’t look like it to me. I'd swear the game I was playing was running at 30fps. Like Gran Turismo 1.
You may say ‘how on earth can you tell?’ but, as I explained on TalkRadar UK recently, years of justifying my Sega Saturn’s finest games to PlayStation owners has given me the knack for telling how fast a game is running - and this is 30fps (I've contacted Sony for clarification, and will update the story with the response). I’m sure in 2D mode the game will hurtle along at 60 frames, but not here.
The reason for the PlayStation Eye's presence became clear when I pulled my chair forward to get a better sense of the 3D graphics. Being that much closer to the camera, the movements of my head must've been more pronounced and I realised to my absolute delight that the camera was tracking my head and translating that into 3D space in the game. Very cool. To be honest, you don’t notice it at high speed, but at low speed or stationary, the effect is very pronounced and works a treat. Of course, the new in-car view is the best place to see this.
Above: Move your head in real life and your in-car self does the same. The effect looks lovely in 3D
The bonnet (hood if you're American) and AI cars in front of you look genuinely solid, although I did seem to have double vision on the gear number on the dash behind the steering wheel. Whether or not that was a deliberate graphical effect to convince me it was way closer than the action I was focusing on is debatable, but I couldn’t get my eyes to see one solid number, no matter how hard I tried.
While the in-car view was good-looking, I found the 3D effect worked best in bonnet cam. Suddenly, the game came to life. At chicanes, I could judge how much distance there was between the protruding lengths of Armco on both sides, and finally I felt like I could ‘see’ the racing action. Like I said, I’m not a fan of 3D gaming, but this worked. And despite my reservations, there was a real ‘wow’ moment as sparks kicked up from the car in front as it grazed the wall and bounced right out at me. Very nice.
One odd effect was the gaps between the leaves of trees in the middle-distance. Maybe it's just easier for the 3D effect to display a simple chequerboard mesh instead of trying to calculate which gaps each eye should be able to see, but that's exactly what it was - a set pattern of alternate pixels that stayed like this until the trees were close enough to see the detail in the branches. Neccessity or no, it didn't look great.
But enough about the 3D – how does the game play? The answer is… pretty much identically to GT4. And, sadly, that has two meanings. The first is that the simulation of driving is as excellent as ever under normal conditions. Cars have a tangible level of grip, which is different for all the cars I tried. Just as with its PSP Gran Turismo iteration, the Ferrari Enzo in GT5 is extremely powerful, which translates to plenty of powersliding and oversteer if you’re not conservative with the throttle.
There are assists, of course, the list of which appeared to be identical to the PSP game. The traction control is set at 5/10 by default, which offers a good compromise between controllability and fun. I was playing on professional, of course, but even I considered ramping it up a bit when things got too hairy.
Above: Ferraris are so hot to handle, you'll often find yourself losing the back end on the exit of a corner
The flip-side of the familiar handling is that things go a bit dodgy when you’re not pointing the right way...