Sunday, April 27, 2008

VIDEOGAMES- Gran Turismo 5 Prologue

Well, I’ve spent most of the day playing Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and I’ve got a few thoughts that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else.

But first, the things you probably already know. GT5p isn’t a full game. It’s a demo that costs $40. The full game is supposed to be released sometime next year. You could say that it’s half a game (for 2/3 the price of a whole one) but honestly I hope that it’s nowhere near half of what GT 5 is going to eventually be. It has only 8 tracks and about 70 cars. The tracks are small and the cars are a decent mix but both of these are woefully sad compared to what we’ve come to expect from Forza or Gotham Racing. This is pretty inexcusable considering Polyphony probably got some of the first PS3 development hardware and yet just a releasable demo has taken over a year and a half of development. The PS3 hardware didn’t take that long to design. And considering how long this has taken, there’s a good chance that we’ll see the PS4 before we get a finished copy of this game. There is also the chance that Sony and Polyphony plan to nickel and dime players to death by dribbling out content online for the next year or more. This wouldn’t be out of character with the kind of contempt Sony has shown for their consumers recently, but would be a terrible mistake. OTOH, Sony has slipped from #1 to #3 in videogames and seen a huge drop in profits over the last couple of years by making just such mistakes.

What is here, however, is pretty great. I use the qualifier because there are a few disappointments that go beyond small tracks and few cars. Not with the play mechanics, thankfully. The game is undoubtedly the finest racing sim ever made for a console or computer. It runs at 1080P with an almost rock steady 60 fps framerate. Only setting yourself into a fast spin can cause any jitter. And all the cars feel different and the few I’ve actually driven feel right. I’ve spent most of my time so far in the Nissan 350Z, since it was the last car I owned and I’m quite familiar with how it drives. I have to say that the game reproduces its handling in an uncanny fashion. The game’s 350 wags its tail in response to throttle inputs like a happy puppy, much like the actual car. Likewise the virtual Acura Integra VTEC has the quirky, high-reving powerband and moderate tendency to understeer down cold. Light cars feel light and heavier cars are planted more firmly.

I started the game with the Sony controller but like all GT games it really starts to sing with a good racing wheel. I use the Logitech Driving Force Pro attached to the racing seat. Support for several legacy Logitech wheels is available from the OPTIONS menu and my wheel seems to work flawlessly. Kudos to Polyphony for this since I’m beginning to need a separate closet for all the wheels I’ve bought for various systems over the years. A good wheel is imperative to fully enjoy the game and the Logitech is economical (at less than $150) and allows for 270 degree action rather than the typical 180 degrees lock to lock, making it more like a real car. While I’m on the subject, I highly recommend the Bob Earl seat. It’s firmly built, simple, telescopes for storage, and most importantly holds my 6’6” body without any problems. Money well spent for an aficionado of racing games.

Now for the quibbles. First is the time it takes to get to your first race. If you haven’t kept your PS3 OS updated the game comes with the latest upgrade, which will take several minutes to load. Then the game loads content before it plays. I don’t know how much of the engine is loaded on the hard drive but on my 20GB PS3 I had to delete almost 4GB to give it enough space. Then several more minutes while more data is transferred. Finally you get to the intro movie. There are several movies for cut scenes and loving car views over many of the menus. They are all lovingly rendered and they all cause a few seconds of delay as you switch screens. It isn’t terrible but even small delays are frustrating by the time you get to the menus for the first time. The game doesn’t help this by taking you from each event back to the main menu every time. If you’re racing small tracks and few laps (the defaults at first) you wind up spending too much time navagating menus rather than racing. Still, this isn’t too bad and load times for the tracks are pretty quick.
But before you race for the first time you have to buy a car. You start with 35,000 credits and the pickings are pretty slim. Plus, you have to enter each manufacturers area, click for the showroom, enter each car to get specs, and then back all the way out and do it again for the next manufacturer. There are only a couple or three cars from each brand, so you wind up spending a lot of time choosing your first car before you can race. When you finally do get on the track the graphics are great but don’t expect the kind of busy environments you find in games like Gotham Racing. The tracks are, well, race tracks. The crowds don’t do much, and the distant backgrounds look like paintings. There are also graphical glitches. The lake in one track is reflective and has waves, but the waves don’t move. I also noticed light poles popping in an out of existence occasionally.

But all those quibbles are just quibbles. The game runs and plays great and the driving physics is the best in a GT game yet. I don’t know how a racing fan can pass it up, but we’re still waiting for the full game and will be for a while. Polyphony has done a great job on the basics, now they need to pack the final release with enough content that we won’t feel cheated having to buy the game again in a year.


salvage said...

I may get GT because I'm a graphics whore but I'll be godddamned if I'm going to pay for a demo. That was outrageous.

memphisto said...

I hear you. I think the last time I did it was for the Doom II demo (few people were willing to try a game download over a 300 baud modem back then). And it's really not a cheap demo, either. I guess after 3+ years in development Sony was leaning on them to release something.

Tim said...

I think the Prologue version is intended for those fans of the game that just can't wait for the full release, myself included. Usually you get what you pay for, but in this case, you didn't have to pay for it.

My biggest gripe about the demo is how long it takes to earn enough money for the high end rides. The most you can make from a race is 30K. With some of the pricier rides being over a million, that's a lot of grinding.

When all is said and done, I prefer Project Gotham over the Gran Turismo series. In my opinion PGR is just more fun to play. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste.

memphisto said...

I also think PGR is more fun but it's almost apples and oranges. Gotham is about tail out powerslides while GT5 is all about realistic physics and picking the right line, breaking, and acceleration. I don't know if Gotham can make you a better driver, but I think GT actually could.