There’s a lot of people out there who have waited a long time to play a “proper” Gran Turismo on the PlayStation 3. The free Gran Turismo HD Concept was a gift welcomed by many, however with one track and ten cars, it was relatively short lived. With the full Gran Turismo 5 due in 2009, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is Polyphony Digital’s latest attempt to kill the hunger pains - and it’s another demo - this time, with a price tag.
Being a demo, there’s a heap of content you might expect from a Gran Turismo that hasn’t made the cut in Prologue. You can tune your car (onceyou’ve beaten Class A, that is) - but you can’t upgrade it. Only six tracks are available. The most entertaining track available, London, is used just once in the 40 events that make up the game - a vast majority of the time, you’re racing speedway-style courses like the High Speed Ring - itself already a little too familiar to anyone who has played a Gran Turismo title in the past.
The graphics are absolutely amazing - but you’ve all no doubt seen the screenshots and videos already. If you’re yet to justify your PS3/HDTV purchase to your mates or a significant other, Prologue is a worthy addition to your arsenal. It’s a shame there are still issues with aliasing on a car’s curves, which stand out like the proverbial dog’s bollocks compared to the polished visuals everywhere else on the screen. It is worth noting that the Xbox 360-based competition, Forza Motorsport 2, exhibited far greater issues with aliasing - and not just on the cars.
Unfortunately Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is perhaps the shining example of a game that forces you to play long hours before you can unlock anything that vaguely resembles the content you paid for. The back of the box claims “Over 60 dream cars - including the Nissan GT-R, Ferrari F430, Aston Martin DB9, BMW M3 and Audi R8″ - what they neglect to mention is the fact you’ll be starting off with enough money to choose from a handful of relatively underwhelming vehicles, some of which make it incredibly difficult to remain competitive in even the entry-level Class C events - like the Volkswagen Golf I had the misfortune to choose as my first vehicle.
It’s standard fare for racing games, however it came as a shock to find out just how many races I’d need to win to make up for my initial mistake, let alone race in an F430. It’s about $5,000 for 1st in Class C, much less for the lower places you’ll be managing in anything other than an Integra. Even worse is that some events require a particular model car to compete, which is useless in other races - one in Class A costing over $90,000. Compared to an arcade-style racer like Colin McRae Dirt, in which gathering the funds for a new car only requires a place position in two or three races, it feels like a long-haul grind.
The inclusion of some basic upgrades like racing brakes and turbo-chargers would’ve made the start of the game so much more enjoyable, and also given newcomers the ability to tweak the difficulty of the game to suit. A friend once summarized the original Gran Turismo as “buying a shitbox, hotting it up, and taking it out for a spin” - and I must say this is exactly how I spent a majority of my time with earlier incarnations of the game, and Prologue feels a little empty without it.
Another major downfall is the brutal learning curve. Beginners are likely to find the game very difficult right from the start, especially if they choose the wrong car, like I did. Even those who do well with the Class B and C races will find the A Class difficult. There is no qualifying for races, so you’re destined to start in 16th place each event - with a Ford GT ‘06 in pole position.
I won’t cover the multiplayer aspect of the game, as after considerable amounts of time spent online, I was unable to find a game that wasn’t severely affected by lag to the point of being unplayable. If only Sony/Polyphony had followed Midway/Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3 lead - dedicated servers in every country, with a multiplayer interface that allows the user to find the server closest to them easily by displaying the ping/latency. Perhaps they’ll figure this out by the time Gran Turismo 5 hits.
Boiled down, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is the prettiest Gran Turismo yet, but it’s severely lacking elsewhere. I can’t help but feel the game would’ve been best released as a download only for under US$20. There’s just six times the content (courses & cars) of the free HD Concept, and fractions of the content in prior iterations - this just doesn’t scream value for money at US$40.