Ten, five and three: respectively, that's how many years, games and systems the Gran Turismo franchise has stretched. Envisioned by Kazunori Yamauchi, and realized through the work of Polyphony Digital, the Gran Turismo games have a cult following, not only in the gaming circles, but with car enthusiasts as well. Gran Turismo 5 is the second GT game to have a stand-alone preview build released before the full game, and GT5 Prologue exhibits both very positive changes to the franchise, as well as some features that still need tweaking before final judgment can be cast on the premiere racing simulator.
It's like a full game, only smaller...
If you're a fan o the GT series, you know what Prologue means, and what it's all about. For everyone else, Prologue isn't a demo, it's a preview to what the full GT5 game will be-whenever it is released.
Instead of the developer taking a sample of their unfinished game, and throwing it on the public no matter its condition, Polyphony Digital showcases what it means to distribute a preview of game. Sure, you're paying nearly the full price for--technically--an incomplete game, but what you get in return is a sample that will appease any hardcore fan long enough for them to get their hands on the final product.
Yamauchi's team worked specifically on the Prologue title to ensure both fans, and newcomers to the franchise, would get a taste of the GT experience, without putting any unplanned sour tastes in their collective mouth. The game runs extremely smoothly at 60 frames per second, at 1080p, and only shows a few, trace, instances of object pop-ins and glitchy, screen flashes.
Seriously, it's not a demo...
You won't find any un-clickable options in Prologue; instead, you have full access to toy with over 70 cars and six tracks. While you're able change a few car settings right before each race-namely transmission and assist options-Prologue takes a different route to tuning which demands you play through the Events mode. Unlike GT games of the past, where you would buy your parts and tune accordingly, Prologue implements an unlockable tuning system that only allows you tweak your settings only after completing all of the Events races. It's a gimped version of past tuning options, but we have to keep in mind this a preview of the final game-let's just hope the original tuning options make it into the full game.
A lacking tuning system aside, expect more than just a bunch of license tests in this Prologue as it is a fairly robust preview. There are three different classes of Events (C, B and A), each with 10 races that require you expand your garage with cars from varying manufacturers and with different drive trains. Also, thrown into basic races are a few challenge events which require you to either complete a lap in a certain amount of time, or pass 15 other competitors in a single lap.
While the number of races is fairly impressive, Prologue is just a sampling of the final game, and although there are a few permutations, the limited number of tracks can get pretty repetitive. With so few tracks, grinding comes into play here, as it's going to take a lot of racing to buy those faster, specialized cars; and when there are only a handful of tracks to play, it will take a real die-hard to not lose it after playing High Speed Ring for the millionth time.
It's about time...
Luckily, however, there are a couple of new options to distract you from the fact you're only racing on a few different courses. New to the GT series this time around are online play and drifting.
If racing against the clock or other people isn't your thing, you can now simulate yourself into the drifting culture. In the Arcade mode, you can choose the type of event you want to play, but a drift trial will try your ability at pulling the E-brake to slide around corners. Polyphony Digital has done a marvelous job at capturing the sport, as taking corners just right requires a good amount of practice to get high scores for online rankings.
Yes, online rankings: GT5 Prologue marks the first time the GT series has the ability to connect online. While it's a novel thing to the franchise, going online was only a logical step for this generation. Not only can you race others over the internet, but online capabilities bring GT-TV, which showcases special features on cars and making-ofs, as well as a News menu which updates you on...updates.
However, the jump to online functionality seems to have disrupted the game's classy feel. Whether at the fingertips of either inconsiderate or unpracticed racers, taking GT online can be one of the more frustrating experiences of racing games.
Polyphony Digital have tried to account for sporadic, jerky movements to avoid accidents by allowing the vehicles to pass through one another in such spastic instances, but it isn't enough. As you round corners, others will ungraciously knock into you, causing you to spin out of control, taking you from 1st to last. While it's great to include 16 racers total-while having the game run just as smoothly as offline-in races, it becomes a contest of who has the faster car to survive corners, instead of who can find lines better; unfortunately, there aren't any disincentives/penalties to keep players from running into one another.
Also, the limited number of courses accounts for only a handful of races which eventually gets just as repetitive as offline. The saving grace, however, is the ability to earn money in online races that can be used to buy additional cars.
Everything but the kitchen sink...
While it's easy to criticize the limited nature of the game, it's just as easy to praise it as being the most immersive racing simulator out there. Although it's far from being a complete Gran Turismo game, Prologue offers up a beautiful new menu system that includes a calendar, international weather and time, and a showcase of your current car in different locals. The menu system is a bit clunky however, as you have to go in and out of different submenus to purchase cars, access your garage and compare car details.
The elegance-there's really no other way to describe it-that is evident in the show-rooms and menus, translate to in-game features as well where there are so many little details, you sometimes forget you are playing a game, and not watching a real race.
The cars themselves are, perhaps, the prettiest thing on any platform in this generation, but fans will most likely take more notice of the new cockpit view. Not only does each car have its own feel to it, according to the type of drive train, but each interior has been recreated to reflect its real life counterpart. To accompany the detailed interiors, you'll be able to see drivers' arms as they function in real time according to your actions. Ultimately, the new view feels a bit claustrophobic, but it succeeds in giving you the sensation that you are indeed in a different car each time you visit your garage.
Other little details like authentic vehicle sounds, replays from online leaders instead of game demos played when you're not racing, and a stellar-yet also limited-soundtrack show that the developers are taking the utmost care in delivering an enthusiast's racer.
Final game now, please...
The Gran Turismo series is heralded as being the top of litter for racing simulators, and based on Prologue, it looks like GT5 will uphold such claims. Although it's not the final game, Prologue shows off new elements that are being implemented for the series debut on the PS3. While it's obvious there has been great care put into the game, Prologue also shows that there are issues that need to be addressed for the upcoming, complete experience. Priced at $39.99, whether you buy the disk or download it, it will be hard for some to stomach the fact you're not buying a finished game. Ultimately, Prologue is a die-hard's game, but it is also a great way for newcomers to see what all of the accolades are for.
+ Overall stunning sights and sounds
+ Online racing
+ New cockpit view with unique interiors
Oh, hell no:
- Limited number of tracks
- Clunky menu/garage system
- No penalties for reckless drivers online