After a gestation period that has done its level best to rival that of the still much anticipated Duke Nukem Forever, Sony's 'Real Driving Simulator' has finally arrived on PS3. Promising the same brand of realistic racing action as ever, the real test is if the long standing king of the console driving sim is still relevant in today’s world of Forza Motorosport and GTR.
The cars are obviously the true star and if there's one thing that Gran Turismo has always done particularly well it's manage to cram in more vehicles than you'd spot inside the multi-tiered garage of a top level Premier League footballer. The lengthy development years haven’t been spent forgetting this one major plus in Gran Turismo's armoury; there are over 1000 vehicles all ready and willing to be cajoled around a multitude of worldwide circuits.
Out on the track, Gran Turismo 5 has little to rival it. The physics model is absolutely superb, with cars given enough weight and inertia to somehow feel absolutely real. They'll spin if you push them too vigorously, drift wide if you break too late into a corner, and buck wildly if you try and bump up the bhp without taking into account any of the other various vehicular upgrades. And as realistic as it feels, it also manages to be completely and utterly fun.
The car is the star
Yet thanks to this incredible vehicle variety, problems arise almost as soon as you plunge into the full-scale GT Mode (read: 'career mode'). This offering, which will take up the vast majority of the time you'll spend with Gran Turismo, provides an incredible number of events and races to test your driving skills. The usual variants in terms of entry requirements appear, allowing ample opportunity to head to the track in all the different cars populating your virtual garage. Some will only allow you to take control of that dusty old Japanese monstrosity built prior to 1979, while others will barely offer any kind of restrictions whatsoever.
The problems begin after you've managed to accumulate enough cash to purchase your second vehicle and tack on a variety of upgrades. Suddenly, the vehicle you're in control of during the next set of events is vastly superior in terms of speed in comparison to your on track rivals. That creates a multitude of races that don’t truly deserve the name, which leads to a supreme lack of excitement. Gamers with a decent level of self control can easily make sure that they're able to consistently compete in hectic and fun packed races by choosing cars on par with their fellow racers. But there's always that knowledge that a quick trip to the GT Auto shop can almost guarantee a first place finish and a shiny gold cup.
Certainly not a long and winding road
It can get worse too. Some events limit you to using only a handful of cars, with a message informing you of possible makes and models when you try to play them. There's no way to jump from this information directly to the right car dealership however, so you're often forced to write down the legitimate choices before trawling sub-menus in search. It's an obtuse and archaic way of doing things and one that can prompt you to skip certain events due to the lengthy amount of time required to actually get out on the track. Making your way through a list of 30 cars, only to discover that you miss the price point by a handful of credits is not only time consuming, but it's an irritant to the point of tempting you to switch off.
None of that will be a particular surprise to long standing fans of the series, but newcomers more used to being lead by the hand in Forza Motrosport 3 could find it all a touch unfriendly.
Similarly, the menu system is not only incredibly overblown, but also manages to frequently irritate with the constant jumps to the loading screen. It feels like a placeholder test for a fully developed menu system has somehow been left in place for full release.