GT5 heralds the return of the license tests too, which return in order to get you in the state of mind required for what is quite an authentic racing experience. They start simply enough, with basic breaking and cornering techniques first to be taught, but even the first lessons can be formidable if you're adamant on claiming gold.
Luckily there's now no need to finish and achieve a particular license before you can take part in the various competitions on offer. Instead there's a generic experience counter which serves to restrict your progress and unlock content - including the much vaunted damage models, which bafflingly only even start to unlock at Level 20. We hoped damage would have been a key feature for GT5, but it seems it's off the table until you've put a good couple of hours in.
Update: Damage is, apparently, not unlocked through level progression but is rather tied to the type of car you drive. Standard cars can only suffer minor deformation and scratches, while Premium cars have greater damage detail and Premium Racing cars have the highest damage detail. 'Full' damage is therefore not available unless you have unlocked and are driving a Premium Racing car.
But then there's the Special Events. These are various lessons, tests, and competitions that are so overwhelmingly superb that you soon start to forget all the tedium you’ve encountered elsewhere. The first is a set of races behind the dinky wheel of a tiny little go-kart which is ridiculously twitchy and invariably makes everyone spin out on the second corner their first time around. When it all comes together though, the true beauty of Gran Turismo 5 finally starts to shine through; soon you're expertly weaving through chicanes, and overtaking on tight bends before claiming top spot and a stunning lap time.
The crowd isn't exactly straining at the leash here
Special Events only really get better as you progress. You'll get lessons on slip streaming while barrelling along at massive speeds in a supreme Nascar, point to point races across some wickedly devised tracks, and even a casual jaunt in a camper van around the famed Top Gear Test Track. They're all universally fun, informative, and provide the kind of variety that we'd never truly expected.
The other way to attain cash and experience points in GT Mode is via the B-Spec events. These allow you the chance to strap on your managerial hat and prod an AI driver into taking your chosen motor around the next track in order to claim first position. Your input is basically restricted to setting up the car prior to the race, then urging your driver to either push themselves harder, or hold back in order to conserve physical and mental energy. It's an interesting addition and undoubtedly bound to find a fan base. Considering the entire ethos behind the Gran Turismo series is the chance to take control of incredible cars though, it seems like a mode that’s bound to only be dipped into now and again by most. Particularly as watching a procession of cars make their way around a track isn’t overly interesting, as Formula One consistently proves.
Online options are basic - and certainly not helped by the many terrible bugs and flaws which saw many unable to even play the single player career while online - despite the initial, social media obsessed, prompts. Though 16 vehicles can take the track at any one time, there's nothing in the way of tying this into your fully fledged single player career. Unlike Forza Motorsport 3 which ties both the on and offline experience together tighter than any games have previously managed, Gran Turismo 5 is little more than the basic online racing game options you’d expect to see. It's a real shame; you'd think the lengthy development time would have created something much more appealing.
Not quite a super car
There's plenty more stuffed in to Gran Turismo 5, but most of it is little more than bonus fluff in comparison to the main GT Mode. There's an Arcade Mode for those unwilling to put in the plentiful hours needed to unlock the real goodies and even a basic course designer for those with a creative bent. All nice additions, but nothing that’s going to take up your time for little more than the odd swift dip in and out, we reckon.
Gran Turismo 5 is a bit of an odd beast. It's got an incredible number of cars, a wide variety of fantastic tracks, and the action behind the wheel is an experience that certainly goes toe to toe with Forza Motorsport 3. It should be a sure-fire classic. Should be
Sadly, there's so many missed opportunities, irritants, and daft design decisions that drag things down. The interface is not only far too convoluted, but the frequent and lengthy loading screen appearances make a misplaced button prod something you'll curse even harder than those red traffic lights on your way home from work. And the lack of any real online interaction outside the absolute basics is such an incredible omission that you cant help but feel that perhaps another six months development was needed to build something to rival Gran Turismo 5's fellow hardcore racers. It's a fun racing game, but it ultimately fails to trounce the competition in the way you might expect.