Before enjoying the game, you need to go through a process that may require the patience of the Dalai Lama. Aside from the 30 to 60 minutes it takes you to install the game to the PS3’s HDD, you also need to acquire a patch that takes ages to download. Since everyone who has bought the game is also trying to download the patch at the same time, it takes several tries to get the update due servers getting congested. The experience is like waiting in line for the lottery an hour before the draw only to have the cashier lady to give you back your ticket because the marks were not dark enough for the machine to read.
After all the hassles you’ve gone through (as if the 5 year wait wasn’t long enough), at last it’s time to play.
At First Glimpse
In the game, you’re greeted by a GUI that most people might think compare to the desktop of a high-end PC. You can probably hang your flatscreen beside a Rembrandt or Van Gogh, and it wouldn’t feel out of place amidst the breathtaking scenery in HD.
GT5 is the first in the series to offer online play. I don’t consider Prologue to be a full-blown game, but as a mere appetizer for the main course ahead. The good news is that GT5 has dedicated servers where the players connect to, rather than one player becoming the host of a race, thus creating a better online experience. However, you’re compelled to treat Internet speed much like horsepower - more is always better, but gets more expensive as you go. We may not be shelling out money on gas here, but we need to spend more for Internet bandwidth.
The usual suspects from the franchise are still there, with some added bells and whistles. There’s the license tests that challenges your skill and your patience, while for others, it uncovers the masochist in you. For me though, it’s the latter, as nothing is more frustrating than missing out on gold by 0.003 seconds. I find myself going through the test again and again, which slowly turned me into a zombie. As I stayed up till 3 o’clock in the morning with eye bags similar in shape and size to the egg yolk headlights of Porsche 911, I still found myself milliseconds away from getting gold.
A-spec and B-spec modes are still present, allowing you to play as either Fernando Alonso or Flavio Briatore, crash-gate aside. But what’s new is the level-up system that turns the game more of a Racing RPG. Along with that, there’s plenty of movie clips in the game that completes the cinematic feel. In B-spec, you create and nurture a driver to the top by letting him participate in races to level him up. While in A-spec, competing in special events and earning licenses also levels you up in addition to participating in races. And whether you see it as a blessing or a curse, your driver level dictates what races you can participate in and the cars you can buy. Finally, Photo Mode is still there to bring out the photographer in you.
In The Driver’s Seat
Besides rallying against Sebastien Loeb, additional disciplines have been thrown into the fray. There’s NASCAR with Jeff Gordon as your instructor and a Top Gear Track challenge. Moreover, you’ll also have to master karting, drifting, Grand Touring (drive on roads from Switzerland to Italy), and Point to Point night-time city driving ala Maximum Tune.
The driving experience is now a lot better, offering new tracks like Monza, Indy, the Top Gear test track, and the full Nurburgring. Weather and lighting conditions can change too, depending on the track. Lastly, all appearing for the first time in the game are supercar giants: Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren. Why it took them until GT5 to join is just beyond my best guess. Still, I was so excited when I heard the news that Ferarri was making its debut appearance in the game with a healthy selection of models such as the F430, F458, F40, Enzo, 599, SP1, 330 LM car, and F1 cars from 2007 and 2010. But did they have to leave out my dream cars, the F50, F50GT and 333SP behind?
In all its glory, GT5 is not perfect. Polyphony Digital is not immune to the delicate balancing act between cost and delivering the ultimate driving game. Only premium cars have onboard camera views and damage modeling, whereas standard cars are limited to the standard “bumper cam”. Personally, GT4 has the best analog button calibration I’ve ever seen, and sadly, it does not carry over to GT5. With the D-pad; steering, throttle, and brake control has become too sensitive and forced me to switch over to the analog sticks. Because of this setback, I can’t do left foot braking anymore.
Comparing this to the previous editions, GT3 and GT4 were criticized for having “ideal” brakes that do not lock-up. In GT5, you now have the option to turn ABS off and lock-up the brakes Ben Hur style. However, the brakes are way too sensitive and lock-up so easily that you’d easily lose control in some cars.
In The Days to Come
Long gone are my school days where I can play all day everyday. Now I have to balance the GT5 life with life as we know it. But like the many fans and car lovers alike whose passion for cars began when the first Gran Turismo came out in 1997, it looks like I’ll be missing out on much needed sleep in the days, weeks, or months to come.