Game - Gran Turismo 5: Prologue
Genre - Driving Simulator
Platform - Playstation 3 (exclusive)
The original Playstation system had a slew of games that sold phenomenally well. Who can forget the success of games like Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, or Crash Bandicoot? But for all the success of those titles, there was only one game that holds the crown as the best-selling game for the Playstation. That game was Gran Turismo. I logged many an hour working on the upgrades to my garage, trying to shave hundredths of seconds off of my posted times. And since the success of that initial offerring, the GT franchise has continued to morph, to upgrade, and to grow; adding more manufacturers, more cars, more tracks, and more realism.
The world of next-gen gaming got its first taste of this hugely-succesful franchise with the release of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. Originally announced at E3 2007, Sony and Polyphony Digital promised to deliver a Blu-ray powered driving experience that was going to be unparalleled. And I can tell you, although I had some minor issues with this title, Gran Turismo is back and better than ever.
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If you've played a GT game in the past, there isn't going to be a whole lot of innovation in Prologue. You start off with 10,000 credits, with which you must purchase a car. You then race that car in events in one of three classes (C, B, then A) in order to earn more credits. Eventually, you will win enough money to buy a faster car, which will allow you to compete in higher stakes events, thus earning more credits, and so on and so on until you get your hands on that Ferrari you've been wanting. Once you have completed all three race circuits, you begin to earn Performance Points, which give you the ability to tune your car's components for optimum performance.
In keeping with GT tradition, two players can race each other on split screen. And for the first time in GT history, players can race on-line across the PSN. Up to 16 people can join a race, and can be a nice change of pace from the AI-driven cars you spend most of your time racing.
The gameplay of Prologue, although great, is not wholly different from any of the earlier incarnations of the franchise; GT games are more akin to simulators like Forza than driving games like Burnout: Paradise. You can't just mash the gas pedal and hope you'll beat everyone to the finish line. Drivers must account for weight distribution, drafting behind other cars, and other physics-based limitations that drivers actually encounter.
Steering is mapped to the left analog stick, and with acceleration and braking tied to either the right analog stick, or a combination of buttons (X for acceleration, O for hand-brake, and square for normal brakes). R2 and L2 are your gear-shifts in manual transmission cars, and hitting L1 gives you a rear-view camera. Hitting the select button changes to one of four camera angles: hood mounted, cockpit, just outside the car, and flying behind. My personal favorite was the hood mounted view, as it gives the best approximation of speed. However, it is worth pointing out how good the cockpit view looks. The driver's hands move in perfect sync with the player's steering, and even the dashboard instruments display actual speed and RPM data.
Although there isn't a ton of innovation in Prologue, I was simply blown away by so many aspects of it. First, and most obvious of all, is the way the game looks. Although there is not a slew of cars to choose from, the ones that are available have been rendered with such amazing detail that there are times when you're looking at your garage that you forget you're not actually watching a car commercial. Couple with that photo-realistic backgrounds and race-tracks (rendered in full 1080p) and you have an unparalleled racing experience.
As great as the game looks and plays, there are some issues with Prologue which simply cannot be ignored. First and most glaring, there is no damage modelling in the game. If you are moving along at 150+ mph, and you hit the retaining wall, you may lose a bit of momentum, but there won't even be a scratch in your paint-job. This is nearly inexcusable for a simulator. However it is only a prologue, which brings me to my second problem with this game: it is unforgivably sparse on features. I mean 70 cars and 6 tracks on the PS1 sounded like a lot, but for a next-gen game (without a budget price - $40), it amounts to basically a glorified demo. I mean, since it's a racing game, there is nearly inifinite replay value, but there simply isn't enough to unlock to make it worth the full price of purchase. The added value is that you get to keep whatever cars and credits you earn once the full GT5 comes to stores, but anyone can see that $40 is a lot to ask for a demo.
Again, GT5: Prologue is amazing to look at, and the game handles like a dream. And while I'm excited to have a full garage of cars unlocked once GT5 releases, I wouldn't have minded waiting a bit longer for a more complete experience.