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Polyphony Digital are back with their second tease of GT in HD, but is it more Suzuki Liana than Ferrari F50...
- Stunning visuals for the cars.
- AI is vastly improved over previous titles.
- Hints at what we can expect from next year's release.
- No sign of the damage modelling yet.
- Environments are in varying states of polish.
- Means we still have a long time to wait fo r GT5.
A hallowed marque in the history of videogames, Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo has long been held aloft from other racing franchises ever since it launched on the original PlayStation back in 1997. A veritable benchmark for every PlayStation system, except the still 'in-development' PSP version, GT has had a few competitors over the year (including most notably Turn 10's Forza Motorsport on Xbox/Xbox 360), but all have fallen by the wayside compared to the Polyphony's output in all its shiny 'driving sim' glory.
Ahead (way ahead) of an anticipated release in 2009, Sony Computer Entertainment and Polyphony are bringing a small hors d'heurve of what fans can expect to experience to PlayStation 3 with Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. Available at retail and over PlayStation Network after a beta test in Japan at the end of 2007, TVG got behind the wheel of the latest iteration of the GT series to discover whether it remains at the front of the pack - or if it's stalled on the starting line...
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines...
The second GT title to make itself known on Sony's latest powerhouse, following the veritable sniff that was GTHD Concept, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue continues in a similar vein to GT4: Prologue. A limited selection of tracks and cars, together with a smattering of modes (and the fulfilment of that near-Holy Grail of the GT franchise, online multiplayer) at the outset looks like Yamouchi-san and his Polyphony team may seem a tad restricted in depth...but it's so very far from that.
It's GT, so the description of 'virtual car porn' remains very much intact. Obviously a taster of the gargantuan library of cars the full GT5 will come packaged with next year, the European release of Prototype launches with around 70 vehicles with models from the 2005 Suzuki Cappuccino to Ferrari's F2007 Formula 1 racer - the latter only emerging within two weeks of the game's release. First off, and exactly as you'd expect, the vehicles are superlatively stunning. Crisp, photorealistic, and more polished than a set of Army marching boots, the examples of motorcar from the everyday to the sublime in GT5: Prologue are quite literally awesome. Purely striking in a way that GT's rivals can only look on with envy at, the level of detail is incredible, from the tiniest LCD on a dashboard to the texture grain on the inside of the new cockpit view.
As you'd expect from GT, the cars all handle very differently, from the robust Honda Integra Type-R to the twitchy Nissan GT-R and BMW M3 Coupe - and the superior force that is that latecomer to the game's line up: the Ferrari F1 racing car. The weight distribution and physics that made the difference when Polyphony launched Gran Turismo 4 onto PlayStation 2 three years ago naturally makes a return here, though limited tuning is only unlocked when players complete the three standard class of races in the game. No doubt a sliver of what petrolheaded gamers will get to tweak and tune in 2009, perhaps a lack of extensive tuning options is more to do with further additions that Polyphony are in the process of implementing, like the long-touted damage modelling (hopefully actual physical mesh dynamics and not cheap tricks like decals...we're looking at you Forza 2.)
There's very little doubt that whilst the cars largely represent what we can expect from the upcoming GT5, the tracks themselves are in varying states of polish and presentation. Whilst some, such as the mountainous Eiger Nordwandtrack (which made an appearance in 2007's GTHD Concept), feel particularly slick, others (most notably the Daytona Raceway) are less so. Likely placeholder material in anticipation of the full version of Gran Turismo 5 next year, the presentation of the tracks may not be fully decked out at the moment, but with the extra year (or more) that the release of Prologue will afford Polyphony, expect the likes of the Fuji Speedway and the London tracks to pull out all the stops. All six tracks featured in Prologue have two modes, more often a 'Reverse' route, though some - like Daytona, which makes its GT debut - have some actual track changes. All are obviously welcome on a limited release like this, especially when some of the tracks require a little extra playtime to perfect each corner, but none fail to disappoint.
The three classes (C, B, and A) feature the usual make up of GT challenges, with standard races, time attacks, and more arcade-like overtaking race types giving players ample hands on time. Whilst some will undoubtedly seem nearly impossible to get Gold on, the Class A time trail in a BMW M3 on the Eiger Nordwandtrack instantly springs to mind, others are challenges that can truly get you stuck into in a way that can only get the blood pumping for the full version of GT5. It all feels like very familiar territory for veterans of the series, though well into the nostalgic sense of familiarity and not the passé and repetitive kind. Beyond the stalwarts of the Fuji International Speedway and Suzuka, Prologue also unveils two newcomers in the form of the iconic Daytona Speedway and a road track through the surprisingly congestion-free streets of London. Surely a taster of further noobs to the GT fold come '09, the tracks show that Polyphony are set to bring back classic tracks from the franchise together with a heady mix of debutants too.
The Real Driving Simulator.
If the big jump between GT3 and GT4 lay with the overhauled physics engine and weight distribution, there's little doubt where Yamouchi-san and the rest of the Polyphony team are guiding the next leap for Gran Turismo 5. One of the few weaker elements of the series to date (aside from the lack of damage modelling) has been the AI of the other cars. Forming clinical convoys of automobiles that make snake-like movements across the track and stick to the racing line like glue, the AI-controlled vehicles of the past haven't helped to promote a sense of character. That's all about to change if Prologue is anything to go by.
For starters, the AI seems to be aggressive in their determination to get past the chequered flag first, something that hasn't been seen in the past. A subtle difference perhaps, but when the opponents also push themselves too hard into corners, drifting off track and making mistakes that their previous GT counterparts would never have made, you just know that Polyphony are working on something special. They're also prone to being forced into mistakes, especially if players drive aggressively alongside them or behind them in the run up to some of the advanced corners on some of the tracks. Competitive amongst themselves and not just to the player's vehicle, they also have more sensible sides too, making emergency swerves around opponents as they crash out in front of them, or waiting for a safe break in traffic before re-joining the track. It's an astounding bit of work by Polyphony, even at this stage, and we can only raise our expectations further ahead of the true GT5.
In addition to their new found brains, the AI have also been boosted in number, from the rather lowly five in GT4 to rather astounding figure of fifteen, far more than many of its rivals. Beyond just bulking out the number opponents to pass in a race, the expanded numbers also means that the sensation of taking part in an actual race to the finish is heightened. It also makes the experience far less clinical, whilst the fact that the extra vehicles on the track seems to have their own AI personalities only goes to show off the extra care and attention that Polyphony are lovingly caressing into the true fifth incarnation.
The cars, their physical presence on the track, and actual performances in a race, are all very important and cornerstone factors in GT5 Prologue, but the Japanese studio hasn't skimped on little extras either. As a garnishing detail, GT5 Prologue is also enabled with DualShock 3 functionality, despite the fact that SCEE is yet to announce when us lowly Europeans will get our mitts on the SIXAXIS upgrade. Regardless, it's a positive sign that additional feedback will be thrown at gamers in the coming months once the DS3 lands on our shores.
But it won't be nearly as anticipated as the real GT5.
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