"In Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, you're given the chance to drive an impressive array of vehicles. There are more than 60 in all. While the final package will no doubt increase that number substantially—and though a lot of the choices here are quite similar at a glance—there's no reason to scoff at a selection that includes the Corvette, Viper, Integra, Ferrari, Lancer Evolution, Lotus and many other favorites."
Sometimes it can be difficult to wait for the things we really want. For Sony racing fans, one of those things is Gran Turismo 5. The fact that its release is a year away feels completely unfair, especially given how good it looks every time there's a new glimpse at its development progress. Fortunately, Sony--in a not entirely philanthropic gesture--has heard the racing community's pleas and is providing the diehard with a taste of the great things to come. That taste is Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.
Priced at $39.99, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is being marketed not necessarily as a game, but as a sample of a much larger package. That's precisely what it is, too. The question is whether or not the price tag matches the content. Fortunately, it does.
In Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, you're given the chance to drive an impressive array of vehicles. There are more than 60 in all. While the final package will no doubt increase that number substantially--and though a lot of the choices here are quite similar at a glance--there's no reason to scoff at a selection that includes the Corvette, Viper, Integra, Ferrari, Lancer Evolution, Lotus and many other favorites. Many 'full' racing games provide less than that. Even recent offerings from Electronic Arts can't really promise superior variety.
More important than the number of available vehicles is the experience of driving each one. In Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, you almost feel as if you're sitting inside your chosen car. There are several camera perspectives, including one behind the wheel that even includes the sight of your gloved hands steering left and right or shifting as you navigate the various courses. The tiniest details are given appropriate attention, both visually and in terms of how the different vehicles handle. The result is that it's difficult to think of any other racing title that makes the driving experience more immersive.
Much of that is accomplished by the game's visual polish. Gran Turismo games have always been beautiful, but never to this extent. There are times when everything looks photo-realistic. That's not a perpetual state, certainly, but it's surprisingly close to the norm. As cheesy as it sounds, there are times when things even look almost better than life. The exteriors of the included cars polish with a fine sheen and reflect their surroundings like never before. Watching replay sequences or even just the cars as they sit in different environments on the menu screens is surly enough to set any car junkie to drooling.
If Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has one place where it doesn't feel complete enough to qualify as a full game, it would be the course selection. There are only six tracks here and too many of them are just standard raceways. There's some variety in them, sure, but people who feel anxious to roar down the open road are in for some definite disappointment. The streets of London and the curvy mountain road already familiar to anyone who played Gran Turismo HD are as close as things get.
You'll play through those same tracks numerous times as you enjoy the Gran Turismo 5 Prologue experience. When you start out, most tracks and vehicles are unlocked, so you have to compete in events to broaden your selection. There are three race levels, divided in lots of 10 challenges apiece. Most of them are straight-up relays, though a few ask you to manage a lap within a set period of time. Different ones require different vehicles in your garage for entry, so it will take a few hours to pass through the challenges. In lesser titles, that might feel like a gimmick, but here it's quite satisfying just because the prize money you receive is generally decent and there are so many exciting vehicles to unlock.
When you tire of that reasonably robust single-player mode, you can also take the game online with up to 15 other players. The cars and courses you've mastered alone can now take on a whole new aspect as you compete against rivals from throughout the world. Races grow that much closer to realistic as you compete with people more prone to make accidents... or to drive so fantastically good as to leave you completely in their dust.
Both online and off, driving in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is more about simulation and less about sheer speed conquering all. There's a lot to be said for the opportunity to unleash your horsepower on a straight stretch, but many of the more interesting courses have hairpin turns that turn moments of reckless abandon into disaster. The savvy player will focus more on finding that sweet spot in every corner, on pulling through a snaking leg of a race to catch up to and pass the leader. If you're having trouble doing so yourself, there's a semi-transparent line you can follow that gives pointers on how to approach each bend (including general assistance on when to brake).
Something else worth noting is that the computer-controlled drivers feel more credible now. Though they all rush for the best angles on each curve--and occasionally still do so at their own peril when you're involved in the jockeying for position--there's not quite the sense that they're all glued to a certain line of asphalt. They'll weave back and forth on straight stretches, brake credibly on bends and once in awhile even steer too sharply and head off into course-side sand. It's not managed in a ridiculous fashion, either. The artificial intelligence isn't of the rubber band variety, where you can afford to make a bunch of mistakes and your rivals will wait for you to catch back up to them. When you win a race it's because you drove well, not because your rivals performed poorly.
After playing for 5 or 10 hours, there's a good chance that you'll have seen everything of substance that Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has to offer. The package is complete enough, though, that you'll probably keep playing just to improve your times or to unlock those last few vehicles or to trounce your competition online. Maybe you'll keep going just for the unparalleled immersion. Whatever your reasons, you'll probably return to it regularly as the months pass and the eventual release of 'the real deal' draws nigh. Waiting was difficult, but now it's easier.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 21, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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