Gran Turismo, sponsored by Arthur Daley – every car a goer

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Gran Turismo 5 (2010)

Oh, how I love racing games. I see them as one of gaming’s purest tests of skill; when done right, they’re a wonderful mixture of patience, focus and control. When done wrong, you get Crazy Frog Racer and Hello Kitty Karting. Whatever poison you choose, it’s all about taking risks, keeping concentration, and outfoxing challenging opponents to get across the line first. And if you can’t do any of that, just spend the most money – or if it’s Mario Kart, hang back at the start and wait for the top items, then goose your pal right at the finishing line. They are now no longer your pal.

If you somehow aren’t aware, the Gran Turismo series places an emphasis on realism, where you attempt to win races against cars of a similar type, or “drivetrain”, whatever that is. There are no grands prix or indeed any structured one-player mode based on points – instead you’re given several categories of racing competitions with certain car requirements. Examples include events for early 90s Japanese cars, 1960s supercars, European rally cars, even some really ghastly ones like French cars only. The variety is such that you’ll be swapping through cars often, and buying in new additions to your humongous Garage that fit the bill.

More accurately, you’ll fancy the look of one of the categories and decide you want to enter, only to find that none of the rusted motors in your garage are eligible. No problem. You’ll head to the dealerships, either the official manufacturers or the second-hand one (disappointingly not represented by a Cockney villain in a sheepskin coat).  With the remarkable amount of choice available, Arthur Daley won’t have any problem flogging you a crock you could well do without.

Having endured the gross and multiple loading times – you’ll still be staring at the letters ‘GT’ for a nauseating amount of time – you’ll then enter the race with your new wheels, and find it to be decent, but not quite good enough for the rigours of serious competition i.e. capable of finishing first or even second, no matter how good a player you are. So you’ll go to tune your car up for that extra edge.

You will discover that, for absolute peanuts, you can bolt all kinds of turbochargers and gear shifting systems and rocket launchers onto any one of the games formidable tally of 1,000+ vehicles. You might not know what each upgrade does, you might not have even heard of a differential (I sure hadn’t) but so long as the brake horsepower and the Performance Points of your car increases, that’s all you’ll need to keep up with.

The anoraks among you may delve further into the car’s performance, adjusting her aerodynamics, fine-tuning her gears or fiddling with her brakes (if you didn’t know, every car identifies as female), all without getting one’s hands dirty.

Having driven one severely underpowered car in my life I couldn’t confidently tell you if these tiny changes throw up a realistic effect but what’s important is that an impressive degree of customisation is available. All money spent is good money so long as the numbers go up, right? Even a change of the oil can transform your car from a laboured, clapped-out wagon to a dream-mobile.

Once you and your souped-up, high-speed deathmachine have returned to the track from which you retired in ignominy only minutes previously, you’ll most likely blister past the competition by the first turn. This is where the game’s difficulty becomes a bit skewed.

Of course, if you’re going to ram your car full of all sorts of modifications, the standardised AI cars will quickly become also-rans. So to instil a bit of difficulty in the game requires some discipline on the part of the player. Tune up your car a bit, but not too much, and the challenge returns. The trouble is that you’ll be swapping out your car of choice so often as per the competition’s requirements that you’ll not want to waste the time making your car a fair contender.

Far quicker to just buy a second-hand car on the cheap, boost its horsepower by a hundred for a spit in the bucket, tear up the competition with some smart driving, and move on to the next series of races. When I say smart driving, incidentally, I mean outbrake yourself into most turns but thrillingly crash off other cars to buffer yourself and stay on track.

This game’s middle name is variety, with a selection of over 1,000 cars, 70 tracks (some of these are simply night-time versions of other tracks, a bit of a con, but at least some great real ones like Spa and Laguna Seca are there) and several game modes. To the game’s great credit, there is huge diversity in the racing choices: you can choose to go kart racing, supercar racing, mini racing, NASCAR racing, Formula One racing and more.

If those tracks lose their appeal, then you’ll be kept happy with one of the best features of the game, the Course Maker. The Maker won’t give you full control over the track’s layout to make deathly F-Zero X style tracks, which is unfortunate, but you can at least control the complexity and angle of turns over the track’s separate segments. It’s fun to see and test what shapes the game throws out.

The bulk of the game is the racing, ‘A-Spec’ mode. But the B-Spec mode, now that one I have to laugh at. In this mode, you “manage a racing team”. By this the game really means “watch your AI representative win”. Who wants to do that?! It’s not management like Football Manager or NHL Manager – it’s just you sat there, looking at your pilchard driver going around the track while you try and fail miserably to derive enjoyment from it.

Throughout the race you can “manage” them to victory, which literally entails telling the hollow shell behind your car’s wheels to drive faster; imbeciles or more sporting players can instead tell the driver to go slower. Of course, as you’ve already been sneaky and applied all manner of modifications to your rocketcar, the race becomes a whitewash anyway. Even if the clown you’ve put behind the wheel spins out frequently. You might just as well invite a friend over and watch them win races and improve their skills, while you self-consciously murmur encouragement.

The infamous Licence Tests also return, putting players in mini-scenarios such as turning a wet corner in as quick a time as possible. As ever, these events are sadistic. Other than that there’s the usual time trial and arcade modes.

The multiplayer was a much anticipated feature of this iteration of Gran Turismo. Locally, you are restricted to two-player split-screen, a limitation which I always abhor. The online is now finito, but in its day it had 16-player races available. In my limited forays online, the other competitors were even fair, or close to it. It was a marked difference from the Turn 1 Slaughter that the online F1 games are notable for, I can tell you that.

The game’s graphics have been considered a bit of a mixed bag by those who demand a lifelike look at all times. I think they look the biz – even the less detailed, Standard cars look fine (until you try an in-car camera and the whole screen goes black) and the road, grass, gravel, tires and turn apexes all look fantastic, especially with the sun beating down upon them.

The luxurious attention to detail is underappreciated but certainly not unnoticed by oafs like myself. I do get a bit of hefty screen tear, but I can handle that. Anyway, when you’re whizzing past at top speed, does it matter that the spectators look like mannequins? Zoom out of Monaco’s famous tunnel in an Aston Martin DB9 and tell me that the game doesn’t look impressive to this day. Then crash headlong into the track’s barriers for the 20th time that lap and say thank God they haven’t bothered with a damage model (again).

This is one of those games which allows the player to play their own tunes instead of the game’s selections, which is a great plus for me, having Duran Duran belt out as I slam modern supercars through the streets of Rome. Having that alongside the snazzy jazz music on the menus is a match made in heaven. Music that plays during the races is a little limited, so maybe best to add a few numbers of your own, once you figure out the convoluted method.

I have no idea if Gran Turismo 5 does what it sets out to do. A realistic driving simulator? Well, there’s no cyclists on the tracks getting in the way, or taxi drivers and white van men doing what they want, so can it be that realistic really? Well, whatever about that, this game is the closest I’ll get to drifting a Shelby Cobra around the Nordschleife – for that alone, GT5 will always be beautiful.

28 December 2018

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