By Etienne Vlok
When deciding to buy Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, the decision shouldn’t be hard for the long time GT enthusiast – go out and buy it. It contains everything that made previous entries great, spruced up for the next generation, and is a solid racing game that will provide a lot of enjoyment until the next â€˜proper’ Gran Turismo title is released.
For everyone else, the latter part of the previous sentence is the big deciding factor when you decide to buy GT5: Prologue.
If I were to tell you that I’m going to give you a FPS game with only 6 of the maps, and not all the character models available, with the aim to stress test the multiplayer component, you’d rightly call it a beta release and download it for free. For Prologue, they slapped a price tag on it, wrote it to Blu-ray disc and created a fully-fledged retail product around what is essentially a glorified demo. It is against this reality that one needs to evaluate Prologue.
Driving games are probably some of the easiest games to review, since the gameplay mechanic, by the very nature of the genre, is limited in scope. In that regard, Prologue succeeds with flying colours – it’s an immensely enjoyable racing game, with tremendous depth and replayability on offer. Like most racing games, it’s built around the concept of getting the driving down to a fine art, with each race serving to build your skill set and pool of experience, literally turning you into a better (virtual) driver. I admit that completing a certain event after retrying it nearly ten or fifteen times lends one a tremendous sense of accomplishment, especially when applying the knowledge and skill you’ve just had hammered into your skull through hard experience. While it sounds repetitive, racing fans (and by extension, racing game fans) are nothing if not passionate about cars and racing, and will in all likelihood not find repeating certain races a chore or an exercise in frustration. The game offers a variety of racing types: arcade mode, where you can set up races to your specifications; split-screen races on the same console; and the events mode, where you basically build a career, buying better cars and gaining experience as you go along.
The physics engine is vintage Gran Turismo. Each car that I’ve driven has subtle differences that you need to master before standing a real chance against more challenging opponents. Given that there is a huge variety of cars – more than 70 – you won’t claim to be an expert with each car anytime soon. From Aston Martin to Honda, BMW to Mitsubishi, Ferrari to Ford, there is a wide variety of cars to play around with. It’s a far cry from the 700+ figure in GT 4, but then again, this is the demo, folks.
A large component of the game is the fact that you can finally race against other players online. However, this is easily the game’s weakest section, at the moment, owing to the lack of XMB integration into the game itself – something that PS3 faithful have been clamouring to be included in an update for a while now. When compared with the plethora of options available to Xbox Live users playing Forza 2, Prologue needs to do a LOT of catching up to be on the same level. Nonetheless, the prospect of 16 player online races is indeed a tempting one, and something any racing fan will have a lot of fun with as soon as the technology to make it an easy prospect to find a race you like is implemented. Currently, taking all choice out of the hands of the player is completely at odds with the rest of the game. On the plus side, the races themselves are a lot of fun, and the lag isn’t too bad, from what I’ve experienced.
The game offers online leaderboards and replay downloads, and will in future also offer GT-specific content developed by the Top Gear team, in terms of a contract with the BBC.
The game also has a tuning option, after completing all the races in all three available classes (from C to A), which offers a lot of longevity to the title, with extensive tuning options. Completing all these events also unlocks the highly challenging S class races, where the most expensive cars compete against extremely adept AI racers. S class is for the serious enthusiast – it’s unforgiving, and require a lot of trial and error to really get anywhere. By the end of it, I guarantee you will be a very competent online racer. Speaking of which, I found the AI in the game to be remarkably fun to race against – for a change, they can also make errors, and are definitely beatable, if you get perfect your driving skills.
Visually, the game is superb, especially when playing in HD. The background render on the mountainous Nordwand course set in the Swiss Alps, in particular, is beautiful, and the cars themselves are eye-candy of the highest order. The game has an awesome replay feature, my favourite being a TV-style coverage, and nowhere does the vibrance and beauty on show in this game have a better showcase than in this mode, where even the mundane can seem dramatic. Reflections and shadows combine with dynamic action to make for a truly mesmerizing visual experience. A special mention goes out towards the in-car racing view that is presented (literally) through the eyes of the driver. Watching something as simple as your hands moving to shift gears in a fully modelled car interior is an incredibly immersive addition to the game.
The menu music is the typical low-key, laid-back coffee shop (almost elevator) music that’s basically become a trademark of the series, while the races themselves feature more appropriate, licensed music. The audio really stands out when it comes to recreating the engine and track noises present in the game. Listening to the powerful roar of a Ferrari F430 as you slipstream past another car before braking hard into a hairpin really places you in the driving seat, especially if you have a good sound system to enjoy the game with.
The game has several irritating problems, however, and the big one is the menu interface. Working from My Page, an XMB-like (yet still not XMB integrated, as mentioned above) menu, featuring beauty shots of your car parked in various tranquil places across the globe, you access all the main options. However, doing something as simple as changing between cars forces you to enter the garage, a cumbersome process you’ll be forced to repeat often. Buying a new car treats you to loading screens featuring manufacturer logos of at least five seconds – completely unforgivable after enduring a 20 minute install after inserting the game into your console for the first time. You can’t adjust button layouts and other options from anywhere but My Page, as opposed to from the menu screen in races, where it would be most useful.
The fact that every race has a rolling start is also an issue for me, as it removes one of the most exciting aspects of racing: the action and suspense of navigating the first corner. This is really something they need to change. I cannot overstate enough how irritating I found the continuous rolling starts to be.
While acknowledging that Prologue is, in fact, a demo, I have to review the product that is in front of me. It certainly shows great promise for GT5, and if Polyphony keeps delivering online content up to the launch of the real thing, it could really address most of the issues the game has. That said, it’s not the best racer available today – that honour still belongs to Forza 2 on the 360, in my opinion. The fact that this iteration of the GT franchise still doesn’t feature proper damage modelling – something the processor should definitely be able to handle – is a huge disappointment for me, as is the lack of the comprehensive telemetry data that Forza offers.
Is it worth your money? If you’re a racing fan, or looking for an awesome racing game – at least until GT5 is released, Prologue is definitely worth your time and money if you are a PS3 owner. However, if you also own an Xbox 360, I’d say you have a more comprehensive and polished package in Forza 2. If you’re more of a casual racing fan, it’s probably worth your while until Gran Turismo 5 is released. Still, there can be no denying it: barring a few bad interface and design choices, Prologue is a terrific game.
Graphics: 90 %
Gameplay: 80 %
Originality: 75 %
Tilt: 80 %
Overall: 80 % (
run like hell
a good buy) [Updated]
Last Updated: March 31, 2008