Behind the wheel of Gran Turismo 5

Mercedes SLS in Japan

After six years in development, Gran Turismo 5 is nearing completion. Jamie Wolfcale takes an exclusive hands-on look at the latest version of Polyphony's racing simulation game.

I've just extricated myself from the mayhem of E3, where I got an extensive hands-on look at Gran Turismo 5. Needless to say, it's vastly impressive, as well as it should be after six years in development. If you haven't already done so, go here to watch the official Gran Turismo 5 E3 trailer.

First impressions

While at E3, I got to sample five different races. The first was a session at the Nurburgring GP circuit in a Ferrari 458 Italia. Since I'm used to playing Gran Turismo on a controller, I wasn't quite ready for the kick-back of the force feedback steering wheel and I immediately spun the Fezza in to the gravel trap in the first hairpin. This in itself was pretty amazing. The tires squealed and I was pitched sideways into a nauseating spin, complete with the sounds of gravel bouncing off the undertray. After a slice of humble pie, I learned to grab the wheel by the scruff of the neck and gradually began to gain a feel for the car's handling. As with a real mid-engined supercar, you can feel the weight behind you, and you have to adjust your steering inputs accordingly.

Next I decided to go rallying. I selected a fictional dirt loop track in Tuscany and a Subaru Impreza WRC car. I floored it at the start and the tyres spun into oblivion firing gravel in every direction. Soon I was Scandinavian-flicking my way through the Italian countryside. This track also demonstrated Gran Turismo's new dynamic day to night transitions. Over the course of about a minute, time is sped up from mid-afternoon to around 11:00 pm. As the sun starts to set, your headlights automatically come on and as it gets darker still, your field of vision is limited to that which you see illuminated by your headlights, once again just like real life. The effect is startlingly realistic. In Gran Turismo 4 there were two 24-hour races (Nurburgring and Le Mans), but ambient light conditions remained the same for the duration of the race. The new day to night transitions should make endurance racing in Gran Turismo 5 truly epic.


The third dimension

At this point I was politely asked to vacate my seat to make way for the others behind me, who were chomping at the bit to get a taste. So, what did I do? I got right back in line, and this time I decided to be patient and wait for one of the 3D terminals to open up. Sadly, the 3D effect was a little underwhelming. Buildings, trees, and other background elements appeared two-dimensional and it really just came off as an afterthought that was implemented at the eleventh hour to push a few more Sony 3D televisions. Blame James Cameron. To be fair, this is not the final product and perhaps with a little more polish, the 3D element could be stunning. However, my reservations about the 3D effects notwithstanding, I did get to sample three more car and track combos.

I decided to stop messing around and selected a JGTC Nissan GT-R race car and plopped it on the brand new Rome street circuit. I ran out of talent very quickly in this car. I tried to take it slow, but I was soon bouncing back and fourth between the barriers like a pinball in the shadow of the Coliseum. The city itself looked amazing. In lots of video games you'll see the same tree used multiple times in an environment. Not in Gran Turismo 5. Each tree along the track is rendered individually against a backdrop of Roman ruins. It's this attention to detail that really puts this game head and shoulders above its competition and probably one of the many reasons we've had to wait six years for it

The Top Gear test track in a Nissan GT-R was next up. The first thing I noticed was how easy to drive the GT-R was compared to the previous two cars I had tried. Just as in reality, the all-wheel drive gave me a real sense of stability. The next thing I noticed as I pulled off the line was that I could hear Jeremy Clarkson (Powerrrrrrrrrr!) in my head. As I made my way through the lap (Oh! Thank is so quick!!!), I also noticed the vastly improved AI. The Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 I was racing against was aggressive yet took into account my position on the track, unlike the AI in previous Gran Turismo games which were all apparently driven by a suicidal Michael Schumacher. The track (through Chicago...) really does make you feel as if you're (…and across the line!) on set for an episode of Top Gear.

The Gran Turismo 5 take on the Nurburgring promises to be the most comprehensively realistic to date

The Sony bouncers didn't seem to be sweating me at this point so I decided to do one more race. This time I chose a Mercedes SLS AMG and took it to the Nurburgring Nordschleife. This was my most enjoyable race, which is probably down to the fact that I've spent countless hours on the Nordschleife in Gran Turismo 4 and various other racing games. The three minute timer felt more like 30 seconds and I didn't even make it to the Foxhole, but even this fleeting glimpse proved that the Gran Turismo 5 take on the Nurburgring should be the most comprehensively realistic to date.

In addition to the trailer and playable demos on hand, Polyphony Digital provided a boat load of additional details about GT5. The car list hasn't been finalized yet, but it's been confirmed that it will be in excess of 1000. Two hundred of these will be premium cars. Premium cars will have a much greater attention to detail than standard cars. Engines, interior stitching and under carriages will all be rendered in painstaking detail. Damage is also a much-discussed implementation for GT5. The level of damage will depend on the car and the race that it is entered in. Three different level of damage will be available; scratches and dents, body panel separation and damage that will actually affect the way your car drives. Cars also now have the ability to roll over.


Online experience

GT5 is also the first Gran Turismo to be playable online. A vast community element is promised. Players will be able to form clubs, private races and host track days. Each player will also have an online profile called "My Lounge" where players can track each other's progress throughout the game. The description pretty much reads like a social networking site. A photo mode is also available. You'll be able to shoot your car on track, or in an assortment of exotic locales.

If you watched the demo, you saw Sebastian Vettel and Adrian Newey of Red Bull Racing offering some assistance to the developers. It was confirmed that F1 cars will also be available in game, though it's not clear how many or from what era. Codemasters currently has exclusive rights to F1 and have a game in the works, so don't expect to see the whole 2010 F1 grid in GT5.

Another cool feature is dynamic crowd size. The higher the of profile race you are participating in, the larger the crowd will be. For example, a small club race will have a relatively small crowd, but expect to see erected tents and hoards of drunk Germans at the Nurburgring 24. Speaking of the Nurburgring, the producers have gone to great lengths to accurately replicate all the graffiti on the tarmac (barring phalluses and profanity) and they will continue to update it until the game ships in November. Cars will also have functioning horns and high beams. How awesome will it be to flash your buddy in the GT car as you try to nudge your way past in a P1!

Six years is a long time to wait, but it really does look like it will be worth it. The driving itself is spot on and the size and scope of this game looks to be beyond comprehension. See you online on November 2nd.

Media courtesy of [GTPlanet and IGN]