Crispy Gamer

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue

Did you know that Gran Turismo 5 Prologue releases almost one month before the 10th anniversary of the U.S. release of the original Gran Turismo? Until I started researching for this preview, I didn?t think it had been so long -- 10 years since the auto racing genre and the car industry were turned on their heads by this seminal series.

Gran Turismo made auto makers think about their products on an international stage while at the same time it helped create an entirely new auto industry market of tuners and tweakers not satisfied with cars off the production line. As a motor racing enthusiast for my entire life, GT gave me a reason to dig deeper into cars of all shapes and sizes, even those that weren?t built specifically for performance. It?s a landmark in the history of videogames.

Prologue isn?t the true number five. That?s probably not coming until 2009. This release is meant to hold fans over until developer Polyphony Digital can crank out the truckload of content needed for a full GT release. I got some hands-on time with a preview edition of the U.S. release, and there might not be enough here to hold you over during another year of waiting, but it?s still likely to be worth your time.

Over 70 cars make up the roster including the slick '07 Nissan GT-R, Audi R8 (bumper in your bed not included) and classy Ford GT. You also get the usual complement of smaller cars like the sporty MINI Cooper and stylish Ford Focus. If you can amass 2 million credits, you?ll even get your hands on a Ferrari F2007 Formula One car -- definitely a step away from your everyday driver.

Racing takes place on six circuits with detailed tarmac, grandstands and scenery. Daytona is a highlight in both the high-banked oval configuration as well as the challenging and exciting infield road course setup. Suzuka is as twisty as ever, and I found it easy to come to grips with that circuit after years of racing it in countless simulations. The modeling of these well-worn roads seems dead on. Even the old Gran Turismo stalwart course of High Speed Ring has a high-octane graphical makeover while retaining the on-track characteristics of its simple but exciting layout. New circuit London is clearly inspired by the likes of Project Gotham Racing and its inner city showdowns on tight city streets.

There are no license tests that I can find, with the game dumping you right into the action in class C. Ten events each in levels C, B and A make up the more obvious portion of the races available, but specific makes and models get special events against a lineup of identical vehicles. GT veterans will likely blow through all this in a few days at most, though it will take them a little longer to come up with gold trophies on everything, not to mention the mountain of credits needed to purchase all the cars. Races always begin with single-file rolling starts and end after just a handful of laps for as many as 16 cars.

Gorgeous interior views that really heighten the effect of the simulation are new to the series, though U.S. residents might have a hard time adjusting to sitting on the wrong side of a lot of the cars. Online play is the other major addition and while it wasn?t available for gameplay, the interface for it seems a little unwieldy. Cars won?t be matched up willy-nilly though, so you can expect competitive races -- or if you want to just go for hot laps on an auto-free circuit, you can do that, too. Online leaderboards will let you know where you stand against friends and strangers, helping to foster a community around the game from inside the PlayStation Network.

Cars are not fully adjustable in this version of the game and you won?t be buying parts and pieces to improve them. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is really about the racing and not a whole lot more. Arcade mode is available for those not interested in simulation-level handling and two players can split the screen for offline multiplayer, a welcome addition that many games of this era seem to be dropping from the feature list.

The interface is Sony-slick from top to bottom and makes the gorgeous cars a beautiful backdrop to that functionality. And the graphics? Well, this is clearly one of the best-looking games on this or any system even in late beta form, though it does suffer from some nasty aliasing at times. Frame rates seem locked at a high rate and when you get to the faster cars the sensation of traveling quickly is believable.

It?s hard to imagine Gran Turismo 5 Prologue making converts out of those who haven?t been GT fans for years. The additions of online play and a view from behind the wheel don?t change the fact you still can?t even put a dent in these automobiles, but fans never seemed too fazed by that, and they?re unlikely to find it an issue 10 years later. Save a few of those bucks you were going to spend on some new rims, because Sony?s got more than 70 cars you probably want to drive.

This preview is based on a preview download from the publisher.