‘Gran Turismo’ is a classic racing franchise, the best selling racing series in the world, and a name that triggers fond memories in the hearts of virtually anyone who simultaneously has a slight interest in cars and videogames, a demographic I firmly count myself a member of. Come this Friday, I’ll be able to buy ‘Gran Turismo 5: Prologue’ for the PS3, an oversized demo / undersized game that will provide a taster for what to expect from developers Polyphony Digital next year, and I’m looking forwards to picking it up. But this time I think they’ve struck upon a problem, and although it's unlikely to effect their sales figures, (‘Prologue’ has already turned platinum from pre-orders alone), it may leave some of the more thoughtful of racing fans a little confused.
What is ‘Gran Turismo’ in the year 2008? Back with the first installments release in 1997 the question would be easy to answer. “It’s ‘the real driving simulator’ you nitwit”, people would have proclaimed, and it would have been hard to argue against. There was nothing that could touch the ‘Gran Turismo’ games in terms of depth and realism on home consoles for many years. But today with the option of ‘Forza Motorsport 2’, with its more detailed physics system and car damage, and PC alternatives like the GTR series which offer even greater hardcore simulations of motorsport, GT has fallen somewhat behind. Truth be told it doesn’t feel much different from earlier games on past consoles. Visually it’s on top of the world, but when it comes down to the race its simply outclassed. Okay, so then it’s an arcade game right? Not really. I can hardly see the ‘Burnout’ crowd finding much relation between the two. I personally think the franchises new opposition is the ‘Project Gotham Racing’ series, a point directly in between the barriers of arcade and simulator. It’s just Polyphony don’t know it yet, or just won’t admit it.
The thing is they’ll have to make a decision between the two if they want the golden crown. ‘PGR’ knows it’s a semi-arcade/simulator, and let’s itself exaggerate elements of the driving experience that a straight up sim could never get away with, like for example encouraging you to drive sideways. Do that in ‘Forza’ and you’re in the tires and at the back of the pack. ‘Gran Turismo’ has the sterility of the simulation but with the wall-bouncing, dodgem-bumping and premature down-shifting of its arcade counterparts. Is it Keira knightly with glasses, or Hillary Clinton in fish nets? It’s jarring whatever way you look at it.
Polyphony Digital CEO Kazunori Yamauchi once said he doesn’t play other racing games. I believe this could be his biggest mistake. Does he want GT to be known as "the 'Real' Driving Simulator" or a "My First Driving Simulator"? I guess it'll sell millions either way, though I personally find myself pre-ordering for the visuals rather than the gameplay. Maybe I'm on my own here, but that's the impression I have this console generation. Nonetheless I’ll be admiring the steering wheel stitching by the end of the week, and posting up my impressions within the days that follow. And for arguments sake, here’s a side by side comparison of ‘Prologue’ and ‘PGR4’. I won’t say anything, but leave you to decide how much difference there is between the two.
Gran Turismo 5: Prologue