PAX Prime 2010 Hands-On Preview: Vroom vroom! Finally!
It seems few journalists can begin a Gran Turismo 5 piece without the clich? mentioning of the insanely long development time. It's been over 5 years since the last installment of the self-titled ?Real Driving Simulator,? and even my GameStop cashier joked last weekend about how he had a running bet to see if it would come out before Duke Nukem Forever (ironically, another game I got hands-on time with at PAX). Well, it's real, the date is November 2nd, it's set in stone, and the game is quite a bit more than we were expecting, even after 5 years. I met with Kristina Cheng, Product Marketing Specialist on the PAX floor to discuss the ways Polyphony Digital hopes to satiate its starving fans and test drive the game for myself.
As if she even had to say it, this is the biggest Gran Turismo yet. So far there have been two games released on each PlayStation console ? one to showcase the general power of the system and the follow-up to really pack in the massive car list and other features. This time, though, we're getting it all in one shot. The graphics I saw, in what isn't even the final build, are arguably the most impressive this generation, and with over 1,000 cars and more than 70 tracks, it almost seems redundant at this point to pack in game-changing features for the series like kart racing and a track editor. The latter may not be what you think, though. This is not going to be like ModNation Racers where you can draw the road and fill in the environments with fantastical scenery. Instead you input a number of more realistic variables, like how curved the track will be, what kind of environment will it take place in, etc. While this may sound disappointing to the more creative among us, Kristina assured me that this was only implemented to protect the integrity of Gran Turismo as ?The Real Driving Simulator.? Tackling the track editor in such a manner allowed the team to introduce gamers to a tremendous opportunity for the series while still guaranteeing the most authentic driving experience every time you start a race.
It wasn't long before Kristina was sitting me down for a go at the familiar Tokyo Route 246. This would be my first time playing the city circuit in High Definition ? and in 3D. The city is rendered absolutely beautifully, with all the detail you'd expect after such a long wait. The new driving physics, which debuted a few months ago on the PSN via a promotional demo, still feel great and offers maybe the deepest and most challenging driving system in the series yet. This is also the first Gran Turismo with a detailed cockpit view (GT PSP only took a minor stab at it). From every tiny line on your speedometer to the pores on the leather of your steering wheel, this is yet another area where Polyphony seems to stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries. Playing from this perspective using Logitech's new Driving Force GT racing wheel felt about as close a gamer could get to an epiphany. I've usually had a terrible time using wheel inputs with other racing sims; I'm either not doing as well as I can with the preciseness of a controller, or even worse, embarrassing myself on a large display at the console free play room at PAX East with Forza III. But having already gotten a taste at the Logitech booth the previous day, playing a familiar track with this one-two punch made me realize why some enthusiasts invest thousands of dollars building their own racing rig, and GT5 will definitely be a reason to do this.
While I enjoyed playing in 3D, it didn't quite have the same "wow" factor as the new physics/interior view/wheel input combination chronicled above. I did notice much more depth than I saw with the 2D display from the day before, but the implementation is far more subtle than, say, Killzone 3 or Motorstorm Apocalypse, Playstation games which very much seem to be showcasing how 3D can radically amplify the core of a video game. Still, Kristina reminded me that it wasn't even the final build, so hopefully the retail release will make this feature as much of an exclamation point as the two previously mentioned upcoming games do. At the same time, a slightly muted 3D experience might not be a bad thing, if you can play it for hours on end, reaping the benefits of the added depth without giving your brain a workout.
Another new feature Kristina expounded on is the time of day transitions. When I told her I had not yet seen this even in trailers, she urged that I immediately go to the other kiosk and ask to play the Tuscana track.
It was there that I also got to try out the game in the way I will most likely be playing it ? with the PS3's standard Dualshock 3 controller. With the improved pressure-sensitivity of this generation's Dualshock, GT5's driving physics again impressed me immensely. I was lucky to play this on a dirt track like Tuscana, where the degree of steering, throttle and breaking you utilize becomes all the more critical. I became less depressed over not having the resources or space to accommodate a full racing rig and genuinely excited for the game's release.
It was amongst this excitement that the in-game day transitioned into night.
I started the race facing west, at what seemed like the late afternoon, as the sun eventually began dipping into the horizon. When I reached the end of one side of the track, finding the apex of a sharp corner and eventually faced the other direction, the sky now in front of me to the east was a deeper blue, as the darkness was beginning to set in. At the same time, looking in my rearview mirror, I could still see the sun setting with all of the glare you come to expect from the end of the day? in real life.
Seeing these two scenes at the same time was the moment that definitely nailed it for me ? Gran Turismo 5 has actually surpassed the unattainable expectations stemming from all its delays. When the stars finally came out in their full brightness, it almost seemed like you could pick out the distinct constellations in the sky. And knowing Polyphony Digital ? you probably can.