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Sean Pettibone


Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (Playstation 3)

Serving more as an extended demo than a full-fledged installment in the series, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue still delivers a solidly entertaining racing experience that adds a few new elements to the game. The biggest addition is the inclusion of online play, which allows you to compete against other players and rank your performance against them. The game itself stays true to the GT tradition of realism and authenticity with stunning recreations of vehicles ranging from standard production models to exotic sports cars. Visually, GT5P pushes the PS3 with fill 1080p rendering that delivers beautiful car models with reflective hoods, photo-realistic equipment and an impressive new inside the car view. While not as elaborate as earlier models, this prototype is definitely worth checking out for a glimpse of Gran Turismo's next evolution.
It's been almost exactly a decade since the launch of the original Gran Turismo on the PS1, and while this latest release isn't exactly a full-fledged title, it still offers the same realism and authenticity that has made this driving simulator so popular over the years. The game offers a sizeable garage encompassing more than 60 vehicles from well-known and exotic manufacturers such as Nissan and Toyota. While other games have more cars, the level of realism in GT5P is incredible when you consider that each individual car has been simulated down to the smallest detail in terms of both appearance and performance, giving players an excellent sense of how they perform in the real world. The tracks aren't as extensive in number as other GT titles but, the six included here show a great deal of authenticity and have been recreated down to the smallest detail. The developers have recreated each track nearly flawlessly by measuring them almost exactly the same dimensions and scale as their real-life counterparts. This gives the game a great deal of authenticity, and players accustomed to the feel and style of previous Gran Turismo titles will feel right at home immediately. The game's structure is fairly basic and offers a number of compelling game modes. The deepest of these are event modes, where you can work your way up the ladder to unlock more advanced vehicles. You begin at the lowest of three vehicle classes, which consist of ten different events that you can race. In order to move on to the next stage of vehicles, you need to win medals in all ten events, which isn't as easy as it sounds.

Picking the right vehicle before each stage begins is essential, since the wrong vehicles have no chance. In addition, there are some events that are limited to specific vehicles and classes, so you need to have them in your garage beforehand. Each event has a specific vehicle type or requirement that must be met before racing. Before each race begins, you can tweak a variety of settings including automatic steering, turn compensation, racing line and other options for your vehicle. Once you get on the road, you'll usually have to face off against a variety of other vehicles, though to be fair, they aren't as difficult as it seems initially because they move in somewhat predictable patterns. The main challenge is learning the lines and curves, mastering the art of cornering and drifting before you have even a chance. As you win or place in each race, you'll earn credits that you can use in the dealerships to purchase additional vehicles. You can also sell cars in your garage that are no longer useful or under-powered to help you purchase more upgrades. While the game starts off a bit slowly, as you build up skill and earn better cars, the races become much more challenging which makes it worth the effort to get through the earlier event stages. Gamers who want to see more of the game's courses and vehicles right away can choose to go into the Arcade mode, where they can race right away, the drawback here is that you won't win any credits for your victories. Progression unfolds at a fairly rapid pace if you put the effort into things, and you'll quickly find yourself in the more exciting second and third tiers where the faster sports cars can be purchased and unlocked.

The selection of vehicles is quite impressive, though there are a few areas that will probably be considered disappointing by some players. Primarily, this will probably be the track selection. While individually, the tracks are impressive and include the legendary Daytona speedway and an impressive London street course, there are only six unique courses included in the game, which doubles to 12 when you count the reverse modes. It makes for a somewhat limited experience that can become monotonous after awhile, especially during long play sessions. Helping to mitigate this to some degree are some of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue's innovations. Most of these lie in the areas of online play, which has been implemented here for the first time. These modes allow you to race against other players online from around the world and compare your speeds and times against others in the new ranking mode. The gameplay in these areas is just as you'd expect it to be, and most players should feel right at home. Some minor issues, such as the lack of damage and rubber-band AI remain in this edition of the game, but GT players are probably used to these quirks by now so it shouldn't be that much of a big deal.

There is also a new multimedia feature called GT-TV which allows you to download and watch special short movies and video related to Gran Turismo which includes vehicle spotlights and behind-the-scenes footage that can occasionally be very interesting. These new online components are integrated seamlessly into the main game interface which is quite easy to use and navigate. Gran Turismo 5P's controls are also interesting, since this is one of the first games to use the newly-released Dual Shock 3 controller, which provides a decent rumble sensation that compliments the action perfectly. The game feels much more natural with this interface and this gives the game a visceral feel other racers on the PS3 seem to have missed to this point. Given their long-standing partnership, it's also no surprise that the newest GT supports a variety of Logitech steering wheels, ranging from some of the previous wheels to the newest release. Visually, the game looks sumptuous in HD and reaches a truly astonishing level of realism, with a significant leap forward evident from GT4 the moment your turn the game on a look at its beautiful vehicle renders, elaborate track designs, fantastic light sourcing, beautiful reflections and incredibly smooth frame rate. This helps to make a coherent and beautifully polished experience throughout, where everything from the opening cinemas to the menu screens and vehicle performance combines to create an absolutely seamless racing experience. While some of this is lost in during the heat of racing, you can go back and enjoy the view using the game's elaborate replay feature. Most impressive on this front is the new in-cockpit viewpoint, which looks incredibly lifelike and authentic an helps to immerse you into the driving action in an excellent new way. It's an already impressive title, and most players will probably appreciate the visuals, but you have to wonder how much better the real GT5 will look when Polyphony has had the time to truly polish to the experience.

Despite its somewhat limited scope, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue offers a tantalizing glimpse into the future of the franchise. It's brilliant visuals define high-definition realism with incredibly detailed car models, amazingly detailed courses alive with trackside objects and varied scenery. The cars themselves perform exactly as you'd expect them to and the attention to detail is evident in the smallest nuances of their controls and responsiveness. This high-fidelity to authentic design is what has always set the GT games apart, and the first proper PS3 edition shows the developers at Polyphony Digitial are once again up to the challenge. Prologue's biggest addition is its extensive online component which has been integrated seamlessly into the main game with rankings, multiplayer races and new downloadable video content via the GT-TV service. While the number of courses and vehicles is limited by GT standards, Prologue still delivers plenty of content and solidly entertaining driving action. This makes Gran Turismo 5 Prologue a surprisingly robust and well-rounded package for what is essentially a demo, which should satisfy racing fans until the full game is released some time next year.

- Michael Palisano


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