GT5 Prologue: A $40 demo that will sell you a $400 PS3

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Quick Take - The PS3 never should have been released without a new version of the Gran Turismo car driving simulator and if you had any doubts that this title is the single most important game for the PS3, the second demo version should be able to wipe out all of those concerns. Despite being incomplete, GT5 Prologue has set a new standard in car simulations and left us speechless after one day of driving fun. Here are our first impressions.


Check out the sick cars in GT5 Prologue


Ok, I have to admit, I am biased. It was Gran Turismo 2 that made me buy a Playstation and it was Gran Turismo 3 that made me shell out $300 for the Playstation 2. The Playstation 3 is a different kind of story (you can read an older opinion article here why I purchased the PS3), but yes, I have been waiting for GT5 ever since Sony made the first GT5 demo available around Christmas 2006.

What makes Gran Turismo (GT) special is the fact that it is one of the very few extremely convincing games that don’t rely on violence to create tension or are based on a huge sports contract. Since version 3, GT has been considered the ultimate driving simulator. It carries that expectation to new levels from version to version. True, the game will not appeal to anyone without an interest in driving cars, but if you do, this is the most effective way to simulate a racing experience in a range of cars on real tracks.

In fact, if your fascination for cars reaches all the way to Italy, but your bank account only to Detroit, this is the game you should look into.

Gameplay

First of all, Prologue is a demo version of the GT5 that is (hopefully) to come (before the PS4). Selling a demo version is somewhat unheard of, especially for $40. That is a tough one to swallow. But as soon as you get that psychological barrier out of the way and install this game on your system (which took, by the way, including firmware update close to 1 hour on this author’s PS3), you are in familiar territory – if you have played previous GT versions.

Besides a dramatically revised (and simplified) interface, you can jump right into the game by purchasing an entry-level car. Choosing a competitive car is crucial for quickly advancing in the game. There are about 60 cars to choose from and about a dozen that is actually within your reach initially. I won’t take away the fun browsing through the categories, but will tell you to check the requirements for the first few races and chose a nimble and strong car. This will save you an hour or two driving useless races required to earn extra credits.

The big news in the car space, of course, is the addition of Ferrari as a manufacturer. Included are five models, the current F430 and 599, the F40 from the 90s, the 512BBi from 70s as well as the 2007 Formula 1 car. Don’t get too excited about those cars just yet, it will take you several hours of gameplay to get to those cars and drive them on the racetrack. In fact, even though Prologue is a demo version, there are easily hundreds of hours of playtime in this game.   

Graphics

1080p graphics are a big selling point of GT5. We have had several decent car simulation titles on the PS3 already, including Formula 1 Grand Prix and Dirt. Both are somewhat satisfying, but lack a certain sense of completeness. For example, the designers of F1 GP did not put a lot of effort into graphics beyond the actual cars and trackside (in-game) advertising.

GT5 delivers the whole package. Spectators is not one colorful mess anymore, you can actually see them moving and walking on the side of the road. There are waving flags, trees that are moving in the wind and fantastic lighting effects. The cars themselves are virtually pixel-free.

Most importantly, the GT5 designers have achieved an effect that is still very rare in car simulators: In most games, you will perceive cars as floating on a surface. You will have to look very closely in GT and be very picky in order to get this sense in this game. This is one of the first games I have played in which I see cars actually “sitting” on the road surface. In my opinion, this is one of the most important improvements over GT4 in terms of useful graphics.   

Realism

I actually own one of the featured cars in GT5 Prologue and it was my first goal to acquire the virtual car and compare it to the real driving experience. Once on the virtual road, it was an almost scary scenario as it was astonishing to see how closely the simulator resembles the real car. There are certain things a simulator will never be able to replace – hearing that V8 exhaust note or the thrill of an acceleration that pushes you into your seat. Other than that, the vehicle was a bit easier to drive on the screen than in the real world, but it was close.

Inexperienced drivers are actually presented with a lot of help in GT5, which will largely prevent drifting and keep your car on the track. Uncheck all the assistants and you get the most realistic simulated driving experiences you can buy for any console or PC today.

Problems

Despite all the good things in this game, there are some issues that still need to be resolved for the final version of GT5. The user interface is a bit bare and could use some work. The GT4 version was easier to navigate.

Available cars obviously sell GT5 and there are not enough models available in this version. Once you have acquired almost all cars, the motivation to play this game (by yourself) drops. Developer Polyphony doesn’t have to go overboard and surpass the 450-or-so cars that were offered in GT3, but 150 different models would be nice.

Also missing is an opportunity to fine-tune your cars with suspensions, transmission, engine and brake upgrades. And, not unexpectedly, damages are still not supported in this Prologue version, but I am not giving up hope that this feature will make its way into the final version.  


Conclusion

GT5 is the best car simulation game on the market today, hands down – even if it is a demo. This is as real as it will get on your TV screen. To me, it is the only game that perfectly taps into the horsepower of the PS3. There is no doubt in my mind that this game will make car enthusiasts shell out $400 for a PS3 console.