When the first Gran Turismo released in Japan in December of 1997 (May 1998 for everyone else), it was met with immediate praise by critics and would deservedly go on to be the top-selling game for the PlayStation. With each subsequent release in the series, Kazunori Yamauchi and the team at Polyphony Digital have gone above and beyond what anyone thought was possible in a hardcore simulation racer.
Fast forward to 2010, and the series is in a bit of a strange position. Millions of gamers are anticipating its release…whenever that may be. Unfortunately, PD’s strive for excellence comes at a price. In this case, it’s in the form of never, ever believing an announced release date for a Gran Turismo game until it’s spinning in your PlayStation’s disc drive. In the time since Gran Turismo 4 launched, Microsoft’s Forza franchise has seen 3 releases across two platforms. PlayStation gamers, on the other hand, have only seen the release of Gran Turismo for PSP. While I’ve never enjoyed any Forza game as much as any one Gran Turismo game, it’s always something that Xbox gamers hold against PlayStation fans. Sure, the games aren’t as good, but they have the advantage of being available for purchase.
Fortunately for those that have never wavered in their fandom, Gran Turismo 5 seeks to be not only the most ambitious game in the series, but possibly this entire generation. Anyone who’s so much as watched a Gran Turismo game can tell you that they set a high graphical benchmark, but have you seen the latest night driving trailer? Comparing it to any other racing game is just plain unfair, and not a single one can compete, and don’t be surprised if this is still the best-looking racer five years down the line. On top of this, GT5 will finally feature vehicular damage, which is the first thing detractors of the series always point to. So far it doesn’t look perfect, but it’s definitely a giant first step in the right direction.
As if that weren’t enough, PD got their hands on the licenses for several racing circuits: World Rally Championship, Super GT, and, most interestingly, NASCAR. While some may not find NASCAR very interesting (such as myself), there are millions of people in the United States that do. If you don’t think that the ability to race Jimmie Johnson’s number 48 is a big deal now, just wait until the game releases; I guarantee you’ll be shocked at the new demographic that this title opens up for the franchise. When you add this to the fact that Yamauchi wants approximately 79 million cars in the game, each with their distinct interiors, engine noises, and damage modeling… well, it becomes a little easier to see why this is taking so long.
Finally, GT5 will be the first full release in the series to feature online connectivity. Obviously, racing against other people around the world plays a major role here, but much more is expected these days. Going back to Forza, Turn 10 has done a fantastic job creating a community of players that not only race, but also sell custom cars to each other with the in-game auction house. While this doesn’t seem to be a feature that will make its way to Gran Turismo, players will have a different reason to be excited- Gran Turismo TV. GT-TV was introduced in GT5: Prologue as a hub for all the video content that a gearhead could ever want, with Top Gear leading the pack along with original content.
So why should this matter for those that have no interest in the Gran Turismo 5? For starters, Sony has poured an awful lot into this game and its success, with the game’s presence being felt since the launch of the PS3. Obviously, the game won’t flop; despite hardcore racing sims being a rather niche genre, Gran Turismo is Sony’s all-time best-selling franchise. However, this is the game that will finally prove whether or not Polyphony Digital is willing to evolve its game and craft. Just look at how long it took for PD to finally cave and implement a damage system. If GT5 releases to lukewarm reaction from fans and critics after all of this hype and hoopla, you’d better believe that this will change how much leeway Sony gives to future games, and not just in the GT series.
Is there anything to worry about? Even taking off my GT-loving goggles for a second, the chance of this game being less-than-stellar is slim to none. We’ve all seen the trailers and screenshots, and analyzed every last bit of GT5:P and other demos. It’s pretty apparent that this is shaping up to be the all-time driving sim.
At this point, it all rests on Yamauchi & Company.