Saturday, May 28, 2011

Behind The Wheel Of GT5: Racing Rivals

I’ve talked about how Gran Turismo 5 fares as a product and where it sits in its franchise; now let’s look at how it stands amongst its competition.

For years the Gran Turismo series was king of console racing simulation, sitting untouched at the throne for over a decade and remaining the pinnacle of graphical fidelity. Sure, there were imitators -- it’s quite similar to the GTA III open world issue, actually -- but Gran Turismo stayed on top due to its sheer quantity of cars and tracks, incredible production values and, most importantly, superior physics and handling model. Most copycats were content to cash in on this success -- it might not seem like it now with the likes of Call Of Duty and Uncharted around, but the Gran Turismo franchise is one of the biggest sellers in the industry -- or use it as foundation to go in a different direction, but GT’s presence on top was significant and defined the racing genre for years, much in the same way as Burnout did for Arcade racing. Microsoft’s increasing success and presence in the industry, however, brought with it a new challenger, one that in my eyes eventually overtook Gran Turismo for the lead.

There’s no denying that Forza Motorsport found success pretty quickly (after Forza 2 in particular) and soon became Gran Turismo’s main competitor. More significant, however, was just how serious of a rival Forza ended up being, and how, indirectly, it challenged not only GT but the entire genre to lift its game. Like previous attempts, the original Forza was mostly a copy of the PS2 generation Gran Turismos: GT3 and GT4. It took what worked from those games, added customisation, and focused on tire physics specifically rather than weight and momentum as I described in my last post. It had similar tracks -- including the obligatory New York street circuit and notorious Nürburgring Nordschleife (which I’ll cover in more detail soon) -- and a comparable range of vehicles; showcased a similar dedication and respect to cars and Motorsport to that of Polyphony’s franchise; and delivered on ideas of precision, consistency and accuracy just as Gran Turismo did. It was a competent game and a remarkable introduction to a new series, but it had nothing on its inspiration and, combined with various flaws, mostly underwhelmed the audience it was chasing. It was Forza Motorsport 2 and the transition into the HD generation of consoles that saw things change, and it is here where it passed Polyphony’s baby and took the chequered flag.

The reasons Forza 2 took the lead are simple to list but complex to understand. On paper we have improved graphics thanks to a generation change, a stronger emphasis on customisation and (importantly) community, and refinement in every facet of the production, making it an extremely well made game. Under the hood, however, we have the physics and handling engine which saw remarkable refinement and alterations that didn’t just deliver an improved level of control, but one with nuance and subtlety that, in hindsight, Gran Turismo was lacking. That’s not to say that GT’s achievements weren’t impressive or that it didn’t contain complexities to its own engine, but rather that its position on top for so long allowed Polyphony to become complacent with their handling model, so much so that only minor improvements were considered necessary. Forza 2 demonstrated what could be done and, crucially, why it should be, and the disparity between it and Gran Turismo 4 (the last game since Gran Turismo 5 was taking so long to develop) was so strong that it was almost unfair.

And it is unfair, for the most part, comparing a current generation game -- long since outclassed, yet again, by its sequel Forza 3 -- to one from the last generation, but on console racing simulation terms these two games were the only respectable ones and Polyphony’s pursuit for perfection allowed their competition to reach the top of the podium. The release of Gran Turismo 5, after years of delays and uncertainty, was supposed to be when the series retook first place and sat on that throne once again but, after playing it comprehensively, the Forza series still has it beat. Now this opinion is obviously mine and, I’ll quite happily admit, is debatable depending on how you approach the two: in terms of features, graphics (for the most part) and content Gran Turismo 5 is the clear leader as I described in my first post, but approach it from a driver’s perspective (so to speak) where the handling is crucial, and it’s another story. That nuance and subtlety I mentioned in Forza exists in Gran Turismo 5, too, which is commendable and pleasing to see, but it still lacks a lot of the small details -- the stuff most people wouldn’t notice -- that Forza has. I will do my best to articulate these and describe in detail why both Forza 3 and GT5 are what they are, but for now the level of depth that Forza 3’s physics/handling model has keeps it in front. There’s simply more that you can do with Forza’s system and now that Polyphony have indicated that they understand that (by including some of Turn 10’s innovation in their own game), it appears that it will take some refinement and the release of Gran Turismo 6 before the two will be on par, if it can’t retake its position as the leader altogether.

Move beyond the inevitable comparison between Gran Turismo and Forza -- preferably before the fanboys bring both games down with their immature insults and obvious ignorance -- and you find that other games have stepped up to the plate too, making the present day even more interesting and the past domination a relic of videogame history. Need For Speed: Shift, another mainstream and relatively popular title, delivers impressive graphics that match Gran Turismo 5’s beauty; Codemasters’ GRiD tapped into what it was like to race rather than drive (meaning techniques for executing passes and avoiding crashes mattered, rather than aiming for apexes and judicial use of the accelerator); and even a game like Race Pro -- one that definitely flew under the radar for most people -- matches the big two franchises when it comes to handling. I will explore all of these games (and many more) in future posts but the point is that while Gran Turismo might have been king for an incredibly long time, now it’s just another pawn fighting to get noticed and struggling to win, and Polyphony’s blissful ignorance of this fact makes Gran Turismo 5 even more disappointing than it needs to be.

It’s a fantastic game, I’ve already explained that, but it’s no longer the clear winner and has been surpassed by its rivals even though Polyphony (and Sony, for that matter) would suggest otherwise. What it brings to the table is wonderful -- if long overdue -- and it’s great to see that, for the most part, Gran Turismo 5 delivered on expectations, but in the time it took to do so everyone else ended up doing it first, ensuring that the title was left behind even though it thought it was ahead. As a fan of the franchise, that’s a little discouraging, but as an even bigger fan of genre competition (because it means I get to play more games), this result makes the race fascinating to watch, and even better to participate in.

Next time I will take a look at Gran Turismo 5’s licenses, break down the various features I’ve constantly made reference to in these recent posts, and also look at the handling system a little more closely. Before that, however, I turn my attention to Test Drive Unlimited 2, and how it fares in this incredibly competitive genre.


Gaming in Public said...

I still love the game myself, but it has taken hits from all sides. At one point it excelled at all racing levels, and now seems second rate in some aspects. The scope of the game is still vast, but has faced competition from the Forza franchise. Still with that, it still is hard to find a game like it.

Can't wait to hear more!

Steven O'Dell said...

Gaming in Public -- Yeah, it's certainly been put in its place that's for sure. As an obviously massive fan, the biggest area where Polyphony dropped the ball was graphically. I'm not a graphics-whore who expects nothing but the best but I am severely disappointed with the inconsistency Gran Turismo 5 displays and, furthermore, the arrogance both Polyphony and Sony exude over it. It's no wonder they were overtaken with attitudes like that.

But, move beyond the superficial side and the game is, as I explained in my last post, absolutely the best Gran Turismo yet, so that's something.

Growing Lights said...

Very good review. I read all the other reviews and it seems to me that does not really follow the series. I'm definitely buying this, and I'm going to love it. I thought that this was the best done to control this game that I have read so far.

video converter for ipad said...

It is very good game. I have played many level of this game. It will going turf for me. It is more challenging now a day. It is hard to find game like that.