Sony's New Gran Turismo for Die Hards

Despite its blistering speed and photo-realistic graphics, playing it feels familiar. Still, Gran Turismo 5 is one of 2008's most anticipated games for PS3

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue gives car and graphics enthusiasts the perfect showpiece for their HDTVs, a eye-melting visual experience that showcases near photo-realistic vehicles expertly tuned to offer exquisite performance. It also serves as the appetizer to the main course, Gran Turismo 5, as a way to get your GT fix before Sony graces us with a true sequel. And while the game looks glorious in 1080p and running at a blistering 60 frames per second, we can't help but notice that despite all of the bells and whistles that we played it before. Whether or not you consider that a bad thing all depends on what you demand from your racing games.

In terms of features, Prologue seems less stacked than some of its predecessors, with a paltry five tracks (including Eiger Nordwand, a London City Track and Suzuka—all reversible) and 40 plus cars from manufacturers Ferrari, Lotus and Nissan, all of which almost mirror their real-life counterparts. On further examination, however, this isn't terrible, considering it gives the series' developer, Polyphony Digital, the opportunity to eliminate the boring cars and deliver the ones most gamers want to drive. As for the tracks, five is pathetically low, but the game makes up for this with several features, the most noteworthy being online multiplayer for up to 16, a first for the franchise. This of course comes with online leader boards which ups the value exponentially, as the desire to compete for the best times will no doubt keep wannabe drivers tilting their analog sticks for months.

My Garage is another attractive option. It lets you create a custom profile that other gamers can view, thus allowing you to chat it up with other car enthusiasts or share dirty messages. And if you drool over automobile programming, there's Gran Turismo TV, Sony's way of delivering programs from around the globe, for an undisclosed fee, of course.

Rumble support is a welcome addition, and the game responds wonderfully to Sony's new SIXAXIS controller. It's nothing you haven't experienced before given the available technology, but considering its absence in the current SIXAXIS, we're glad to see it return.

As we took a Nissasn for a spin around Suzuka, Sony dropped some more info. Supposedly, Prologue features improved artificial intelligence, but that wasn't noticeable in our five-minute test run. What we did notice, however, was the snazzy in-cockpit view, which adds tons of realism to the experience. Bizarre Creations' Xbox 360 series, Project Gotham Racing features exquisite behind the wheel perspectives, but GT5 blows them away with stunning authenticity. All of the gauges work independently of each other and operate in real time, and the superior visuals do an exquisite job of giving the impression of being in the driver's seat.

Of course, this being a Gran Turismo, the visuals look excellent. Designers spent upwards of four months per car, and a single headlight's polygons are the equivalent of a car in Gran Turismo 4. Combine this realism with dynamic sun and cloud reflections and mirrors that render images in real time, and you have one of the most detailed and exquisite games ever made, a tour de force that'll no doubt sell hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of PlayStation 3s.

At the same time, we can't help but criticize Polyphony for delivering an experience that mirrors the original Gran Turismo, which debuted in 1998. After all this time, we're still obsessing over the replays and driving around the same, drab looking tracks using indestructible cars. On the other hand, Sony's shipped 47 million Gran Turismo games for a reason, and we're not one to bash car nuts for enjoying a meticulously crafted driving simulator. After all, we've eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for most of our lives, and we're not ready to demand a change, other than new advancements in ingredients.

With that being said, GT5 delivers exactly what its fans expect and then some, making it one of 2008's most anticipated games and an obvious PS3 system seller. Look for it this March, available on both Blu-ray and download via the PlayStation Network.

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