The Gran Turismo series continues with "Gran Turismo 5: Prologue," a release oozing with style and computer graphic splendor, but lacking in the captivating game-play department.
I took GT5 ($39.99) for a spin on the Sony PS3, it's lone platform for release, and treated myself to the latest in controllers. I tried the game with the new Logitech Driving Force GT (a steering wheel and pedals) and Sony's new DualShock3, complete with 8,000-year-old vibration technology. (Sorry Sony, you earned that one by removing the rumble from the Sixaxis in favor of Wii-like motion sensors I've rarely used.)
On to the game. "GT5" launches to a smooth and jazzy piano riff, instead of a Linkin Park blast or some other loudness. This grown-man approach to gaming continues throughout, and I soon realized the title is not targeted toward the white-knuckled gaming teen.
While these are not your father's Oldsmobiles, this is your father's video game: It's mature, refined, technical and, I might say, a tad dull.
Yes, the graphics are gorgeous. Yes, the engines growl and purr with precision. And the force feedback on the Logitech controller as I tore through the competition was impressive. But this is an homage to the automobile " and not a nod to the pure fun that race gaming has delivered before.
As I careened around the curves behind the wheel of a 2004 Honda Integra in an early "Class C" race, the car didn't lean or sway enough, as though the game physics hadn't given it enough heft. Perhaps this was the most accurate representation of the real Integra, but it just didn't feel game-like. There was something antiseptic about it.
I needed to place in the top three to snag a trophy in each Class C race in order to move on to Class B, and later Class A. Each ensuing class demands better cars, which are purchased using credits earned through high race finishes.
But I wanted damage to the vehicle as I plowed into walls and other cars. That wasn't there in the races I played. I wanted more bumper-to-bumper clanging and the gnashing of metal. That was oddly absent. I was spun out frequently by AI opponents tapping me from behind, but it was a benign experience at best.
I sought a bit more adrenaline on the track, so I went online hunting for real opponents.
Using my winnings, I purchased a spunky little 2006 Ford Focus and a 2000 Clio Renault Sport. I clicked the "Online" option and was met with several available race options. Other drivers online popped up and we headed for the starting lineup.
This improved the gaming experience, because I trust humans to make more mistakes than the game's AI. Most of my opponents opted for the Honda Integra, a nice blend of power and handling for the early rounds.
There were some brief glitches in a few races, where the my opponent's cars appeared to jump and blink around a section of track, fading in and out and burning rubber. I'm not sure if it had to do with a poor host connection or a software bug, but it only happened the first night I played online " so I gave it a pass.
The online races were the most fun. There was a steady set of a dozen or so drivers online that raced the same track about 10 times in a row. If a particular driver cut me off and finished ahead of me in one race, I quickly restarted after we finished the race in hopes of a little payback in the next race with identical opponents.
There's also a feature called "Gran Turismo TV," an in-game online channel that delivered video content to my PS3 via download. There was a feature on the making of "GT5" and the history of the Gran Turismo series. Another video featured a look at the new Lancer X automobile.
This is all something I call 'yawn-tent' instead of content. It's nice that they can do it, but it wasn't entertaining.
The Gran Turismo games are under the direction of Kazunori Yamauchi, who is featured prominently in those videos. He's meticulous and unsmiling about the making of the game. He's seriously into cars, so much so that he may have overlooked a crucial fact: He's not making cars, he's making a game and games are supposed to be fun.
This game is an accurate accomplishment and a detailed driving simulator, but I found myself waiting for the good times to break out " and they rarely did. (Big thumbs, however, up for the Logitech Driving Force GT and the DualShock3 controllers, for injecting a little life into the experience.)
Two stars out of four. On the Net: http://www.granturismoworld.com/