Gran Turismo games are something to savor: they come around so infrequently that one must enjoy it as long as possible. There was four years between Gran Turismo 3 and 4, and we're coming up on four years since the release of that fourth game. Thankfully, Sony and Polyphony Digital have delivered something of an appetizer, a small taste of a game that may be out by this time in 2009, in the dual-format Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. The argument about paying $40 for a glorified demo is duly noted...but there's enough content to almost put it on par with a few full-price games, such as the woefully feature-challenged Ferrari Challenge. Whether you buy it on disc or purchase the digital version via the PlayStation Network, GT5 Prologue does what it claims it's a prologue, a teaser, a sample, of what's to come when the real Gran Turismo 5 hits PlayStation 3. Complain all you want about the price or the content (which has now been upgraded to Spec III, adding more for your $40), but certainly some kind of GT5 preview is better than none at all if you're a huge GT fan, right?
Recommend this product?
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue can be pretty easily described as an expanded version of the arcade section of a full GT release. There's a Career mode of sorts, rising through levels of increasingly difficult races of various types, but it's basic; there's no buying new parts to upgrade, and very little tuning even the ability to do this basic tuning is something unlocked later on. Winning races does earn credits which can go to buying new cars, and many of the individual dealers offer their own race just like in Gran Turismo 2 and 4. A basic pick up & play setup also is here, as well as, for the first time, online play. It's basic, and in many ways lacking, but its there. You can either compete head to head, or take on a time trial in an attempt to place on a leaderboard, but that's the extent of the action. It's probably more of a testing ground than anything; I'd expect the full game to be much, much more polished in this department. Rounding things out is the Gran Turismo TV feature: if you're a gearhead, GTTV offers some free content along with some paid stuff that can be bought like it was on the PlayStation Store. Owners of the disc version can get a bonus here, a GT5 Prologue making of video.
In many ways, GT5 Prologue does exactly what it promises it gives the player an early look at what'll eventually become Gran Turismo 5. The pieces are in place; the course selection is a blending of old favorites and new creations. High-Speed Ring, a popular course from the original Gran Turismo, is brought into high-definition as legitimate fan service. Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit, both from GT4, are here, in two different forms. The new courses are Daytona and London, with Daytona offering the superspeedway used in NASCAR's Daytona 500, and also the road course variation fans of 24 Hours of Daytona should recognize. London offers the usual forward and reverse variety, but the track itself is excellent, with numerous tough corners and very few places to really nail it. Rounding out the track lineup is the course from Gran Turismo HD Concept, virtually unchanged from 2006 release. Car selection is much more varied; the usual suspects from the franchise are here, of course, along with a bunch of interesting custom vehicles and in the recent Spec III update, a car from Citroen that was actually created by the Polyphony Digital team. Most importantly, there's a handful of cars from Ferrari, including the new California. You'll work hard to earn those.
Actually, this is where the lack of a lengthy career mode hampers the game; with so many expensive cars and so few events, with numerous races requiring a specific class or a specific car, getting the high end cars tends to require replaying the same races over and over again to make the money. Sure, what's presented is a well-balanced variety of standard races, difficult time trials that expect you to understand drafting, and a well-disguised drill in properly passing other vehicles, but money is scarce and repeating races frequently becomes tiring. And this is coming from someone who didn't mind doing the Sunday Cup 10 times straight just to upgrade to a better vehicle in past GT games. There is a bright side to the brief career this is probably the most difficult GT game since it's impossible to produce an overpowered car for the more challenging events in the S Class. Though tuning is available for these, there's a point number attached to the setup of a car, and if you're too high, the game makes you scale back the tuning to fit in the requirements. It's kind of like the horsepower limits from Gran Turismo 2. The Spec III update has scaled back the difficulty somewhat, but if they keep this kind of thing for the full GT5 things are going to get interesting.
Those expecting GT5 Prologue to be a window into a huge revamping of the franchise should probably turn away, since there's no real signs of change here. That said, the mechanics of the game are much improved from GTHD Concept, which I thought was a bit too frustrating and loose. You're still getting that great, strategic racing that might sometimes require a bit of cheating to get an edge, but in races with penalties for hitting opponents and walls, it forces grace and actual skill rather than just slamming into things. Since GT5 potentially will have damage modeling, this could be the last hurrah of bumper cars, which would be real progress for the series. The AI is still as bizarre as in the past, blocking your way and acting like nobody is around, but after five GT games, you just get used to that. Again, because this is basically a sampler of Gran Turismo 5, this could very well be amended for the full release.
The presentation is, of course, top notch, as the series is known for. Slick menus, solid framerate, awesome car models, and a great photo mode are the highlights here. The actual technical aspects of the visuals aren't always great, as some of the older tracks look like GT4 merely bumped up to HD, but the graphics can only be improved by the time GT5 hits. The newer courses from scratch, especially London, looks fantastic. The front end menu is a great touch, with one of your cars in the backdrop of some beautiful area that you'd see in photo mode. It's a small thing, but hey...those car models are hot and shiny, what can I say. The soundtrack is a mix of some licensed stuff for the races and intro video, but other than Weezer I can't really name any of it. Pretty generic. The menu music on the other hand is that great jazzy stuff they usually keep for the menus but rip out for the licensed soundtrack...one can only hope Blu-ray allows both kinds of soundtracks; a choice is a good thing.
For a die-hard Gran Turismo fan like myself, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is a no-brainer just to scratch the itch during this waiting game for the real deal to hit...which could be 2009 or 2010 at this rate, making this a kind of comfort gaming when otherwise we'd be suffering all the delays (see the sad fate of GT Mobile for PSP, which, 4 years after announcement...doesn't seem to exist other than the name). At $40 for both the disc and download, it's less recommendable to those who can wait a little longer, or until Sony drops the price, which might be inevitable as the release of the core game nears. Prologue does exactly what it suggests; it gives a GT fan a glimpse into the future, and hopefully we'll be rewarded with some kind of compatibility with GT5 itself, in the same way GT4 Prologue (a much less feature-packed game, for what it's worth) did for Japanese and European PS2 owners.