Gran Turismo 5
When Microsoft’s Shane Kim was asked about the future of Project Natal, he said: “I’ve never seen Peter (Molyneux) more excited and energised by anything like this since the initial Fable”, thereby evoking the one demon that was sure to cast doubt over the whole idea. Shortly after that, Polyphony Digital CEO Kazunori Yamauchi was quizzed about a possible release date for Gran Turismo 5. “It’s at a point we can release it any time we want,” he replied, “but we can always keep working on it.” Sometimes it feels like critics are the only people paying attention.
The worrying thing about Yamauchi’s blithe indifference to GT5’s release is that it feels so out of sync with what its audience is now thinking. The days when Gran Turismo was the only franchise offering high-fidelity car porn ended long before this generation had even begun, and it’s fair to say that the racing genre has both expanded and refined itself in the years since GT4.
In addition, the failure of PlayStation 3 to find an audience nearly as big as its illustrious predecessor has only highlighted how niche a product Gran Turismo actually is. Indeed, if we were partial to the odd flutter, we’d wager that the sort of gamers who want nothing more than immaculate racing games have already migrated to Xbox 360. After all, Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing will both have two instalments on the shelves before Gran Turismo has even managed one.
Which brings us back to the release date, and the quite ridiculous fact that three years after its unveiling we still have little more than a trailer to go on. If the game is finished, why can’t we see some gameplay, or even have a go ourselves? The few minutes of footage released to the public merely reinforces core Gran Turismo values, but these aren’t unique to Polyphony Digital’s series any more, and we could have told you that Gran Turismo 5 would have lots of cars and be really good looking in 2006.
The continuing reluctance on Sony’s part to show its hand seems to be nothing more than a marketing decision – an attempt to create some mystique around a game that has been away from its throne for too long to still be called the king. Of course, we’ve been allowed a glimpse of the main event in the form of Gran Turismo: Prologue. But where this would once have been regarded as an intriguing appetiser before the lavish main course, in a market bursting with alternatives it could have the opposite effect. Indeed, for many racing fans, Prologue was a sparkling reminder that gamers might not need Gran Turismo 5 nearly as much as Sony thinks.
This might read like a harsh appraisal, but there is a level of expectation surrounding this release that simply can’t be ignored. Couple that with the length of time it is taking to reach the audience and the actual confirmed changes to the basic formula do seem a little thin.
The inclusion of World Rally Championship is the most significant, particularly if it can rival standalone games like Colin McRae: DiRT in the quality of experience, and the inclusion of NASCAR less so, though there are bound to be gamers who actually get a kick out of driving in a circle. Then, of course, there’s damage modelling, which will be welcomed with open arms by devoted fans, but to the more impartial observer will be rightly chided for not having featured in previous games.
So, here’s the deal: 150 people have worked on Gran Turismo 5 for around five years, with a production cost of approximately 50 times more than the PlayStation original. With so much effort behind it, there’s no real doubt that GT5 will be good. The question is, will it be worth the wait?