For Gran Turismo fans there is a long gap between titles - while arcade racers like Need for Speed get yearly installments, Gran Turismo fans can often be waiting years upon years for the latest release of the hit Polyphony franchise to hit their Sony console. To help ease the wait, Polyphony has been developing Concept and Prologue titles for a few years now. In the past these games have been budget priced and bite sized and while they've been well received by gamers, the titles themselves actually become all but redundant a year later. Which brings us to Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, another budget priced title bearing the Gran Turismo name. Things are a little bit different this time though, so is Prologue worth the investment or should fans wait until next year for their real driving fix?
It's immediately apparent upon booting up Prologue that things really are different, at least in terms of the amount of content on offer. The game contains six tracks and over seventy cars, which may not seem like an overly impressive number, but there's a large amount of variety to both the tracks and the cars. The six tracks on offer are the Suzuka Circuit, the Eiger Nordwand, the Fuji Speedway, the London City Track, the Daytona International Speedway and of course, the High Speed Ring. Fans of the franchise from way back are sure to enjoy racing around the High Speed Ring again, it's certainly a favourite of ours here at PALGN HQ. The variety in the cars is also to be praised, with plenty of dealers featured in the game. Cars such as the Dodge Viper SRT10 and the Aston Martin DB9 are included, but the real icing on the cake is the inclusion of the premium priced Ferrari F2007 - trust us, it's worth the 2 million credits.
Prologue hasn't just been crammed with vehicles and tracks, there are quite a few different game play modes for those who prefer to play on their lonesome. The event mode plays like a mini version of Gran Turismo 4. Players start off with a modest amount of money and purchase a car through one of the several dealers. After purchasing a vehicle players start off at class C and the aim is to keep winning the events in class C to win money, purchase better cars and of course, move onto the other classes. Also included in Prologue is the arcade mode where players can race with their previously purchased vehicle in a straight forward race or, for those who prefer to work on their times, can choose the time trial option instead. On certain tracks a drift trial mode is also available which awards players points for successfully pulling off drift during a race. It's actually a lot more difficult than it seems and we found ourselves returning to the mode to beat our previous scores.
One of the most touted new features for Prologue is the multi player support - yes, after years of promises Gran Turismo finally goes online with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. The online interface is just as smooth as the offline menus, players are able to select from a large range of challenges, and the game will automatically link you up with other players. Winning a challenge online will net the player money, which can be used offline as well. Online, everyone is going to have a different experience with Prologue, but we found the online code to be pretty solid - there was the occasional bout of lag, but we do think Polyphony will keep updating the online code as more people hop online. One of the major disappointments online is the lack of match making options, which can probably be attributed to the lack of an in-game XMB. The game also includes an online time trial feature as well, which is a surprisingly addictive inclusion. Compared to the wealth of online options in a title like Forza Motorsport 2, Prologue does feel a little lacking, but we're just pleased that Gran Turismo has finally gone online. For those who prefer to play locally the game also includes support for two players via split screen, a good inclusion for those who prefer for their opponents to be in the same room. There are some graphical downsides of playing split screen (such as the lack of the cockpit view) but we still had a bunch of fun offline.
In terms of gameplay the Gran Turismo series has always been a leader, and it still is. However, the franchise is still missing a few things which would justify the 'real racing simulator' tag. First up is the fact that the game still doesn't feature damage. After this many titles it is becoming very disappointing that the game doesn't include any form of damage at all, it also means just like in the old days of Gran Turismo, you can bump into a vehicle, knock it off the road and cruise away. Later on in Prologue players are penalised for doing this, but we're still disappointed by the lack of damage. It is also worth mentioning that although Australians cannot take advantage of the controller yet, that Gran Turismo 5 Prologue features support for the Dual Shock 3. We unfortunately don't have a Dual Shock 3 to test the support, but it's still an appreciated inclusion.
One element of the game that deserves special mention is the visuals. Quite frankly, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is easily one of the best looking games we've ever seen. The game feels like a step up from other PlayStation 3 titles such as Uncharted, MotorStorm and Rachet and Clank and the title just stands in a league of its own. Little details like the sun glare after exiting a tunnel or the sheer amount of detail in the cars will have even casual spectators taking a second look at the game. The replays only add to the immersiveness and impressiveness of the visuals. The game is also helped out by an intuitive menu system and a small amount of loading and the in car view is simply fantastic.
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is easily the most in-depth Prologue or Concept Gran Turismo title yet. With an extensive event mode, a pick up and play arcade option, as well as online and offline multiplayer anyone who picks up Prologue is sure to be left very satisfied with their cheap purchase. The franchise hasn't changed that much and the lack of damage is still disappointing, but Gran Turismo 5 Prologue features enough content that should sway even the most casual Gran Turismo fan.