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Well, this is finally it. Gran Turismo 5, the last of the PS3 titles we were promised before the machine’s launch in 2007, has finally arrived. Since the release of Gran Turismo in ’98, every game in the series has been more anticipated than the last, and I’m sure it’s no stretch to say that Gran Turismo 5 was probably one of the most anticipated titles of this year. If you’re not a rabid fan who’s already got whichever flavour of pre-order, super-deluxe signature edition you forked out for (like me), you’ll probably want to know if it lived up to the hype and did justice to its strong pedigree.

That’s a complicated question to answer. You see, with a game like Gran Turismo, it’s not just a case of matching its predecessors. Each new game is expected to be bigger, better and more technologically impressive than the last, especially when it’s on new hardware. In order to win that battle, Gran Turismo 5 on the PS3 would have to be something quite special indeed, and now that it’s finally here, let’s see how it fares.

From the moment the game starts and the bizarre intro video plays, it’s clear that Polphony Digital have gone all out for presentation and put a lot of thought into every aspect of the design. The first menu that greets you is surprisingly unthreatening, although your gut feeling will tell you it only hints at the monster behind it. From this deceptively uncluttered screen, you can jump into Gran Turismo mode, where the meat of the game lies, or have a quick burn around your favourite track in Arcade mode. This is also where you’ll find the track creator, which is pretty self-explanatory, and the new GT TV mode. This interesting addition allows players to stream and watch all kinds of promotional videos and even some motoring shows from around the world. And last but not least, there’s a news ticker tucked away in a corner keeping players up-to-date with the latest developments, and the options menu, where players can paddle around in the game’s sea of options.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably race around a track or two in Arcade mode first, just to see how the game feels, but if you want to get the most out of the game, you’ll need to head to Gran Turismo mode. This is the mandatory “career” mode, where players invest hours of time into winning races, making money, buying cars, kitting them out, and so on. There are two main sub-modes this time round: A-Spec and B-Spec. In A-Spec mode, you do all the driving yourself. In B-Spec mode, you train a crew of virtual drivers (well, only one initially) to drive your cars for you. Placing well in or winning races in either mode increases your A-Spec or B-Spec level, which grants access to more difficult races, opens up more cars to buy, allows you to train more drivers, and grants you the occasional random reward, like a new car or Special Event. Special Events are unique, quirky little races and events that wouldn’t fit elsewhere, and have been given their own little menu item. They include things like go-kart racing, driving around the Top Gear track in minivans, or being instructed by professional drivers. GT Mode also contains the online lobby, where up to 16 players can hook up to race against eachother.

Whether you’re racing yourself or coaching your virtual B-Spec crew, there are literally hundreds of races to enter from Beginner all the way to Extreme class. Obviously, the tougher the race, the more credits it pays for players to spend as they will. Often a race will have requirements, like a minimum A-Spec or B-Spec level, a particular type of car, or a specific licence. Players have an extensive garage to keep their cars in. With their winnings, players can buy new cars from the new or used dealerships and then tune them up to increase their chances.

Now onto the driving. I can’t speak for everyone, but I find the driving physics to be superb. The feeling of speed and connection to the road is very convincing, far more so than in previous GT games. I didn’t like the driving physics in the previous games too much – I always thought it was more punishing than reality. Thankfully, in GT5, a small mistake is no longer the end of the world. Quick reflexes and careful counter-steering can smooth over those little errors in judgement before they become cataclysmic, and allow you to salvage a slightly-too-wide turn without spinning around several times. Each vehicle type feels unique to drive, and switching from one to another, like from a mid-range front wheel drive to a high-powered rear wheel drive, will reveal a stark contrast in the handling characteristics that you can actually feel.

To be honest, while the presentation is top notch, the tracks are a little more… plain than I expected, but then this might be because the cars are the main focus, and they do look amazing. There are over 1,000 of them included, with more to follow online, and they’re accurately modelled down to the last detail. And – yes – it is true that not every car has an in-cockpit view, but this fate seems to be reserved largely for the more mundane, less exciting cars. A nice feature is the option to play your own music while racing too, so if the supplied tunes don’t get in a racing mood, feel free to load up your PS3’s hard drive with more suitable songs.

To answer the critical question, I’d have to say: Yes, Gran Turismo 5 does live up to our expectations. There are some things you can nitpick about, if you feel the need to be an individual, but they don’t change the fact that this is one of the most comprehensive and downright addictive driving games money can buy. If you like racing even a little bit, you have to give this game a try.

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