No-one does shiny cars quite like Polyphony Digital does. And no racing game possesses the same obsessive attention to detail that Gran Turismo 5 does, ensuring that every one of its 1000 + cars is replicated perfectly, right down to the very last nut and bolt. It's not all about anatomically correct cars though – although that is an exceptionally substantial part of the appeal. Gran Turismo is all about a passion for driving and an almost perverse love of cars that pervades every inch of the game, from its crisp, clean menus and deep dedication, to enabling players to tweak every conceivable facet of each and every one of its vast showroom of vehicles.
It's almost all too much, and if you try to twist your head around the prospect of all of those cars, each with its own damage model for the first time in the series' history as well as unique handling, engine noises and meticulously rendered interiors, it becomes much easier to forgive the countless delays that have plagued Gran Turismo 5's protracted development cycle. Well, now we can all rest easy, knowing that GT5 now has a solid November 2010 release date to aim towards, and no less than two over-the-top special editions to lavish your hard-earned cash on when the time comes.
Jumping straight into the game on Gran Turismo's classic Rome track - complete with a stunning view of the Colosseum – we sit in the bucket seat provided, fitted with an official GT steering wheel and attempt to wrestle an Enzo Ferrari around the corners of the returning city track. We've played every Gran Turismo to death since day one, so immediately we're back on familiar ground with the same kind of exacting and stern driving model that has always made the series such a rewarding game to master. Though slightly too impenetrable for some, Gran Turismo has always been devoted to delivering a challenging race, and GT5 is of course no exception.
As ever, knowing when to apply the brakes is key, which is where the new racing line visual aid comes into play for newcomers or rusty veterans, showing you exactly when to put on the anchors with a red strip indicating that you need to slow right down. Forza Motorsport has quietly been doing this on the Xbox 360 for years of course, but it's still nice to see GT borrowing a couple of choice features from what is arguably its closest competitor on a rival console. This is uniquely, distinctively Gran Turismo though - there's no doubt about that. A race around the notorious Nürburgring affirms this fact, even with the steering adjusted to the 'strong' setting as recommended by the rep manning the GT5 booth, it's a hard game to get into initially. Handling is tight and responsive and the sense of feedback – even when we later switch to playing with a standard controller later on – is palpable. It's perhaps unsurprising to learn that Gran Turismo 5 plays like a dream. This is after all Kazunori Yamauchi and the development team at Polyphony Digital's umpteenth GT title after the core series, numerous Prologues, a PSP iteration and a PSN HD version, so everything has been polished to a blinding sheen as you'd expect.
Rallying is back in full effect too, and the exotic Toscana stage we play through looks utterly breathtaking as the dusk seamlessly transitions into a starry night sky. And even though the first curve we encounter sends us sliding off the beaten route into a fence, damaging our steering in the process, racing through the gravel and dust in a Citroen C4 WRC '08 is possibly more enjoyable than cruising around a classic city circuit like Tokyo R246, although jostling with a Dodge Viper and a Chevrolet Corvette in a Ferrari 458 Italia '09 is a joy thanks in no small part to the innate nuances of the car. Ferrari's replacement for the F340 is possibly one of the finest rides we've driven in any racing title, which makes scraping it's beautifully sculpted bodywork against the railings in a shower of sparks all the more upsetting. There's no discernible scraping on the car's paintwork, but we notice a smashed headlight and the rear bumper hanging off. Welcome to GT5's new damage model. It's been a long time coming.
As lovely as Gran Turismo 5's rally course is from an aesthetic standpoint, in 3D it's not quite as impressive as the game's city tracks, and racing on Madrid's Curso Del Sol circuit or the aforementioned Rome and Tokyo 246 circuits, really shows off how good the 3D effect is with the looming buildings and overhead road signs providing plenty of scope for ducking like an idiot when something swoops by in your peripheral vision. It's arguably better experienced from the internal driver's view if you ask us, even if we normally favour the exterior car view, where you can drool over the lovely metal curves of GT5's uber-expensive cars.
The full version of Gran Turismo 5 will obviously keep the best cars locked away until you've proven yourself worthy enough to have them in your garage, and until then you'll be forced to make do with a hatchback that your mum would normally drive while making the weekly shopping run to Asda. But once you get your mitts on something like the Nissan GT-R Spec V '09, a Lamborghini Gallardo, the GT Citroen Road Car Concept or even an Audi R8 - as we did in the demo - you'll be in petrolhead heaven. And that's what Gran Turismo 5 is all about – slumming it with the mundane road cars to hone your skills, making the step up to the real race cars, all the sweeter.
Sure, Gran Turismo 5 is as staid and serious as it always has been – even when you consider the potential levity in taking a break to watch an episode of Top Gear and bombing around the show's Test Track as The Stig – but then we hardly expected Polyphony to start presenting the game with paint splattered, arty menus and blaring rock music like a DiRT game. GT needs its plinky-plonky jazz and clinical white menu screens. It craves the super-clean cars, reams of tuning stats and differentials and its characteristically unforgiving handling model, because let's face it, without these things, it just wouldn't be Gran Turismo.
Gran Turismo 5 is slated for a November 2nd 2010 launch in the US. EU date still pending. Boooo!