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PS3A Writer’s GOTY: the racing masterclass

Submitted by on Wednesday, 29 December 201019 Comments

Selecting a game of the year is rarely easy, and it has been no different this year.

Nothing could supplant Bayonetta during the early months of 2010; I loved its eccentric-Japanese design, the incredible freedom of the combat, its steep learning curve and cheeky humour. It felt fresh, and still does now.

The surprise hit was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow; it came out of nowhere and absorbed me for over 30 hours, and, once again, it had tight and varied combat, and a steep learning curve; clearly, I wanted to be challenged this year. It featured strong acting performances from Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart, who ensured an engrossing and emotional journey, even when working with a forgettable script. Lords of Shadow was a slow starter, but the intensity soon increased, and there was no chance that I would put it down before the end.

Another highlight was Battlefield: Bad Company 2; it was already an excellent game when released, but with new content and maps being added throughout the year, it has become a significantly larger game, and it is now firmly established as the best multiplayer first-person shooter on the PlayStation 3. We are on Map Pack 7 (all map packs are free for VIP users) and DICE recently launched the outstanding Vietnam expansion pack; both the developer and publisher, EA, deserve to be commended for the way they have gone about rewarding their customers.

My actual game of the year, however, was a late arrival (in many ways); it was Gran Turismo 5. This should not surprise anyone who read the PS3 Attitude review, where I gave it a firm seal of approval, but my thoughts were by no means universal. Some other reviewers were particularly scathing, citing a lack of genuine progress and its numerous rough edges as being major issues.

I would be lying if I did not contemplate for a moment, after publishing, whether I was out of sync with other gamers – how could I love a game so much that was creating as many discordant reactions as this was? The criticisms are perfectly valid, and I see them as clearly as everyone else, so the doubts rattled round my brain, but, after a month of playing, I felt reassured that I made the right decision. Gran Turismo 5 still had me hooked and it still does, and there is no chance of it loosening its hold.

At the time of writing, I have dedicated over 65 hours of my life to Gran Turismo 5, and remarkably, I still feel like I am only scratching the surface. Sure, I completed all the licenses; most of the championships, from Beginner to Professional; and most of the Special Events, although more bronzes and silvers than golds; but despite such great progress, there is no end in sight. I have barely touched B-Spec and neither have I spent much time online, and I am still trying to out-do my times. Then there are the endurance races and the mammoth task of building a legendary car collection.

Nevertheless, the wealth of features and modes are not what impresses me most, it is the actual driving and its remarkable precision. Only the other day, I was trying to complete the Sébastien Loeb Special Event in Toscana on tarmac. For close to an hour, I was going for gold, and I kept falling short – one lap I was .012s away, only to somehow get even closer by ending up cruelly .002s off gold. It is incredible that such small margins can be the difference between winning and losing. I will not lie, I was frustrated, and I wanted to toss my controller at the screen, but I kept at it, and I eventually won gold – with .216s to spare. The experience left me feeling triumphant.

In Gran Turismo 5, every millisecond counts, and to master the game you must learn every corner and bump on the track. You need to know your car and understand its movements in the way that you understand the movements of your hand. Once you finally master a car, and its eccentricities, the sense of achievement is wonderful.

Sure, when things are going wrong, Gran Turismo 5 can descend into a laborious mess, with sluggish cars understeering round bends, but when it is going right, you will experience some of the most exhilarating gameplay possible. Sure, Gran Turismo 5 does not have the same unbelievable speed as, say, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but nothing beats the adrenaline rush you get when in the cockpit of your favourite car, flying through the Nürburgring, clipping the track’s corners at the highest of speeds, with the slightest mistake likely to ruin your race.

I have collected numerous cars from Corvettes to Kübelwagen (I have four Skylines, in typical Gran Turismo fashion), and I love the variety on offer. Now, my Ford GT ’60 tends to be my most used, but closely following is Kazunori Yamauchi’s favourite, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG ’10. I do though have a new favourite car every time I play, and it does not necessarily have to be the fastest car either.

Remarkably, every car in Gran Turismo 5 feels unique; so with over 1000 cars in the game, I have enjoyed searching for my dream drive. Yes, around 800 of these are the low-res Standard Cars, which do not have cockpit views (the best view), but that has not put me off wanting to collect them. Moreover, 200 plus Premium Cars is an ample amount. Most of these are truly beautiful, and show a staggering level of detail inside and out.

The tracks in Gran Turismo 5 are also something worth admiring, from the city roads of London, Rome and Madrid to the beautifully scenic landscapes surrounding Toscana and the Eigar Nordland. If you want fast tracks, you have it; if you want to test your breaking and turning skills, you can have that as well.
Variety is such a key component of Gran Turismo 5; it has rally, NASCAR, touring car races and even karting. Rally racing is especially fun; it is a racing style that requires dedication and practise, but once you adapt to driving with less traction it will go from being slow and laborious to fast and dangerous, especially when fighting the dust clouds that are being created by the cars in front.

Gran Turismo is still full eccentricities; Polyphony Digital has you going from driving in a race featuring only Lupos to one with only American muscle cars. Many will find this approach off-putting, but it is one of my favourite things about the game, mostly because I admire the studio’s love of cars. I am not a petrol-head, but I can feel their passion rubbing off onto me. I love how every car comes with a lengthy description, and that there’s a manufacturer’s museum; I love that Kazunori Yamauchi wants us to experience the less elegant cars as much as the high-powered super-cars; I love that the game is structured in a way that makes you work for the desirable cars, so you appreciate them when you finally get them.

The game isn’t without its faults: the damage modelling is poor, to say the least; loading times are excessive, constantly breaking up the flow of the game; and we did expect to see the old tree sprites, and other dated graphics, to be replaced with something a bit more sophisticated. There are other glaring issues, but I would rather not dwell on them, because this is my game of the year, meaning these issues have not been enough to distract me from the tremendous enjoyment I have been having while driving.

What is most exciting is the feeling that this game is only going to get better in 2011. Yamauchi-san has already stated that he plans to upgrade many of the Standard Cars to Premium Cars as well as adding other features; we expect to see updates rolling out on a monthly basis. This ever-evolving approach feels more akin to a massively multiplayer online rather than your typical driving simulator.

We have already seen big improvements: more tailoring options for online matches, mechanical damage in practise and online mode, improved rewards, online dealerships, and many more. The game looks significantly different from the game that was available on release, and it is much better for it. I agree that many of these features should have been available on launch, but it is exciting to know that I have invested in an organic product. If they keep releasing these updates on a regular basis, I cannot see any other game getting a look-in throughout 2011.

Possibly the best of the updates has been the Seasonal Events, which are new A-Spec events and online time and drift trials; as if the game wasn’t large enough as it was. Having online leaderboards is the best thing about these Seasonal Events, and we need to see more of them. I hope Polyphony Digital are taking note of the success EA are having with their Autolog system; a similar approach would greatly enhance Gran Turismo 5, because there is not enough being done to encourage competition between friends.

Gran Turismo 5 arrived with (impossibly) high expectations, and for many it clearly did not live up to the hype. There are some glaring issues, as have been frequently highlighted, but, for the most part, these issues are not significant, and should not spoil the rest of the game, which is a lesson in class. While I hope that some of the issues will be resolved through updates, and I am hopeful that many will be, I am not too worried if they are not; I have loved every second of the game since its release, and I know that I am not alone there.

Gran Turismo 5 was over five years in the making, and I suspect it will be quite a wait before Gran Turismo 6 arrives, but I am confident that this game will have more than enough to keep me going in the meantime. I have been with Gran Turismo since the beginning, and it is just brilliant to have the legendary series back again, setting the standards as always.

Make sure you return to PS3 Attitude during the week because we have more writer’s game of the year articles on the way