For many, Gran Turismo 4 was a fun and good looking game, but still a huge disappointment. Delivered late yet still short on features it ultimately failed to provide the kind of addictive allure of its predecessors. With no online play, extremely limited visual car customization, no crash damage, and a minimally changed physics engine it was just more of the same. And, honestly, you can only spend so many hours playing more of the same, even if it is awfully good looking.
With so much bad press being piled on the PS3 today, Gran Turismo 5 may wind up being the make or break title for the console. After its predecessors shortcomings, the fifth will need to impress to win gamers over, especially with the Forza series making huge progress in a number of areas that Gran Turismo hasn’t even begun to address. So, to ensure the series’ continued popularity, here are 12 things that GT5 absolutely must do, and do well.
Strong Online Presence
It’s hard to believe that, in this day and age, there still isn’t a Gran Turismo that works online. Why is it that GT4 Online, which entered beta mid last year, still hasn’t seen release? Because it isn’t going to, that’s why. It’s up to GT5 to finally bring the franchise to the wild and wolly internets, and it had better do it in a very comprehensive way.
Series producer Kaz Yamauchi thought gamers would want to spend hours taking pictures of their in-game cars and share them online. It seemed crazy, but he was right. In GT5 he’ll need to take that a step further, enabling gamers able to share their entire garages and race histories with the world. Think MySpace meets Gran Turismo, where instead of prying into someone’s likes and dislikes you’ll check out their car collection, snoop under the hood of their rides, and maybe even snag their favorite suspension settings.
Visual Car Customization
This ties into the online presence in a big way. When you’re just racing offline, there’s really not much point in spending hours tweaking the look of your ride with decals, body kits, wheels, and whatever else. But, when you get online, that all changes. Now you have real competition that you may want to intimidate, impress, or just set yourself apart from. Of course the best way to do that is with driving skill, but it never hurts to have a customized ride too. In Forza we’ve seen everything from menacing blacked out Skylines to memorable Hello Kitty Imprezas, with every serious racer taking the time to show their own style. To be truly memorable online, Gran Turismo will need to do the same.
There have been many myths bandied about over the years about why the Gran Turismo series doesn’t feature actual car damage, the most popular being that the auto manufacturers didn’t want to see their cars scraped up. Games like Forza and Project Gotham Racing have shown that to be wrong, so what’s the real reason? Well, it must be one of two things: lack of time to develop car models that can show damage or, more likely, lack of console horsepower to handle those model deformations. Well, the first excuse isn’t going to cut it anymore, and with Sony taking every opportunity to brag about how much of a powerhouse the PS3 is, the second isn’t going to go too far either. GT5 simply must feature visible crash damage.
No, we’re not repeating ourselves here. A lot of people confuse crash damage with crash physics. These are two separate things that, historically, the Gran Turismo series has never had. Crash damage is the visual deformation of a car that has hit something. Crash physics is the resulting movement of that car after it hits something. For example, check out what happens when these two cars come together at around the 35 second mark in this YouTube video of Forza Motorsport. Now, compare that to how the Civics here just bounce off of each other 30 seconds into this GT4 vid. It’s long been a usable tactic in Gran Turismo to ricochet off of AI cars to make it around a corner far more quickly than you should. That needs to stop.
Polyphony Digital finally secured a Ferrari license; good for them. Now go get Lamborghini, and quit trying to pawn off RUF as Porsche.
With the removal of force-feedback from the American version of the GT HD demo, speculation started swirling (even confirmed by one Sony rep) about FF going the way of rumble on the PS3. Whether future first-party racing games on the PS3 will make use of FF effects of Logitech’s USB wheels is fully in doubt, and with Sony’s litigation with Immersion Inc. still ongoing, it could be quite some time before we truly know what’s up. With the original Xbox and Forza being derided by many thanks to its lack of FF effects, we could see an interesting shift here.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Top Gear you’ll know that Clarkson and friends never sign off an auto review without making some mention of the car’s interior. Be it fantastic or functional the interior makes up a huge part of the identity of a car, especially for the owners. Despite this, none of the Gran Turismo games have ever had proper interior views with rendered dashboards. While Project Gotham Racing 3 and Test Drive Unlimited both have made great use of this view, Forza lacks one, and by the looks of things so will its sequel. This is an area where GT5 can step forward past its competition.
An Honest Challenge
If there’s one thing that’s always, always been missing from Gran Turismo, it’s an honest to gosh difficulty curve. It always seemed like, if you were getting beaten by the AI in a race, the way to win wasn’t through practice, it was with upgrades. Slap on a bigger turbo, throw on a better exhaust, or just get a whole new car, then re-enter, lap the competition, and moving on to the next event and the next set of upgrades. Sure, there have always been challenging limited spec events, but for every Vitz Race there are ten other competitions that let you waltz in with just about anything you like and blow the doors off of the competition.
While it was far from perfect, Forza took a different approach, always delivering opponents in comparable hardware to yours. This meant you could upgrade your car to your hearts content and make it perfect for you, but you were always guaranteed some bit of a challenge. If you weren’t up to it, a new intake kit wasn’t necessarily going to help you out.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t possible to dominate the competition in Forza, and it’s not to say that dominating the competition is a bad thing. However, in the various Gran Turismo games when entering an event it always seems like a crap shoot whether the car you bring is going to be grossly out-performed by or out-performing the competition. In a game like this you should spend more time having fun racing than pondering car selection, which brings us to the next point…
The Gran Turismo games have never had AI that make for fun races. The games have always been fun, but it’s always been a combination of the addictive nature of car collecting and upgrading, mixed with the entertaining physics engine, that’s made them so. In GT5 that’s going to have to change. The game doesn’t need amazingly perfect AI drivers that harasses you in ever corner, constantly pushing you into mistakes. However, they should at least make the odd braking feint, be capable of avoiding other AI cars mid-corner, and must, in some way or another, act vaguely like a human being while racing.
Gran Turismo has been getting away with basically the same engine and tire sounds through four iterations. (Take a listen to this GT2 clip, then this GT4 clip. Now check out this Forza clip.) Some tweaks and enhancements have been made, but they’ve been minor. GT HD is another step forward (you can listen here), but, if this is a modified car (which it is), where’s the turbo whistle? Where’s the BOV? (Also, where are the tire marks?) If GT5 is to be a truly next-gen experience, it’s going to have to sound like it.
Don’t Rip Us Off
Back in September, Famitsu dropped the bomb that Polyphony Digital was planning non releasing GT HD for cheap or free, then asking gamers to download cars for about $.50 each, spending another $2-$4 per track. This could have resulted in a game that would cost around $475 to get the full complement of autos and locales, a far cry from the $49.99 for GT4. As we know now that plan was dropped for GT HD, with the game releasing as a rather limited and free demo. But, there’s nothing to say that they won’t give it a shot in GT5. Test Drive Unlimited showed that a good initial selection of cars sold for a reduced price then mixed in with purchasable downloads later can make everyone happy. Meanwhile, Need for Speed: Carbon showed that trying to nickle-and-dime gamers after they pay full price results in a slew of bad press. If GT5 breaks from the tried and true formula of hundreds of cars and dozens of tracks out of the box, it could be asking for trouble.
Ship Before 2008
This one’s obvious. With Forza 2 shipping summer 2007 and the PS3 lacking any major system seller, Gran Turismo 5 has to launch by the holiday season 2007 not only to keep series fans happy, but also to help ensure the PS3 has a chance in the current console war.