|Sony (or their in-house studio, Polyphony Digital, if you like) wet the appetites of Playstation driving enthusiasts right after the PS3's launch with the freely downloadable Gran Turismo HD Concept (see entry 1315); it seemed a promise of great things to come, and in the not-so-distant future; there was talk of PD relatively quickly releasing a bare-bones game framework, and then gradually filling it in with downloadable content, the game becoming a gaming service more than the usual old scheme of buying a static, unevolving game in a box.|
That sounded great, but it fairly soon became known that PD had decided Concept's framework, which I think was based largely on Gran Turismo 4 (see entry 766), just wasn't going to be able to contain the full next-generation driving experience they felt they needed to deliver to keep the Gran Turismo name at the forefront of console racing. So it was going to take a bit longer to get a real bite of a true, new GT game.
Jump ahead two years to 2008 and it was finally happening: the slightly-less-than-retail-price "Prologue" version of GT5--a fractional but supposedly reasonably close to final slice of the eventual full game. I was so excited by the prospect that I even plunked down hundreds of dollars for a really nice driving wheel to go with this glorified demo.
And I wasn't too disappointed, really. This could have been due to the lack of any real competition in the near-simulation driving genre on the PS3, but hey, who's to know. Anyway, Prologue looked pretty nice--not all that different than the sharp but sort of plain GT HD Concept, really, but now there were close to four times as many cars, maybe, and six or so tracks to play around on. Also, the cars had more camera angles for driving, most notably interior views, with fairly detailed, unique cockpits for each car. I do recall at least one car having side-view mirrors that reflected only cars and not the track, or something, but hey, it was a preview of the game, they'd fix that at some point, right? (They may have; there were maybe three major downloadable updates to Prologue, and I remember this particularly because each one reset the complicated button configuration for my racing wheel. :P)
As in HD Concept, there wasn't a whole lot of detail or effect going on off the side of the tracks around which you were speeding, and the lack of a night/day cycle--or any weather besides dry and sunny, for that matter--was felt a little more keenly now. Also, the game's anti-aliasing wasn't the best: in car showrooms, contrasting pixels sparkled along the edges of the cars, and their brethren taunted you with their flickering dances along the horizon as you raced around the tracks. This was not particularly promising for a franchise that touted its graphics so heavily (fortunately, the AA is better in the full GT5).
And this preview game had a decent number of modes, too! You could race through three levels of pre-set driving challenges, earning dough to buy better cars to win tougher races, or hop into "Arcade" mode mode for a quick free spin. There was an Online mode, which became a little famous for people just ramming others off the road--I tried it once or twice, didn't seem that bad but took a while to get into an actual race, and I wasn't anywhere close to being competitive with the cars I had--and a sort of odd "TV" mode, where you could go and download videos related to the game, or to the world of competitive car racing--some of them being "premium" videos you had to pay for: episodes of cable TV shows, packages of highlights or something from real racing circuits, and so forth, I think (I never bought any).
Now that I look back, each car "dealership" (where you went to buy cars) had its own custom racing event, too, but I'm not sure what these were/are--probably racing against just cars from that manufacturer, I suppose.
Oh, you could(/can; why am I writing about Prologue in the past tense--oh wait I know why) also just take a car and run time trials (drift is in there too, but I haven't really done it) around one of the tracks, up against the "ghost" car representing your best run so far; I'd gotten a taste for that in Metropolis Street Racer on Dreamcast (see entry 770), so I was pretty excited about that mode; I only wished it would at least pay you a small amount of money for running around the tracks, so I could just do time trials all I wanted and still be able to buy new cars once in a while.
Alas, it paid nothing. Still, it was kind of fun. It was also nice that there were leaderboard for each car and each track. However, I think that was a little spoiled for me because I didn't have tuned cars; some limited amount of car tuning (souping or tweaking your car up for better performance) was possible, I've read, but only unlocked once you completed all three sets of the main racing challenges.
I finished the first set of racing challenges with first place finishes in all, but couldn't manage first place in all of the second set, in particular in events where you just had to beat a fixed time with a certain car. The times were tight and since you couldn't upgrade the car, it just...ugh. Maybe the idea was that you'd settle for a lower grade medal just to get past it, then come back later once you'd unlocked tuning? Hm, I sort of wish I'd thought of that before.
But not too much, because now that I've gone back to look at Prologue after having played the full version of Gran Turismo 5, I realise that although at first touch its handling isn't too far off of 5's--you have a definite feel of the road beneath you, and turning is responsive; on the down side, tires don't really come off the road, handling and feedback aren't quite as sharp, and the sometimes jolting but always immersive vertical movement of GT5 is nowhere to be found in Prologue--it is finicky--darn finicky. Finicky to the point of me not even wanting to try to finish a lap now.
For instance, in Prologue, taking a stock Ferrari 430 around the nice, wide, banked 90-degree turn on the High Speed Ring track seems fine--you're following the turn, keeping at the height you want on the bank, maybe taking a hair off the throttle at the tightest part of the curve, tires sound good, everything looks rosy--and then suddenly, without any sudden movements required by anyone--you, the car, or the track--you're suddenly fishtailing, somehow over-correcting, and crashing into the rail, hard.
So just as a sanity test, I tried the same thing--same car, same track, same settings (top quality physics, driving aids off except for 1 point of traction control and ABS), same driving style--in GT5, and went around the track repeatedly, smooth as you like.
Prologue just likes to sneak up on you and throw that mysterious spanner into the works. Yes, it's predictable--I'll suffer that same mysterious skid-out at the same point around the High Speed Ring each time--but there doesn't seem to be a REASON for it to happen; in the end, you feel like you have to baby the car around every corner; you're unable to attack, to really drive aggressively, because you're up against some unreasonable force that doesn't seem to follow the laws of driving as we know it.
So I suppose I'm not all that surprised now that I gradually stopped playing Prologue, even well before the full GT5 was on the horizon. At the time, I assumed that the skid-outs were just the "realism" of the sim, and I wasn't good enough to understand in what way I was driving incorrectly so as to cause them, but it still bothered and intimidated me, at least subconsciously; it took the fun out of the thing. And maybe it is perfectly realistic, for all I know--it isn't as though I've ever driven a million-dollar Italian super sports car at 200 MPH in real life. But I did realize on some level that it wasn't fun. I'm just glad (and kind of surprised, but again, I guess I didn't really realize what the issue was) that it didn't put me off of getting GT5, because GT5 doesn't have that problem.