Which Is More Exciting: Racing a Ferrari or a 1983 Toyota?

Which Is More Exciting: Racing a Ferrari or a 1983 Toyota?

Something has to be extraordinary if it can get me enthusiastic about a 1983 Toyota Corolla. Sony’s latest and definitive racing simulator, Gran Turismo 5, is jaw-droppingly good when it’s on. It works well.

To be honest, there are times when Gran Turismo 5 isn’t fantastic. There are a few glaring design flaws in the game. Yet, when it comes down to just driving one of more than a thousand automobiles from around the globe around any of dozens of meticulously modeled real-world courses (ranging from Daytona to the Nürburgring in Germany), Gran Turismo 5 provides an unrivaled visceral virtual driving experience.

Gran Turismo 5

Importantly, Gran Turismo 5 is the first game to fully argue for and herald the arrival of fully immersive 3D video games. Hardly nobody now possesses a TV that can display content in 3-D, and the vast majority of people have never ever seen a 3-D broadcast. The enhanced immersion and realism of Gran Turismo 5 is sure to sell a lot of 3D televisions. This is due of the revolutionary effect that 3-D has on the player’s perception of depth and space.

In today’s gaming landscape, it’s unusual for me to be taken anywhere other than my own mind. In contrast, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d transported to a real racetrack when playing Gran Turismo 5 on my PlayStation 3 with a Logitech force-feedback steering wheel and pedals in front of my 46-inch Sony 3-D screen this week. I was just there, speeding down the backstretch in my Aston Martin DB9 at Tsukuba Raceway in Japan, doing a double-apex turn into the corner, and passing the spectators.

All this high-tech gear

If you have the disposable income to buy all this high-tech gear and you like drift hunters fast vehicles and the physical sensation of driving, then Gran Turismo 5 is an absolute must. Using a standard PlayStation controller and a non-3D HDTV is still plenty of fun. Anything that can get me excited about driving a 1983 Toyota Corolla must be doing something really unique. In spite of this, Gran Turismo 5, Sony’s breathtaking and unrivaled new racing simulator, is even more impressive than exceptional when it’s at its peak. It’s fantastic.

Now, full disclosure: I don’t drive in real life, as I pointed out this summer in a review of ModNation Racers, Sony’s very different, purposely funny kart racing game. But I’ve always had a thing for racing games, all the way back to the early 1980s when I dominated the arcade classic Pole Position. I like vehicles and am a great admirer of the British version of “Top Gear” (not the rather awful US remake, thank you very much).

The sports vehicle like a Ferrari, Pagani Zonda

As I’ve never really driven a high-powered sports vehicle like a Ferrari, Pagani Zonda, or Nascar racer, I can’t comment on how close GT5 comes to the real thing. All I can say is that the experience as a whole is consistent and realistic enough to make me believe it is. It’s obvious that a vehicle with front-wheel drive handles differently than one with rear-wheel drive. While slowing down for a turn, the midengine vehicle’s weight distribution is clearly more balanced than that of a front-engine vehicle. Crucial performance attributes include grip, torque, and steering response time.

So, let’s talk about that Corolla. You should know going in that McLarens and Bugattis won’t be available to drive in GT5’s primary career mode. Instead of American or European compacts, you’ll find a variety of Japanese subcompacts at the game’s new car dealerships. The used-car lot is an exception to the rule of newness. So I started my journey in a ’83 Corolla (purchased with just 2,845 miles on it!) instead of a newer model. As you go through the game’s “career mode,” you get access to progressively more powerful cars (though, as a good Woodstock boy, I really did appreciate the 1962 VW minivan) as well as new courses and features. For some reason, however, I kept returning to my old reliable Corolla.

Half-decent damage modeling

Half-decent damage modeling is one of the aspects you don’t get to enjoy until a significant amount of time has passed. Whether it’s because the automakers that licensed their vehicles to Sony for the game don’t want their virtual hot rods too bashed up, or for some other reason, most of the time you can play GT5 a little like bumper cars. So, you may literally barrel headfirst into other players and nothing will happen. To this day, I have no idea why car damage is so often ignored in racing simulations that otherwise seem so realistic.

I also don’t see why the game’s internet options are so cumbersome to utilize and why the artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled drivers feels so dull most of the time. (I shouldn’t shocked; Sony hasn’t impressed me with an online game since the first EverQuest.) These are significant quibbles, but quibbles nevertheless. I blown away by the majority of Gran Turismo 5. Indeed, it’s so wonderful that I can put off learning to drive in the actual world for a little while longer. If only I could track down a genuine vintage Corolla….

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