October 30, 2011
After a year of updates, culminating in the recent and significant Spec 2.0 update, the game Gran Turismo 5 was when it launched has been massaged into a markedly different one. Spec 2.0, a serious overhaul, was made available in the very same week Forza Motorsport 4 was launched on Xbox 360.
The update brought with it a number of tweaks allowing GT5 players to better embrace the facets of the game that remain superior to that of Forza 4. For instance, GT5's time and weather options, for the tracks they're available on, are now adjustable in the pre-race menu. You can set the time of day and the speed that time passes, plus activate and deactivate rain, with ease. This is a hugely welcome change, making it even simpler to exploit GT5's full potential. GT5's night racing is wonderful to look at, and it looks downright remarkable in wet weather.
Spec 2.0 has also introduced a basic, in-car cabin view for the game's 800-or-so standard cars. The bulk of them are little more than a dark outline but some of them have required more work, like the Caterham pictured below. The results are still far below the standard set by the premium car interiors but they do serve to bring the two varieties of cars closer together.
I've come back for you.
A mid-race save feature for endurance races and the ability to rewind replay footage (particularly helpful for grabbing that perfect photograph) are some of other fixes that have come with Spec 2.0. Overall, it's a decent update – particularly for an almost 12 month old game.
The DLC, however, is a slightly different story.
After a week's delay, GT5's first true batch of DLC is now available in the US. It was made available elsewhere the previous week. Unfortunately, it's not all beer and kittens.
First and foremost, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a brilliant inclusion. Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps is consistently one of the most requested circuits from fans of both GT and Forza, rivalled only by the likes of Bathurst and Brands Hatch.
Basic, but it does the job.
It's not hard to see why. Spa is one of the most interesting and challenging race tracks in the world, characterised by its high speeds and undulating nature as it twists through the Ardennes Forest. In GT5, to Polyphony's credit, the track has never looked better. The team's clinical and obsessive pursuit of detail has resulted in a truly exceptional recreation of the famous track.
Spa in GT5 features weather effects also, which is excellent. Both GT5 and SHIFT 2 now feature Spa (the latter actually features Bathurst and Brands Hatch too) leaving Forza 4 the odd one out.
The best thing to come out of Belgium since French fries.
It's hard to argue racing gear adds much to the overall experience, and the paint colour pack only serves to highlight one of GT5's most annoying quirks.
GT5's use of an actual avatar for your driver is novel. It adds an additional layer of depth beneath the surface that Forza 4 doesn't offer. GT5's use of customisable drivers adds a human element to the game, something bolstered by the fully animated pit stops. You don't really get much of a sense that humans have much of a place in Forza 4; you're really just a set of hands. However, whether or not additional outfits for your driver is something the team should have dedicated much time to is debatable.
Also included is a new neon-lit kart track.
The paint colour pack should not have been required, really. Something that GT5 really could have done with in the face of Forza 4 is a relaxation of the strict approach to customisation. Needing to earn single-use paint chips to repaint your cars is such of chore-like thing to do. Requiring players to build up a selection of colours to choose from in order to paint their cars has always been borderline ridiculous. The paint pack will give you 100 new colours to choose from, but it's hard to be even remotely enthusiastic about it. Having the stifling painting system patched out and replaced with the ability to paint your car whatever colour you liked whenever you liked would've been a better response.
The car pack, the most expensive pack if purchased individually, is also the most disappointing of the lot.
Like playing dress-ups?
A car pack featuring a crop of real stunners, either popular and requested classics or cutting-edge present-day supercars, would've gone down a treat. There's no disguising the fact that the most recent Aston Martin in the game is a five-year-old DB9 from 2006. There's no disguising the fact that the most recent Holden in the game is a seven-year-old VY Commodore SS, from 2004. There's no disguising the fact the game features very dated concept models, yet not the cars they resulted in. GT5 features the 2004 Range Stormer Concept from GT4 but not the car it created: the Range Rover Sport. The Solstice Coupe Concept '02 is here, but no production Solstices make the cut.
But it wasn't to be. The car pack is instead a racing car pack: a collection of race modified models of cars already in the game, plus a few karts and a re-tooled version of the ultra-quick Red Bull prototype.
Oh, another Skyline.
We could poke fun at the fact this 15-car pack adds another four Skylines to a game with more than 60 various Skyline/GT-Rs already. We could roll our eyes at the fact that this car pack is every bit as insular as the game itself; almost every car here (save for the Red Bull X2011 Prototype, the Dodge Challenger SRT8 Touring and the three karts) is Japanese.
Above all, however, we have to point out that this car pack really only serves to highlight the deficiencies of GT5's customisation options compared to Forza 4. You couldn't offer race-modified versions of cars already in the game as DLC in Forza 4. You just couldn't do it. It's because the normal performance modification options, combined with the powerful livery editor, let you do it yourself. You can build a race-spec beast in Forza 4 and adorn it with a genuine racing paintjob. If you can't create it yourself you can buy one from a fellow user online. You can turn fresh-of-the-lot Fiesta into a fire-breathing banshee, splash on a Monster Energy livery and go for it. You can take one of the existing V8 Supercars and trade its paintwork and decals for a custom creation of one of the teams not featured by default.
You can't do this in GT5. You can push a vehicle to the max under the bonnet but you can't make it look the part. What this pack basically does is add a bunch of cars you may already own, only race modified and with a touring car appearance. It's an option that already exists in the game, albeit limited to a very small number of models.