While playing the latest incarnation of “Gran Turismo 5,” you may find yourself asking the same question after experiencing the lush detail and amazing graphics from this racing simulator. But is it too real?
Six years in the making from Polyphony Digital and Sony Computer Entertainment, “Gran Turismo 5” features over 1,000 automobiles and 71 different tracks so it is a very deep experience. From everyday cars like the Mini Cooper S to powerful NASCAR machines to prototype vehicles built by Ferrari, drivers can tailor their game to whatever style they wish.
The “devil is in the details” and GT5’s detail into each car is painstakingly accurate. Cars not only look and feel like the real thing, but sounds like them as well. While playing with the Cooper, my wife wandered into the room because she heard what sounded like her car and was amazed how much it resembled what sits in our garage.
The vehicles behave as they should, reacting to weight shifts and (new this year) sustaining damage that actually matters a little. Cars can also be tuned to change their suspension, power or grip on the road.
This is a car nut’s dream.
However, it may not be a racing game nut’s dream. The realism almost gets in the way of making this an experience that will reach out to racers.
In single player mode, there are races that are limited to specific makes and model years, but no easy way to find a car that fits those criteria. You’ll spend time going through hundreds of cars only to find out that (a) you don’t have enough credits to get the car or (b) you don’t have enough experience to drive it.
The artificial intelligence is either too aggressive or too single-minded at times. Some of my races ended prematurely when I got hooked from the side by another driver or forced off the road because the AI didn’t want to take another route. It was like driving against multiple Dale Earnhardts at times.
The feedback on the driving conditions was great. Bumps felt like bumps, resistance when sliding and getting some air when cresting a small hill at high speed.
But the view of the action was limited with the lack of a cockpit view and forced me to drive from a front bumper/hood viewpoint.
There is also a single player mode that allows players to control a team of racers, pitting them against competitions and helping them grow and get better. It is good if your idea of fun is being the owner/general manager instead of getting behind the wheel yourself.
The online version is pretty much straight up racing, but doesn’t disappoint. Social additions, like posting videos to YouTube and upload pictures to your personalized wall offer plenty of opportunities to show off your driving talents.
Up to 16 people can compete at any one time and I didn’t have any troubles with lagging or drop outs so it appears Sony has done the backend work on their servers to handle the crush of drivers.
Despite opting for the rather large download at the beginning that claimed to speed up in-game action, GT5 has download screens after nearly every menu choice. And don’t get me started on the soundtrack which seems to be a mix of smooth jazz and 70s porn music. Ugh.
In the end, “Gran Turismo 5” is a visually stunning game that hides what is basically a one-trick pony – even though that pony is gorgeous. Buy a car. Race it. Buy another car. Race that one too.
Unless you are a gear head, the option of tuning a car isn’t that inspiring when you can find another, more powerful and better handling car waiting for you at the dealership.
But the game’s brilliance lies in the driving, and for that, it takes home the checkered flag for providing a racing experience that is minutely detailed with a lifelike feel that almost has the wind blowing against your cheeks.
Be prepared for some uglier moments when you get off the track.
“Gran Turismo 5” is an exclusive title for the PlayStation 3. This game was reviewed by using the standard PS3 Sixaxis controller as well as the Logitech Driving Force GT steering controller. It is rated E for everyone.
The game from Criterion and Electronic Arts is the latest in the “Need For Speed” series and features many of the world’s foremost performance machines. It garnered early praise by receiving the “Best Racing Game” award at this year’s E3 convention in Los Angeles.
The action is split into two sides – racers and police. Each side has a wide variety of automobiles at their disposal and objectives are vastly different depending on which side of the law you want to play.
Racer missions consist of getting from point A to point B as fast as you can. Sometimes, you will be pitted in a straight race against other drivers, but police chase vehicles join in the action to provide further inspiration in your run to victory.
Police missions are exactly what you’d expect – chase down and bust (i.e. – wreck) the dangerous speeders in your territory. Often, you’ll be expected to shut down an entire pack of daredevil drivers so pick them off one at a time.
The automobiles are the real stars of the game. From car makers such as Alfa Romer and Aston Martin to Porsche and Subaru, the cars are the best in speed and performance that are on the road.
Many of the models can be played by either side but some are limited either to racing or police. Wait until you see a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggra dressed up in black and white.
The driving is fantastic and, while it doesn’t handle exactly like it would in real life, each car responds differently under a variety of driving conditions. Heavier cars don’t corner as well as lighter cars, but do perform better in off-road situations than their less-weighty brothers.
The controls make a nice blend of precision driving skill with a touch of arcade style driving so the game can be picked up easily. There are also plenty of tips to help you out in case you want to hone your skills even further.
And just in case you were wondering, it will take more than speed to complete your missions.
Police have a variety of weapons at their disposal to bring racers to a halt. Stop sticks, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) charges, road blocks and helicopter support are all available to stop the race and nab the bad guys.
Racers are not without their own weapons as well. They also have stop sticks and EMP, but they also have a jamming device to block police signals and a turbo boost that really should only be used on straightaways for maximum effect.
More cars, stronger weapons and faster challenges get unlocked as the player progresses. Those advancements also transfer over to use in online multiplayer action.
The online action really wants to involve your friends. You can post photos, best times or directly challenge your buds and give you bragging rights over their weak driving skills.
But what if none of your friends has “NFS:HP” yet? Don’t despair for the game will set you up against opponents from around the world to show off your abilities in straight racing or chase modes.
Those who want to play demo derby with their cars will find themselves in the back of the pack. This is a racing game for cars designed to highlight performance and speed – no NASCAR drivers needed.
The tracks are varied with shortcuts sprinkled throughout to gain a racing advantage or cut off a bad guy. Weather changes, daylight versus darkness and road conditions all play a part in each contest.
There is some variety to the environments but often it gets overlooked as you speed past. I was busy admiring a breathtaking waterfall and neglected to notice the hairpin turn that was fast approaching.
Overall, the game is slick and well polished. The action is immersive; the cars are intense; and the thrill is on-the-edge-of-your-seat good. It is available on Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii and even your iPhone.
While playing the game, I “accidentally” stayed up until 4:30 a.m. trying to unlock new cars (specifically the Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake), find faster races and beat more opponents. It deserves the award it got in June at E3 and probably has more on the way.
If you enjoy driving cars that probably most of us will never even get to touch, “Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit” delivers in spades. Now excuse me while I drive past this doughnut shop..
Microsoft’s new controller for the Xbox 360 uses physical movements from the players to control action on the screen. There is nothing to hold and no buttons to push.
Three camera sensors and four microphones help the Kinect recognize who is standing in front of it. Player motions and voice recognition are translated into cursor movements or actions with a game.
Alex Kipman, Director of Incubation for Kinect, said they wanted to break down the technology barriers and make game interaction more natural.
“We wanted to transform entertainment where technology understands you,” Kipman said during a Kinect demo in Washington, D.C. “It was our goal to merge really amazing tech with a really amazing experience.”
Kipman explained that the specific components used to create Kinect have been around for years. He said the real breakthrough was in the proprietary software used to make it all work together.
Cloud profiles, where information is provided and stored on an as-needed basis rather than accessing from a local hard drive, help the Kinect and Xbox 360 learn about the users and the types of entertainment they might be interested in. It also helps with live streaming music, movies and more in real time.
Out of the box, the Kinect sensor is 11 inches long and 3 inches high, including the motorized stand that it sits on. Connecting to the Xbox is easy. For the new Xbox 360 Slim consoles, it is plug-and-play – no additional wires. To use on the Xbox 360 Original consoles, you will need a power source for the device.
After some software downloads, the Kinect calibrates itself to the room automatically. It is actuated by specific gestures (waving your hand at the Kinect) or by using a specific key word for voice commands (“Xbox”).
“It is technology that understands you,” Kipman said. “Kinect looks at 48 points on the body to figure out what it should do. It always knows who is in charge.”
The Kinect should go at or as near eye level as possible so it can easily see all your movements. Also, a clear space to play is needs so nothing impedes its view of the player and nothing gets knocked over or bumped. One player will need to be at least 6 feet back while 2 players should be about 8 feet from the screen.
Kinect is bundled with “Kinect Adventures,” a game that not only gets you moving, but teaches you how to use the device. Hovering your hand over game menu options activates those choices.
Five different adventures require the player to move and react to different scenarios. “Rallyball” will get you reacting to things being thrown at you. “River Rush” and “Reflex Ridge” get the player dodging and steering.
“Space Pop” requires using your arms to propel and move you in a weightless situation. “20,000 Leaks” will stretch you out as water attempts to rush in through cracked glass.
All of these adventures teach players how to use proper spacing and movements to control the action on the screen. These are gestures that will come in handy for other Kinect games.
FUN WITH WILD ANIMALS
“Kinectimals” was demonstrated at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 in Los Angeles in June and received high marks for the cuteness factor.
Players get to adopt a virtual pet. Choices include a Bengal tiger, lion, panther, cheetah or leopard cub.
By using voice commands and body gestures, kids can teach their cub to do tricks, feed and brush it, or just play games with it. It is definitely a game geared toward younger players and the interactivity does rate high on the cuteness meter.
Plus, there is something neat to rubbing a tiger cub on the belly – even if it is virtual.
NOW WE ARE BALLING
“Kinect Sports” really cranks up the action with six different games at four different skill levels.
From the outdoors to the table top, the different sports challenge players to really get involved with the action. Full body movements mimic those that would be needed to really play the sport.
Want to score a goal in soccer? Kick the ball.
Want to knock out your opponent in boxing? Throw a punch.
“The only skill you need is life skill,” Kipman said. “If you know how to bowl, you can bowl in our game.”
The action and movements are life-like and will get players moving. For example, while you won’t actually have a javelin in your hand (more on that later), you will need to run (in place) up to the line and throw.
The different skill levels make it easy for players to learn what to do and master those actions before moving up to more challenging opponents.
HEADING DOWN THE ROAD
“Kinect Joy Ride” is probably the one title that doesn’t feel like it lives up to what a racing game should be.
There are different game modes to race, do stunts or even crash into objects and each other. But it doesn’t feel quite right because, with Kinect, there is nothing to feel.
Your car is controlled by grabbing an imaginary steering wheel. There is no accelerator or brake; the game does that for you automatically.
Turning your hands left or right steers the car, but there is no tactile feedback to give you the sensation of running off the road or colliding with a light pole.
This isn’t a “Grand Turismo” title by any stretch of the imagination. However, a racing game should have a feel to it and this one just leaves you grasping for air.
GET YOUR BODY MOVING
Two other initial titles, “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” and “Dance Central”, are where the Kinect really shines.
“Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” features workouts created by “Men’s Health” and “Women’s Health” magazines. The exercises are demonstrated and players are scored on how well they match the movements of the instructors.
There are Zen exercises for relaxation or Cardio Boxing for if you want to relax in a different way. There are also personalized exercise plans to help lose weight, tone the body or get more energy.
The Kinect helps correct postures and actions so users can get the most benefits out of the exercises being done. It really does works well.
“Dance Central” aims to get to moving to the beat, but realizes we all aren’t ready to strut our stuff on the dance floor.
The game combines today’s dance hits performed by pop stars with moves that might seem clunky at first, but do get more involved and intense as the difficulty ratchets up.
It is like “Guitar Hero” where you have to match up your movements to the movements on the screen to get the perfect score, but there is instruction to help you fan the flames of your dance fever.
MORE THAN GAMES
Because it does have cameras, Kinect also offers the ability to video connect with other Kinect users or those who use Microsoft’s Live Messenger program on computers.
It also works with the other entertainment selections features for the Xbox 360 like on-demand ESPN, music from Zune, and movies from Netflix.
“It is all about your choice, your content when you want it,” Kipman said.
GOOD FOR SOME, NOT SO MUCH FOR OTHERS
Microsoft said there will be 17 games between the launch of the Kinect and the holidays that will use the new controller. They all will likely not be Kinect only titles like the six featured above, but may use a combination of Kinect and the normal Xbox 360 controller.
The initial titles show where Kinect will shine and where it will stumble.
Games that feature full body movement will really highlight what the Kinect can offer. Syncing up your movements with the movements on the screen is a lot easier and more natural with Kinect than with a normal controller.
A surprise amusement factor in most of the games is the Kinect’s ability to record video while you are playing. While doing hurdles in track and field, my kitten decided to join the fun and began jumping as I jumped. Needless to say, the laughs were better after the game than during.
Games that would be better enhanced with a physical device in hand are going to feel flat and not quite up to the demands that players want from those types of games. Racing games and first-person shooter games may not have the same enjoyment factor with Kinect that they can with regular controllers.
Right now, the Kinect can understand languages from the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan and Canada with more to roll out in the near future. Kipman said they will be constantly refining voice recognition to help it recognize dialects in each language.
A Microsoft spokesperson said 30,000 North American retailers would have Kinect available on November 4 with 7,000 of those planning to open on at midnight. She would not reveal how many units would be available on launch day so get there early.
This exclusive title for the Sony handheld console was developed by Ready At Dawn, the same team that worked on the other “God of War” episode for the PSP, “God of War: Chains of Olympus.”
“Ghost of Sparta” falls between “God of War” and “God of War II” in the mythos timeline.
In fact, the video game starts off with Kratos sitting on his throne — the closing scene of “God of War” — and finishes with the opening scene of “God of War II,” where he prepares to lay siege to Olympus.
Game designer Mike Deneen said the story is designed to be a deeply personal one for their lead character.
“It is about his journey from mortal to god after killing Ares,” Deneen said. “Players will start to understand his anger at the gods.”
Haunted by visions and nightmares of his family, Kratos sets off on a quest to rid himself of the horrors.
He is propelled through scenes of fire and ice, water and air — all done with the idea of making the game bigger and better than the first PSP title.
“We had to make sure there was something awesome to look at,” Deneen said. “Always.”
Players are also treated to levels showing Kratos as a boy.
“We feel we pushed the PSP to its limits,” he said. “We actually filled up the UMD (Universal Media Disc). We looked at locations where we haven’t visited before and wanted to visit them.”
The PSP screen is constantly filled with vibrant and expansive scenery, from the watery lands of Atlantis to the depths of fiery volcanoes with lava that almost seems alive.
The scene gets frantic once the enemies appear. Cyclops, minotaurs and medusa all return to pester Kratos through the levels. But it’s the boss battles where the game really shines.
Huge mythological creatures dwarf the new “God of War” and it takes combinations of might and magic to defeat them.
“We have twice the enemy count as before,” Deneen said. “The bosses are 10 times as big and the AI (artificial intelligence) is smarter.”
Kratos gets a shield and spear to use in addition to his trademark Blades of Athena, but there is very little new in combat abilities. New magical skills like electricity, fire, ice and soul-eating round out his offensive skills.
“We wanted to bring the old fans back with having new additions to his combat,” Deneen said. “First and foremost, this is a ‘God of War’ game.”
While all the bloodshed does make it feel like a typical “GoW” game, there are personal moments that show Kratos’ humanity. It is a change of pace that is absent in other games in the series.
Gameplay should last 7-10 hours, which translates to about a week of in-game time.
There are actual night and day scenes, although Kratos never sleeps or eats (he is a god now, after all). Overall, if you’ve ever played a “GoW” game, this will be a welcome addition to your collection.
The story fills in some of the blanks about Kratos’ past and answers questions that were left dangling after “God of War III.”
The new abilities and expansive scenery are enjoyable to explore. The new monsters will challenge even the most experienced player and the scenes will make you wish you were playing it on the big screen with a PlayStation 3.
If you are new to the franchise, go play “God of War” (or “Chains of Olympus”) first then pick this up before getting “God of War II.”
The story will make more sense and the action will be just as entertaining.
“God of War: Ghost of Sparta” will be available on November 2 for the Sony PSP and PSPgo. It is rated M for Mature (Blood and Gore; Intense Violence; Nudity; Sexual Content).