Gran Turismo 5, Part 1 (B-Spec critique)


Ok, so I’ve spent the better part of what I’d consider a sort of busy Sunday playing Gran Turismo and I thought I would start off with a two-glasses-of-wine incentivized first post.  I’m hoping to fill in the gap out there for those of you who might want to buy GT5, but aren’t  full time gamers (like myself).  The real question when time is the finite resource, as opposed to money, is whether or not the experience in the game is worth it.  I’m going to start where I’m going to end; it depends with GT, as it always has.

My love affair with Polyphony Digital’s masterwork began with Gran Turismo 2, when as a high school student I was utterly amazed at the vast world of motorsports and the thousands of cars Sony could offer me.  That was back when Gran Turismo could be nothing else other than a religion for one, as the world was much smaller and unconnected.  GT was a lonely world back then before the days of DLC and online play, especially considering how completely involved the game could become.  Flashforward to later in high school where I tried to desperately cram a few laps of GT3 in before work.  GT4 was another one.  Needless to say, in November 2010, I eagerly awaited GT5’s eventual arrival.  I preordered with special edition upgrade; a true believer’s dedication (although I totally skipped Prologue, so maybe this is a bit of an overstatement).  It’s now been roughly seven months and, amazingly, I’m still playing this game.  But to say this is some sort of bees+knees scenario wouldn’t be fair either.  And that’s the point of this post.  When I say I spent the better part of a Sunday, you’d have to consider the time I spent doing laundry/dishes/cooking dinner/checking work emails with the time I actually spent playing.

Huh???

For those of you who are confused, this anomaly is called “B-Spec.”   B-Spec, as near as I can figure, is managing a race team where you give the orders a coach would give a football team to AI controlled drivers competing against other AI drivers using cars you’ve unlocked in the game.  Of course, to say it’s like a football coaching game like Madden would be giving this feature WAAYYY too much credit.  B-Spec is an important part of GT5, but was also clearly added carelessly or at the last minute.  What the practical effect of B-Spec is due to its poor execution is a very tedious series of cool race videos that are incredibly time consuming.  The races are generally double the distance of the single-player “A-Spec” races (I’m assuming because PDI doesn’t have the confidence that it’s AI will have the right outcome without a longer data sampling set…).  I’m told in sports games, generally most of the modern titles (like a decade old or so), allow a player to do some time-shifting and simulate games or a season to give some sort of leveraging to otherwise one-sided contests.  Likewise, it would make sense to have a festival of Toyota Yaris end the second you enter with a Ferrari or a blown Nissan GTR.  No such luck with GT5, you have to do it the hard way and get all that laundry done while watching.  Additionally, I’ve noticed the rate of growth for EXP (needed to unlock increasingly difficult levels of playing in A and B-Spec modes), seems to be slower in B-Spec, virtually locking you inside for a day.

When I say B-Spec is important, I mean it; the only way to unlock a very important series of cars is by having your computer-controlled drivers win races and money for you (if you disagree, I’d like you to figure out how to do the classic racing car event without the Toyota 7 race car.  20,000,000 pesos is a lot of pesos).  When I say B-Spec is terrible and clearly thrown together at the last minute, I mean that too.

B-Spec is Thrown Together: FACT.

What really struck me about this feature was how I had no idea how it worked initially.  Arguably, I still don’t after 6 months of playing.  There are bars, and all sorts of data, but no where is there any manual support for this stuff.  Although MPH in a racing game is pretty self-evident, the role of mental strength and strength is a bit more nuanced.  I’m still trying to learn exactly what this means, although I’ve pieced it together from other internet posts.   Unlike the game’s neat license tests, there doesn’t seem to be any indication or training as to exactly how one succeeds at B-Spec.  Although there is a plethora of metric data and polished camera views, there are surprisingly few commands available.  You can tell your driver to pace up, pace down, maintain pace, or pass another driver.  These commands work, for the most part, although your driver needs to be a reasonably high level before this becomes apparent.  After you issue a command, there is a cool down when you cannot issue another, although it’s only for a few seconds.  Without specific explanations, I’d be hard pressed to say whether these commands last after the cool down time.  As I am close to lv. 30 right now with my B-Spec team, I’d say the answer is no, but I wasn’t sure of that until recently.  Again, lack of support and explanation of your driver’s stats make this entire feature a load of guess work.  Why put the meticulous effort into creating  a detailed license system explaining all the finer points of first-person driving and then just totally leave a player hanging with this critical mode?   The answer is unclear.

Then there is the actual level of control possible; shouldn’t it be obvious to tell your drivers to speed up and pass when they can?  It’s obviously, they’re racing for Christ’s sake.  There is no other way to build up a driver’s particular abilities such as stamina or top speed (which again, aren’t exactly explained what exactly these mean anywhere), by using training.  You have no option other than to enter into races, which seem to give relatively light experience.  Considering that at first your driving team seems unresponsive, it makes the whole process seem like a waste.

The short comings of B-Spec eventually prompted the developers to provide an online support which lets you remote race cars on a PC.  Neat feature, but it basically admits the actual feature is a waste of time.  PDI either wants players to become so obsessed with GT5 that they get fired for screwing around with their remote PS3 games all day, or they are admitting that players think it’s a huge waste of time and they got the scaling as far as time commitment completely wrong.  I will confess I haven’t played around with this yet.  Maybe KPMG won’t mind if I set this up…  Would be nice to get through the next race at Suzuka doing this.

I can remember the first game with directable replays was Driver for PS1.  It was a lot of fun directing your own car misadventures then, but now watching a digital reproduction of something that’s realistic seems kind of lame.  And the lack of control over B-Spec mode, which is supposed to be interactive, puts this feature into the same class.  And developer’s who think their game is so cool that the player doesn’t need to play it need to get their heads out of their asses (I’m looking at you Metal Gear).  Letting B-Spec go on autopilot leads to frustrating results where a 4 hour race is lost by a second, or a driver automatically pits in and blows a major lead.  Huge frustrations on races that log in an hour or more (sometimes 4 for me right now, and 8 at the next endurance level).  A core criticism of the level of interactivity of B-Spec can be summarized as thus: “Shouldn’t you always be going as fast as you can?”  An answer that I don’t have a good example too.  Needless to say, if you read other blog posts on how to win particular races, they all say the same thing, “Spam Pace Up/Pass until you’re in first.”  It would be the equivalent of hitting a button for touchdown in Madden, a true-no brainer.

I don’t know how many posts for GT5 I will make, but when I’m done talking about it, the analysis will look like this: it’s great if you like GT5, but if you’re truly a casual gamer might be a good pass.  I can complain all I want, but I spent a ton of time on this today and pushed off a ton of other stuff I needed to do to keep playing it.  Although the passive nature of GT5 is a criticism, it succeeds in the sense that it gets a player who is not playing to stay thinking about the singular world of all-encompassing autoracing that GT5 creates and thrives on.  More updates are coming, I hope I’ve helped somebody out.

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