Gran Turismo 5, Part 2 (Leveling)


I elected to forego the overnight shipping (a bad habit I try to reserve for games that I order 6 months or more in advance) on GT5.  The consequence of this was that I that I started obsessively checking reviews on Metacritic.  I probably read about 10 reviews, a significant number of which, surprisingly, are probably close to the reviews I’m writing now; good core game, but frustrating execution that requires a serious commitment.  Gameplay is addicting if it turns you on though, and it has this type of hypnotic fashion that can’t be ignored.

Damage

Ok, so here’s where I build some value for myself; one thing absent from all of those reviews was a word on the newly anticipated damage feature.  Damage has never been part of GT, so this was a hotly anticipated feature.  If you recall from the commercials, the CEO of Sony (the same guy who incidentally works at eSurance in the commercials…) is talking about the realistic damage feature along with the thousands of cars in the game.  The commercial shows a Subaru ( I think), with the door being sheered off.  WOW.  Great.  Nice.  But it’s not right.  At least not from my experiences.

After something like 100 hours playing this game nothing even close has happened.  YES, the cars have damage elements, but this is pretty limited in a vast number of the models, and is borderline texture/modeling deformation as opposed to being a good damage proxy.  Sony has since attempted to release press statements clarifying how the damage system works; depending on whether a car is standard or premium, or racing premium determine how much effort the developers put into the level of detail in the car, and the level of damage the car will show if it’s in a collision.  Generally “damage” is just a stretched texture or slightly deformed fender, even after a major head-on collision.  No doors coming off, and importantly, no readily perceivable degradation in how your car performs.  Long story short, the commercial is just downright misleading.

I can understand that it is impossible to get this stuff right, given the level of content provided.  But it’s not certainly not a good idea to advertise a product that is missing key features.  To make things worse, these damage videos aren’t old 2009 and 2010 videos from E3 or press releases, these were airing around the time the game was released until several months afterward.

If you read a number of game reviews, it’s clear that nobody understood this at the time.  A number of reviews I read indicated that the damage system had to be unlocked at higher levels, (levels that, if the reviewers weren’t sure of, it means they didn’t get there).  One review for a major periodical indicated that the damage was phased in at higher levels to allow players to accumulate funds to pay to fix their cars.  Totally wrong, as there is no cost for repairing your car, which magically occurs after each race.  The fact that most of the game reviewers didn’t get far enough into the game to comment on the actual implementation of this feature says enough about how steep the climb is with this game.

Levels

The leveling system seems to be the primary limiting factor preventing a new player from tackling higher powered races early on.  The old method of this limiting factor (other than money), was accomplished with license tests, which are still around but don’t seem to be as relevant).  This is like a JRPG; the difficulty of a race gives the player EXP, and this is used to unlock more features.  At the lower levels, the game not only won’t let you do certain events, but also prevents you from driving certain cars.

The only real gripe about leveling I have is how the curve is set; it encourages a player to always advance to the next set of races, most efficiently in order.  Beginner race one, then beginner race two, then three and so forth until you’re up to the big league Endurance races.  That’s all well and fun, but starting out this process is totally unwieldy.  In order to get to the next race, you need a car of the right class that’s suitable.  At the lower levels, you’re forced to basically buy a Yaris or a beat up used Miata.  These cars can’t go anywhere, so you’ve gotta start all over again to compete at the next level.  Then you need a 4WD car, which, you can’t have at the beginning because your level isn’t high enough.  Then you need a “Sports Truck.”  Ok, big problem, you can never actually buy a sports truck new at a dealership, so your only hope is that one RANDOMLY appears in the used car garage for sale.  Not an oversight PDI made once but twice in this game, a player alternatively needs a Formula GT car to complete later races only to find that it also randomly appears ONLY USED at the dealership.

FYI, the Sports Truck and Formula GT bottlenecks were fixed with the addition of the “online used car garage,” which always has the missing vehicles in it for sale.  A curious update, considering it would have probably been easier just to patch the used car garage or add a new truck to the actual dealerships.  Also, this wasn’t much of a fix when the Sony network was done for 6 weeks and a certain player REALLY needed that Formula GT car.  Being used car, the Formula GT amazingly has a standard car layout, meaning cockpit view is unavailable.  It’s borderline crazy.

GT has always required players to drive virtually every type of car while exploring the game.  This is a lot of fun, as you really get to appreciate the difference between balancing a RWD high powered car with that of a FF or 4WD car.  GT5 takes it to the extreme, at some points extremely limiting what a player is forced to drive.  Of course not all races in a set need to be completed, but if you really want to optimize leveling up you probably should do all the races.  Frustrating to say the least.  Sure, you needed the right stuff to move forward before, but now it seems that only one thing one particular way is effective.  The whole process seems a little stifling to have such a big game world with all these cars, and yet never seem to have any real choice on what’s needed for advancement.  Obviously you can’t take your starter Miata to 24 Hours of LeMans, but you also can’t take it to compete against high-end Preludes either.  The constant gear changing required clashes with the necessity to level grind.  Players want to naturally maximize their abilities by focusing on cars they like to drive or can drive well, and without spending too much to get to that next level.  Punishing this intuition plainly just doesn’t make sense.

Adding to this quagmire is the question “what type of car do I need?”  A question that often is not actually answered clearly, at least in the races that have pretty loose vehicle restrictions.  GT5 often misses a good chance to test players driving skills by allowing excessive upgrading, or failing to balance the skill ability of opponents.  This could be accomplished easily by restricting maximum engine power, a rough approximation for top lap time.  Sometimes computer opponents seem to have WAY more power or performance ability compared to the same stock car you have, but other times they seem totally overwhelmed with no improvements to the standard car at all.  GT has always had this problem; the fundamental question of whether upgrading should even be in the game.  Fortunately, the high end cars are all race cars and eliminate these choices altogether.  But this, in of itself, is an odd quirk to the GT series.  Players need to learn how to upgrade in a cost effective manner to control their costs and save money for better cars, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because the cars you’re driving at the end always have 100% customization and no upgrades available.  Another curious choice is the old race car where the only mod that is missing is the turbo that gives it another 250hp.  Why bother even putting these decisions in?  Why can some race cars from the 80s or 90s get turbo upgrades when others cannot.  The logic is lost on me.

About grinding.  I’m maybe 100 hours into this game, but there was a good few weekends of running B-Spec just to earn credits (for that damn Formula GT car) or trying to do alternate activities in order to level up.  Sometimes the Special Events activities are a lot of fun (great job with the Mercedes Nurburgring stuff by the way), but there seems to be too much grinding just to keep the status quo.  I just feel this was a big turn off.  All in all though, I would not say this is up there with an MMORPG though, it’s just something different.

I’ll finish up my review with some odds and ends in another post.  Thanks for reading guys (just kidding nobody’s reading).

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