The actual driving in Gran Turismo 5 is brilliant. If driving cars is all you care about, Sony and Polyphony Digital have you covered. These days, I want more. I want a streamlined career mode, an exhaustive set of online features, cutting-edge visuals, and above all else, a spark – the something that turns a game from good to really special. Despite improvements across the board, Gran Turismo 5 still feels like an iteration of the game we were playing on our PlayStations in the mid '90s.
Gran Turismo has always been about near-MMO levels of grinding, and GT5 is no different. To begin with you buy a cheap and nasty car, equivalent to what a 16-year-old might pick up with the money scraped together from five years of doing a paper round. It's the kind of car small enough to fit sideways in a parking bay, and has an engine sound weaker than the Crazy Frog's drivel. But entering some beginner events inside the A-spec menu is just something you have to put up with.
Events in GT5 have numerous restrictions in place, so you can't pick and choose whatever you like. You have to make sure your driver is of a high enough level to enter (performance in events earns experience points), but then you also need to own a car that meets the entry criteria: such as a certain model or car type, a nationality of manufacturer, a vehicle developed within a certain era, or a motor with horsepower under the specified level. GT has always worked like this, but it makes for a lot of messing about in the unintuitive menus.
Instead of suggesting a list of cars that would fulfil the entry criteria, you're left to go off and find suitable vehicles yourself - and there's no quick way to get from the event screen to the showroom. It's a complete chore if you just want to get on with the racing, and a far cry from Forza 3 - a game which made every effort to remove the tedium from acquiring new cars.
At the risk of enraging GT's hardcore followers, Microsoft's driving simulator featured a career that didn't constantly require you to fiddle around in menus, hopping between cars and generally struggling to earn enough credits to buy the next required ride. In the initial few hours with GT5 it felt like I spent more time in the clumsy menus than actually on the track, which just isn't right. I wouldn't have minded if that time was being spent on tuning and buying upgrades (an area which thankfully is streamlined over GT4), but I was just stuck doing trivial stuff.