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GT5 Prologue: The demo that keeps on giving (sorta)

With the word "prologue" attached to the title, it should come as no surprise that "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue" is far from a complete game. It's not like Sony called it "Gran Turismo 4 Extended Edition" or "Gran Turismo: The Complete Sage." Clearly, this is a game geared for the hardcore simulation racer fans. This is a nod to the future of the "Gran Turismo" series, and polished demo of the feverishly anticipated follow-up to 2005's "Gran Turismo 4."

Like its predecessors, "GT5 Prologue" offers two modes of gameplay: arcade and simulation. Arcade mode allows for gamers to enjoy quick and dirty, or pick up and go, races; while simulation mode is obviously a more realistic experience involving the buying of cars and attaining of licenses. In either mode, gamers can choose from 70 cars (some of which must be won) to race on six tracks - each with alternate layouts.

But also like its predecessors, Sony left out some major (at least to some fans) aspects that its Microsoft competitor has sailed on: visual vehicle damage and "real life" physics that mimic car accidents and brushes. Rather than hitting a wall or another car and feeling your vehicle crumple beneath you, "GT5 Prologue" passes the event off as if you'd run head first into a pile of tires. Your car will bounce off the wall like a baseball hitting asphalt, and the next struggle is maneuvering the vehicle back on the track - which is quite the task with the higher horsepower vehicles.

Other than the seemingly complete lack of physics during collisions, the racing gameplay feels much more realistic than previous games in the series. Drafting opponents and trail braking has been improved for the higher horsepower cars. However, with the improvement of trail braking comes the increased risk of fish tails; so it is important to practice steering through curves with a slightly slower car before jumping into a Ferrari and ripping through a corner at 175mph. Each car also has its own unique feel, so each gamer will have a different favorite car based of their driving style - an odd concept for gaming, I know, but "Gran Turismo's" mantra has always been "The real driving simulator."

Also improved is the AI of your opponents. One of the biggest issues with the GT series is the fact that the computer also seemed to be running in a set line, and never presented any aggression towards you or the other racers. Microsoft seemed to perfect this with "Forza 2," as opponents became more aggravated by aggressive driving and in turn attacked you on the track if you tried to ride the inside of their car through a turn. In a way, Sony has improved upon its AI model, but there is still a lack of real emotion present in competing drivers.

Because "GT5 Prologue" is a glorified demo, there are no great results to be had by completing the license tests that are presented as races. More often than not, I found myself racing the same B and A license tests repeatedly so that I could earn more money to buy faster cars; and even more often, I found myself avoiding the cars that are acquired by earning the licenses and sticking to Nissan's GT-R or Honda's Integra Type-R. Regardless of your car of choice, expect plenty of repeat races to make enough money to buy the more expensive cars required to complete the higher license tests.

Out of the box, "GT5 Prologue" is about as barebones as a racing game can be in regards to single-player gameplay. There are too few courses and too many requirements to advance further in the license tests. But the redeeming feature that brings the GT excitement back is its multiplayer events. For the first time in the series, gamers can race online with up to 16 other players. While this is certainly an appealing aspect of the game, Sony's PlayStation Network is not yet on par with Microsoft's Xbox Live and you'll often times see glitches such as blinking opponents or ones who disappear from sight only to reappear seconds later.

There is no doubt that Sony has produced an absolutely gorgeous game with "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue." The graphics are as photo realistic as I could have ever imagined on a console, and regardless of the weak collision physics, the driving physics are as lifelike as taking your personal car on a track. But until the release of downloadable content and patches become a regular, weekly expectation, "Prologue" stands as a shiny demo geared towards the hardcore GT and simulation racer fans.

Despite nearly having dedicated my entire video gaming life to simulation racers and, more specifically, the GT series; "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue" stands as an extended, expensive demo to a game that should change the face of console racing, 3.5 out of 5

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