Since the release of "Gran Turismo" on the PlayStation entertainment system in 1998, I have been a rabid fan of the series and the driving simulation genre. Seeing such detailed cars and track in all of their 32-bit glory was a breathtaking affair. I flaunted the game's realistic graphics to my friends and family, and gloated about my lap times on the Trial Mountain Circuit in a '95 Toyota Supra. Even the soundtrack struck a chord with me. And I found myself restarting every race until I could tackle tricky corners to the tune of Ash's "Lose Control" - which happens to still be my favorite track ever to be featured in a racing game. I was 16 years old and all I wished was for my '87 Isuzu Trooper II to be replaced with a Supra dream car that pumped "Lose Control" whenever the engine revved.
Alas, that dream never came to fruition. However, less than a one-year wait yielded "Gran Turismo 2;" a game that trumped its predecessor, and one of the few which I have ever earned 100 percent completion. Again I was able to take my Toyota Supra (this time a '96 turbo) through the winding Trial Mountain. But Sony decided to introduce wannabe racers to Laguna Seca Raceway and its infamous "corkscrew" turn that always seemed to send me into the wall or a spin-out in the sand. By the time I had mastered Laguna Seca and earned Toyota's GT-One, simulation gaming became as natural as walking and finishing races with a gold became an expected task rather than a desired one.
2001 brought with it the release of "Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec" on the newest incarnation of the PlayStation, the PlayStation 2. This meant the introduction of the GT series on DVD-Rom discs played on a 128-bit system, which simply equated to some of the best graphics ever to be seen in a racing game. The game replay video looked stunningly lifelike and the cars' physics felt much more real than any of the game's predecessors. Although the game featured a third of the number of cars available in GT2, A-Spec's racing experience was so immersive that it included such details as oil changes, and the super license was nearly impossible the achieve. This massive virtual world led seamlessly to "Gran Turismo 4," which varied very little from "GT3" other than the addition of nearly 600 cars and a new point scoring system. But really, "GT4" felt more like a lead up to something bigger and better; somewhat of a revolution in simulation racing games.
The window to this revolution opened in November 2005 with Microsoft's release of the next generation of gaming consoles, the Xbox 360. The system featured high definition graphics, sounds and processing. It was basically a desktop computer packed into a small, shapely box; and the potential for a photo realistic racing experience became a reality for console gamers. This, of course, meant the coming of Sony's answer to the next generation of gaming, the PlayStation 3. Housing a Blu-ray player, the PS3 offered the opportunity to present a massive driving experience on the company's proprietary disc that held nearly six times the amount of data as a dual-layer DVD. But like "GT3," gamers would have to wait a year after the consoles launch before they could put their hands on the next generation of racing simulators.
A lapse of a year between console releases as well as the delayed release of the new "Gran Turismo" game also meant Microsoft had ample time to tackle the racing market with its own next-generation racers. And on May 23, 2007, Microsoft released "Forza Motorsport 2" followed by "Project Gotham Racing 4" on October 2. These two games amped up the simulation gaming field that "Gran Turismo" once owned, and set a high hurdle that the series would have to both clear and demolish following a year of weak PS3 console sales.
With "Forza 2" and "PGR4," Microsoft introduced a level of photo realistic graphics never before reached by the GT series, as well as offered a feature that was not seen before in Sony's franchise - vehicle damage. While it was certainly nothing new for either of the Microsoft titles' previous games, the saturation of the console gaming market with Xbox 360s meant that gamers who had previously been accustomed to GT were now being acquainted with a superior product. This was a niche in the market within which I fell. Having never owned an Xbox but being a 360 owner, "Forza 2" increased my expectations for "Gran Turismo 5" tenfold. The inclusion on an excellent online racing community within the 360's Xbox Live network also introduced me to a level of interaction never before experienced with Sony's series.
It should come to no surprise that when word of "GT5" being pushed back came up, I was not surprised due to the series's track record, but still bummed at the possibility of having to wait even longer for a game that I'd waited for since being let down by "GT4" in 2005. Sony, however, had a quick and easy fix that they announced at E3 2007. That fix came in April 2008 when "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue" was released to North American audiences and to the joy of GT faithfuls across the globe. It may not be the full release of the game, but it is a welcomed buffer between GT titles and an extended demo for one of the most hotly anticipated games to come out on the next generation consoles.