Friday, July 17, 2009

GT5: Better Hardcore? (Audio Only)

John Marine | 7/17/2009 06:11:00 PM |

Simulation racing games provide a true-to-life driving and racing experience unrivaled to arcade counterparts. Gran Turismo has long been dubbed as the "Real Driving Simulator." But in the eyes of the most hardcore sim gamers, the GT series is soft. The very realistic aspects of Gran Turismo are in such a way that this game series is as real as possible, while also being fair. Most of the hardcore types would fancy a more sim-oriented model. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has offered a driving model which is still accessible to most casual gamers while giving the hardcore set an extreme driving experience. Most people can do without a casual driving model. Such a casual model exists for one reason- accessibility. But for some people, anything short of a purely realistic experience is substandard and to some others, unacceptable.

Everyone has a different definition as to what classifies as hardcore for any game, let alone a racing/driving game. Let's envision a hardcore model. One of the first places to turn to would be games like GTR, Race WTCC, and Richard Burns Rally. The advantages of a hardcore driving and environment model means that everything is almost totally true to life and seriously authentic. Almost anything you could see and experience in a real race unfold can be experienced in a proper simulation. It is almost as if a game developer captured reality and made a game out of it. Feeling everything from your muscles getting a workout at high speed to knowing exactly what racing in a torrential rain storm is captured as best as possible from the developers taking full advantage of the game's engine. Like all simulation racing games, every possible nuance of driving and racing affects you in various ways. Hardcore even means you could experience various heart-breaking moments such as engine failures, part failures, and terminal damage. Even more heart-breaking would include damage from hard crashes... and even death. Some people want the most hardcore experience possible.

Hardcore has obvious disadvantages. A big disadvantage would be a game extremely unfair, even to the most hardened gamers. With a more hardcore-friendly model, a game can become so difficult that the game would be better suited to hardcore gamers and not those even moderately adept. Gran Turismo 4 had a perfect plan for the driving licenses. They were all easy to learn, difficult to master. And only the most dedicated can confidently acheive the much heralded all-gold acheivement. Perfection is required in real racing (let alone in games). Being really hardcore would emulate what kind of perfection is needed in a proper racing environment. Another thing to consider is how much the developer wants to deliver the most true-to-life experience on the limits of the game's engine, a developer's willingness to exploit every fathomable limit of the processor, and not to mention actually being able to have as much realism that the auto makes and race constructors will allow. Even such elements require a close association with automakers, race teams, sometimes racing personalities, and the like.

The reoccuring theme here is fairness. If a game wasn't accessible, it wouldn't be very fun. You sacrifice a pick-up-and-play experience for the betterment of bringing the most adept sim racers to win, while all others will need to seriously hone their skills to try and win. Sometimes, making a game TOO detailed really takes away from simply getting out and going racing. This is the simplest of desires for any gamer of any genre. Call it whining, but the truth is... not everyone is hardcore. These are still just games at the end of the day. The most extreme experiences can be had by actually competing in actual racing competition. All games just do is replicate the experience by taking actual experiences and converting them into video game code. So sometimes, you have to put a limit on some details. In addition, the hardcore set know that the best way to enjoy an experience is to play with a proper racing wheel, and perhaps even in a specially-built racing seat unit. Even still, the most classic way to enjoy ANY gaming experience is with that thing you grab onto to play almost any game, called... a gamepad.

This, is all not to say, that Gran Turismo 5 still can't push the envelope and really justify the slogan of "The New Standard." The Gran Turismo series is evolving and maturing with each new title. Only time will tell if GT5 presents the most impressive racing and driving experience that can be as much fun as playing a proper dedicated sim. Gran Turismo is a simulation-type racing game that's still very accessible to the casual set. It is much different from the ToCA Race Driver series, which mostly seeks the best driving experiences featuring all kinds of different machines, preferably, proper racing machines. Also, ToCA Race Driver is more focused on real racing cars as opposed to a daily driver-racing hybrid as the Gran Turismo experience provides. Some people don't care for all-out realism, which is perfectly fine. While you can't impress every racing gamer, you can at least do what you can to help keep fans entertained for as long as possible. And if that means staying away from a seriously hardcore model while at least trying to acheive middle ground for casual and hardcore sim racers alike, then Polyphony Digital will have to do all they can to provide a racing experience that delivers better compromise than conflict.

GT5 should only be difficult for those who want the most difficult experience. One shouldn't be forced to race on the hardest difficulty in any effort to respectably acheive 100% completion. Everyone from elementary school students to seasoned racing veterans should have as equal a chance of becoming champions of Gran Turismo. Easier experiences won't make hardcore types happier, but the real challenge is in providing an "everybody wins" approach that will keep gamers racing hard while having a chance to win almost any race in GT5. And in the end, it all boils down to gratification and satisfaction. Without these elements, you'll never cross the finish line as the winner.

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