Autoblog gets hands on with GT5 – Continue reading after the jump

The wait is nearly over. The game we all had nearly given up hope on is now less than five months away. Gran Turismo 5 is a reality, a playable reality, and Sony is making a big enough deal about its November 2 launch date to make us think that, for once, it might actually happen. The version at this year's E3 is by far the most polished version of this game we've yet seen -- and we've seen quite a few over the years.

That it still isn't finished (no full crash damage in the version we played) and that there are still a number of questions to be answered (details for online play, what sort of driver training will be included, etc.) leaves us a bit leery, but we certainly didn't pass up the opportunity to take it for a spin just the same. We were also given the opportunity to speak with series producer Kazunori Yamauchi to get his thoughts on the game -- and to chat about his recent real-world racing exploits. Keep on reading for our detailed impressions of the game, and some video of some good 'ol boys banging fenders around the Top Gear Test Track.

Let's begin with covering some of the new details unveiled at the show. It was made clear that cars within the game will be split into two groups, with the top-tier being 200 so-called "premium" models. These cars have been rendered in amazing detail (every bolt on every exhaust bracket is perfectly placed) and they feature fully detailed and working interiors with exteriors that will deform under impacts. Then there are the 800+ "standard" cars, models that have been featured in previous titles. These cars have been given a slight graphical touch-up to bring them up to GT5 spec, but they do not feature full interiors nor fully deformable exteriors – though they will get scratched up and slightly dented if you find yourself visiting the wall.

We're happy to say that adds up to over 1,000 cars, a massive sum of classics and modern models, ranging from Honda's new CR-Z to Formula One rockets. We saw four fully new circuits, including the hotly anticipated Top Gear Test Track, along with re-done versions of the Nurburgring (complete with the latest graffiti) and a 2009-spec version of the full Le Mans track. Naturally many gamers are eager to release their inner Stig on the BBC's most famous automotive landmark, and you'll be happy to know that you can do not only time trials but races. As this track is a proper figure of eight, doubling-back on itself, expect these races to be very interesting for anyone caught lagging behind the pack.

There's an upgraded photo mode, allowing you to place your car amidst scenic backdrops and go crazy with full manual camera controls, and an extensive new online lobby system allowing you to invite friends into your "lounge" to race against – seemingly similar to Party play on Xbox Live. Day-to-night transitions are here, complete with working headlights, and GT5 will be acting as something of a hallmark game for Sony's 3D technology, featuring not only that but also face tracking.

How did those latter two work? The 3D effect did boost immersion but, other than making the rear-view mirror stand out, wasn't as noticeable as other, more in-your-face games. And the face tracking? Sadly that was being freaked out by the bright lights in the convention center. It worked occasionally, letting us look over one shoulder at looming competitors, but most of the time it completely ignored our movements. It's a shame, as we were eager to see how this feature could compare to something like a TrackIR unit on a PC, but we are told that (when it's working) you're able to turn your head in any direction – even look down into your lap if you like.

Thankfully, the rest of the game worked rather more reliably. We had the opportunity to run through three sequences, starting in a Subaru WRC car at the new Tosca circuit – a fast, flowing dirt track in the Tuscan hills. Rallying makes a return in GT5 and while the feel is similar to off-roading in prior GT games (that is to say: not particularly realistic thanks to the incredibly smooth gravel circuits), the level of grip seems to have been noticeably reduced, requiring far more precision in braking and balancing the car for pivoting through turns.

Half-way through this three-lap race the sun promptly dove behind a hill and the xenons of our WRC car popped on, realistically illuminating reflective signs in the distance. Everything else was left hidden in a murky darkness. It was a compelling effect and about the best nighttime racing we've yet seen in a game.

Next up we hopped into Jimmie Johnson's #48 Impala (he's one of nine NASCAR drivers confirmed so far) but skipped the oval scene in favor of something completely different: the Top Gear Test Track. With the traction control off, along with all the other aids we could disable, the heavy, lumbering V8 was a handful on the flat landing strip. It also didn't help that Dale Jr. spun us in the first corner. But, the feel was night and day different from the Subaru WRC, and again a huge step away from the blisteringly quick and super-grippy Super GT NSX that we fired down the long straights at Le Mans next, a track that we're guessing still hasn't cooled down after last week's festivities.

A man who knows all about that is Kazunori Yamauchi, series producer and recent competitor at that most famous of endurance roadraces. We were lucky to be given a few minutes of his time to ask some questions about the game and his racing action in general. In fact we asked him if there were any other race games or simulators that he liked to play, and he said he simply didn't have time for other racing games. And, really, who can blame him? Would you rather be playing games or doing hotlaps on the Circuit de la Sarthe?

Kazunori is known for his impressive collection of autos, financed by his hugely popular game franchise. The white Ford GT on the cover of Gran Turismo 4 is one of his babies, which was recently paired with a Nissan GTR. Kazunori indicated that his passion for cars has been with him since he was a young boy, and the enthusiasm on his face and in his voice when he talks about autos and racing today shows that he hasn't entirely grown up yet. Kazunori is an avid F1 fan, who not too long ago spent some time chatting with Adrian Newey and the rest of the Red Bull Racing team, but it may surprise many of you that he closely follows NASCAR as well. He is, of course, a massive Top Gear fan, and in case you're wondering: Yes, he did get to drive on the Test Track. The real one.

As far as what's the biggest new addition in GT5, Mr. Yamauchi wouldn't indicate which feature he's most proud of, saying that the game is "a culmination of many small details, and if you feel good playing it than it was a success." While it's not the most realistic racer on the planet, we did indeed feel good playing it. The game's massive scope may have resulted in it becoming one of the most oft-delayed titles of all time, but from what we're seeing it's hard to disagree when Kazunori answers with an emphatic "Yes" to the question on the minds of many gamers: "Is it worth the wait?"

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