Gran Turismo 5 opens with a lengthy, ostentatious video that chronicles the construction of a car, from the mining of the metals that comprise it to the moment it rolls out of the factory, race-ready. These precisely edited visuals lead into a user interface that's so pristine and so polished that it left no doubt in my mind: the reason GT5 has been in development for so long, so delayed, is that it was never going to be perfect enough for series boss Kazunori Yamauchi. He's clearly a perfectionist, and as a result has made a good game, albeit one that's been driven down a very narrow path to end up something only a subset of gamers will truly enjoy. I love cars. Not as much as Yamauchi clearly does -- and few people probably do, really -- but I can appreciate the attention to detail lavished on every aspect of simulating the handling and look of the game's autos. GT5 is akin to a car-obsessed billionaire letting you come over to his mansion and take his cars for a spin, only you have to wear white gloves so you don't leave any fingerprints on them. All the layers of game design varnish that makers of other racing games have applied to make them accessible and visceral are stripped away, revealing what can only loosely be called a game. It's a true simulation, and more than the g-forces of taking a turn at high speed or the impact of crashing into another driver, I felt cold, hard calculations and algorithms.

Now, before you get the wrong idea: I think that GT5 is great at what it does. For the true car lovers of the world, the folks who tweak and tune to drop milliseconds off lap times, who strive for precision above all else, this is the new paradigm. You'll find myriad modes and options; with the series' infamous license tests and drift challenges, kart racing, Formula One and NASCAR, the game dips its metaphoric toe into just about every facet of the stock car racing world. There are, of course, somewhere around two zillion cars, give or take 1.997 zillion. Courses range from revamped originals from earlier games to lavishly detailed locations like Rome and London. Of course, after nearly six years in the works, there was never really any worry that GT5 would skimp on content.

Along the way, Yamauchi found time to delve into online community with well-implemented messaging, gifting and in-game message boards. Online functionality, i.e., competitive racing, was not active yet when I played the game for review. Again, there was plenty to occupy me offline, not the least of which is the so-called "B-Spec" mode. In it, players can create a crew of A.I. drivers and enter them into races. The driving skills of these simulated humans are then shaped and developed by the player, who instructs them on when to hold back, when to move up and when to overtake while racing. The ultimate outcome: CPU drivers that compete with their own driving styles and take action independent of your instruction. Between this, the obsessive detail of the game's car models and even a "course editor" (it lets you increase/decrease the complexity of exiting tracks), it's not difficult to see where all those years of development went.

More than the g-forces of high speed turns or the impact of wrecking, I felt cold, hard calculations.

It is tough to see them in other aspects of the simulation, though, collisions being a prime example. After four iterations of the original Gran Turismo now, cars in the series actually leave the road -- sometimes flipping over. There are dents and dings (which have to be worked out at the body shop, of course, after an oil change or engine rebuild) but the aftermath of crashes look like the cars are filled with helium, rather than thousands of pounds of metal and glass that, if truly simulated, would explode like luxurious pinatas.

Which brings me back to that white gloves analogy: GT5 never looks anything but pristine but, as has become an unusual staple of the series, the lighting model tends more towards "the sun is everywhere" than realistic. The whole thing basically looks like a car commercial, and sometimes it felt like I was playing one.

Here's the deal: If you're one of those car nuts I mentioned earlier, here's your game. Have fun, we'll see you in a year when you finally leave the house. If you're not in that group -- you like, even love racing games, but care less about tuning and more about the thrill of the race -- GT5 is like walking in on a group of physicists discussing string theory and asking who wants to go toss around a ball for a bit. You're looking to have fun; they're only interested in studying the math behind how it bounces.



This review is based on a final production sample of Gran Turismo 5 provided by Sony.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.