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You would hope that Polyphony Digital's Kazanori Yamauchi knows that Gran Turismo 5 has to come out fighting. When GT4 arrived, GT3 was still the state of the art for serious racing games. Forza Motorsport had yet to make its mark, Project Gotham Racing was still finding the right balance between sim and arcade racer, Codemasters' TOCA series has lost its way and the PC didn't have anything comparable. Now things are different. Pause for a second and just look at the competition. With Forza Motorsport 2 and Project Gotham Racing 4 already available on the 360, GTR2 and RACE 07 doing great things with physics on the PC and the upcoming G.R.I.D. due on all three platforms, Gran Turismo can't afford to get caught standing still.
And that's why GT5 Prologue is so important. In the past, we've had to ask why anyone sensible would cough up £20 for a glorified demo, but GT fans - and I'm still one of them - have been willing to do so just to get an idea of what graphic and gameplay enhancements a new console or version could bring. Whether the Forza massive agrees or not, GT is widely seen as the gold standard for console driving games. The question is whether the brand can maintain that value.
On the basis of GT5 Prologue it has a fighting chance. That's partly because it's the first Prologue that actually feels like a proper - albeit stripped-back - Gran Turismo game. We still have to do without all the engine upgrade and car customization features that make Gran Turismo so addictive - though some limited tweaks are brought in later on. However, we do get a decent initial selection of 30 single-player events, over seventy cars, six courses with at least two variations on each and - for the first time in a Gran Turismo - online play.
Your first port of call will be the car dealerships, and here you'll see that Prologue offers a range of models from European, US and Japanese manufacturers, including Acura, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Citroen, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, Honda, Jaguar, Lotus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen. At one end of the spectrum we get hot versions of everyday favourites like the Renault Clio Sport, Mini Cooper-S or our Editor's beloved Ford Focus ST. At the other we get dream cars like the Ferrari F430 or the Aston Marin DB9 Coupe (but nothing from Porsche! - ed.). In between sits a strong line-up of hot hatches, new-school muscle cars, 4WD favourites and supercars. While 70-odd cars is less than you'll find in PGR4, let alone Forza 2 or GT4, the actual selection has been carefully skewed towards the European audience. Basically, if you're a fan of the televised activities of Messrs. Clarkson, May and Hammond, you'll doubtless be very chuffed indeed.