Once you've chosen your first car, it's off to the first of three sets of events, ranked in order of difficulty and in terms of the sort of vehicle you'll need to complete them. As in previous GTs, there are open races plus races that are specific to certain types or even models of car. The good news is that there are no boring license tests to work through first and that the events themselves scale up fairly well, with an additional, extra-tricky set to work through once you've completed the initial bunch. It's difficult to imagine anyone who has played a Gran Turismo game before struggling with the early races, but as things go on the events begin to get more challenging. Sticking to the same tracks gives you a chance to get used to the straights and corners, but by the time you're halfway through the intermediate class you can expect to spend some time honing your racing line and your technique.
Let's get to the meat, then. How does racing in GT5 Prologue compare to racing in GT4? Well, needless to say it's a better looking experience. Sony is right to boast about the new car models, which apparently use 200,000 polygons where GT4 used only 4000. They're incredibly detailed, beautifully shiny and all boast convincing in-car views, making GT5 Prologue the best game for fans of car-porn yet. The scenery is also pretty gorgeous, from the mountainous Eiger track familiar to players of Gran Turismo HD to a central London course that shows Project Gotham 4 how it's done.
What pulls it all together is the lighting system. Polyphony was getting this right back in the primitive days of the original PlayStation, and on the PS3 there's something so coherent and perfect about the lighting that even PGR4 can't quite compete with it. Check out the highlights and reflections on the car, the way shadows move across the track or the way the camera adjusts to the brighter conditions when emerging from a tunnel, and you can appreciate why GT5 Prologue is a new graphical benchmark for the genre. On the other hand, it misses out on one thing PGR4 does have: weather. Is this a feature Polyphony has planned for the real thing, or does GT only do bright sunshine and warm tones? We'll just have to wait to find out.
However, graphics have never really been the issue. What is, is that while GT has always offered the best driving experience, it hasn't always offered the best racing. Let's be clear. Even post PGR4, Forza 2 and TOCA Race Driver 3, GT4's handling is the best in the business, and GT5 Prologue carries on in the same tradition. For the first time we get a choice between a Standard physics model and a Professional model, with the former aimed at casual gamers looking for a more arcade racing experience and the latter aimed at the simulation enthusiast. The differences are fairly subtle, particularly when playing on a control pad, but the Professional model is definitely less forgiving of late braking and imprecise cornering, and the feel of tyre on track is even more tangible than it was in GT4. Watch a replay and it's clear that GT deals with the interactions between wheel and surface and the modelling of weight, downforce and momentum better than its rivals. Play the game, and every car has the right sort of feel. Is GT5 Prologue as punishingly accurate in its physics modelling as, say, GTR2? Nope. Is it as accurate as it can get while remaining an enjoyable mainstream game? You bet.