|

GAMES

‘Gran Turismo 5′ gets Japan release date; Tokyo gears up for games show

by Brian Ashcraft

Gentlemen (and ladies, too), start your engines. Racing simulator “Gran Turismo 5,” has been given a release date. It will be roaring into Japanese retailers come Nov. 3 — a day behind its North American release date of Nov. 2.

The game was first shown in 2006 and apparently has cost $60 million to develop. And perhaps, just perhaps, it has more PlayStation 3 owners waiting for it with bated breath than did the console’s already-released exclusives “Metal Gear Solid IV” and “Final Fantasy XIII.”

Games in the “Gran Turismo” series, noted for their devotion to digitally re-creating real-world automobiles, don’t just look fantastic: Developer Polyphony Digital lovingly emulates each car’s physics too. If you would like to know what it feels like to drive, say, an Alfa Romeo 8C, then “Gran Turismo 5″ is the game for you.

To truly get that driving-simulator feel, one can always pony up for a racing wheel controller. Cheaper wheels can cost a few thousand yen, but higher-spec ones (with 180-degree wheel rotation and hand-stitched leather) can approach ¥30,000 or more; including the cost of the game, the outlay is nearly ¥40,000! However, expect midrange wheels (perhaps between ¥10,000 and ¥20,000) to be launched closer to the game’s release. GT5 will also be playable in 3-D — something that should make the experience even more immersive that it already is.

One of the things that has always separated the “Gran Turismo” games from other driving simulators is their attention to realism. The game’s developers boast that the level of detail in “GT5″ is so great that it might have “too much detail” and that the game might be better suited for the still-imaginary PlayStation 4 (but then they would). The in-game Nurburgring track is even covered in graffiti like the real Nurburgring. If you don’t like the tracks in GT5, make your own with the Gran Turismo track maker. This time around, “Gran Turismo” takes racing a step further by including realistic crash damage . . . a first for the series.

The authenticity isn’t pleasing everyone. Last month, officials of the historical walled city of Siena in Tuscany, Italy, voiced their displeasure that the town’s Piazza del Campo is featured as an in-game go-kart track. Karting is also another first for the series, but makes perfect sense considering how many Formula 1 drivers cut their teeth on karts. Citing unauthorized use of the Piazza del Campo’s flags, Italian authorities are asking Sony to correct the matter. If Sony’s actions prove unsatisfactory, Siena could take actions to block the game’s release.

Controversy aside, the game already seems on pace to take the checkered flag. It was awarded a “Best of” prize at August’s Gamescom gaming expo in Germany. Preorders for the newly announced “Gran Turismo 5″ PlayStation 3 bundle are already selling out across Japan.

This month, all eyes will be on the Tokyo Game Show (TGS). Attendance last year was down from the 2008 total — 185,030 compared to 194,288 the year before. Japanese game companies, however, are hoping this year’s TGS will inject the country’s game industry with some much-needed excitement; organizers expect 180,000 gamers and industry insiders will attend the show, which is held at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba. The event will run from Sept. 16-19 and will showcase around 180 companies.

Platform holders Sony and Microsoft will be joined by a slew of popular Japanese game companies such as Square Enix and Level-5. Noticeably absent, however, is Nintendo; the Kyoto-based game company has traditionally sat TGS out. Instead, the company focuses its efforts on its own domestic events such as Nintendo World, which it intermittently holds, as well as expos abroad such as E3 in Los Angeles and the aforementioned Gamescom.

That doesn’t mean there will be no Nintendo DS or Wii games; there will. However, these games will be from third-party publishers such as Capcom and Sega. Gamers unfortunately cannot look forward to getting hands on with the latest “Zelda” adventure, nor the chance to check out Nintendo’s forthcoming glasses-free 3-D portable gaming console. Both Microsoft and Sony are supporting 3-D, but of the glasses-wearing variety.

Microsoft, which will be showing its controller-free motion controls Kinect for the first time to the general public in Japan at TGS, is giving the show’s keynote. The platform has been used in the past to announce new products or price drops, so Microsoft could have something special in store for Japan. At last year’s show, some of the biggest game designers in Japan (guys like “Metal Gear” creator Hideo Kojima and “Yakuza” designer Toshihiro Nagoshi) appeared at a Microsoft press conference to show their support for Kinect.

Sony will likewise be showing off its motion controls, the PlayStation Move. Sony claims that its wandlike controller are more precise than Nintendo’s Wii Remote, and Sony actually might be right. The PlayStation Move’s movement can be read in 3-D space, which is not true of the basic Wii Remote controller.

Game-wise, attendees are hoping to see new footage of epic role-playing game “Final Fantasy Versus XIII” and, fingers crossed, get up close and personal with the latest entry in the popular “Metal Gear” series, “Metal Gear Solid: Rising.” Titles are revealed closer to the show, but the game companies tend to hold a few of their cards close to their chests for surprises. What isn’t a surprise is that this year’s TGS already looks poised to be the battle of the motion controls.

Check back here next month for more coverage of the show.

Brian Ashcraft is a senior contributing editor at Kotaku.com