First drive: Gran Turismo 5

After all the delays, promotional videos and general hype, the fifth instalment of Gran Turismo is finally available to buy. We've spent the last couple of days finding out whether it can possibly live up to its expectations.

Well, the intro doesn't let the side down. Allow the game to load without touching anything and you are treated to a detailed video which takes you through the manufacturing of a Nissan GTR. The whole thing is gloriously shot and does nothing to dampen your anticipation of what's to come.

The quickest way to get behind the wheel is to head for the Arcade mode where there is the option of racing against the computer, doing a timed lap, racing a friend or showing off your sideways skills in drift mode.

Getting going in Arcade mode is easy enough, but it is not necessarily the most satisfying way to begin. Arcade mode gives you a choice of just over 50 cars – only a tiny proportion of the 1,000 or so in the game. Nevertheless, you can choose from a Pagani Zonda R to a 1968 Fiat 500, through rally cars, a Ferrari F40 and even a couple of eco-minded Priuses.

To get your hands on the really interesting stuff, and to really immerse yourself in the game, head to GT mode, where you get to buy your own second hand car, race it and unlock challenges. This way into the game might be frustrating for seasoned racers, as it starts you at an easy level, but there are plenty of challenges to keep you interested.

The go karts are one of the first toys you come across, and they show just how well engineered the game is. They are highly responsive to little tweaks of the steering and will spin easily if you are not careful. Newcomers and old hands alike will enjoy little touches such as the Top Gear test track, which allows you to race classic VW campers in the style of the programme. There's certainly plenty to keep you playing well into the night, and elements such as the licence area allow you to improve the technical side of your racing.

But for a game that has been so long in the making, GT5 is by no means the finished article. There are a few irritating elements, such as the fact that when you first begin playing, the cars experience no crash damage – Sony says you'll need to download an extra patch for this. Presumably, you'll be installing the patch just after you have got used to being able to bounce off the barriers without any punishment. Another is the amount of time each race and event takes to load, and the almost blank screen you are faced with while waiting to play. In the time taken to make this game, surely there could have been a more preferable option to sitting staring at nothing every time you want to race.

More playing experience and the inevitable patches will, no doubt, ease some of these gripes, but it is a shame that a game that has been so hyped is not quite as perfect as you'd hope. That said, the graphics, the cars' realistic handling and the sheer depth of options means it will keep you entertained well into next year. It is the high standard of these elements that highlights the occasional frustration of others.

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