Gran Turismo 5 is here. Well, okay, it's actually not the full version of Polyphony Digital's fifth iteration of the GT series; it's in fact Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, and no, it's not available in America yet. Instead, we downloaded the game onto the GameSpot office's Japanese PlayStation 3 to get a sneak peek at what to expect once it eventually does arrive here in the States. Nonetheless, the arrival of any GT game is a big event, and we've been happy to explore its various nooks and crannies since its release.

First things first: The Japanese version of Prologue is available both in disc format and as a downloadable game. We chose the latter and the download took a while to complete, probably close to 30 minutes over our office Internet connection. That's certainly a long time to wait, and it's reasonable to assume that downloading a game of this size on a home connection will take even longer.

With the game installed, we dove right in. The starting screen for the page is quite a departure from previous versions of the game and seems to be built around the online experience. The features available to you will change based on whether or not your PS3 is connected to the Internet. For example, when connected to the PlayStation Network, the main page of Prologue shows the various modes in the game, including race events, the dealer, your garage, Gran Turismo TV, and so on, as well as a calendar and a map of the world with several major cities highlighted, along with weather conditions for several well-known race locales throughout the world (Imola, Brands Hatch, Monterey, Le Mans, and more). If you are playing the game while not connected to the Internet, the same game options are still available to you, but extras like the calendar, map, and weather information do not appear.

Another noticeable distinction between the online and offline versions of Prologue: When connected to the Internet, your options for what you can access in Gran Turismo TV--the dedicated video player that is designed to highlight relevant car-culture videos--are different than the videos available to you offline. Offline videos might include things like the introduction video for Prologue; when connected online, you can download new videos for free. Examples of downloadable content currently include the opening movie, a feature on the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, as well as a pair of specials on the GT-R and the Mitsubishi Lancer X, with the latter featuring a real-life test drive of the Lancer by GT series creator Kazunori Yamauchi. As a matter of interest, the 10-minute-long Lancer X video took just under 30 minutes to download. Beware to those at home with little patience and a throttled Internet connection.

Okay, enough about the periphery that surrounds Prologue; let's dive right into the heart of the matter: the driving. There are two ways to enjoy the game from a driving standpoint: the arcade mode, which lets you race any track (either forward or reverse), or by tackling the "events" mode. Playing in events mode hearkens back to the older games in the GT series, in that you have a set amount of cash at your disposal (3,500,000 credits, to be exact, which sounds like a lot, but considering that your standard Honda Integra Type-R will run you around 2.7 million credits, it's not that much). You use the cash to pick up your first ride (we went with the aforementioned Integra) and then head out to event-mode races.

This mode includes C-, B-, and A-class races, and, unlike previous GT games, there are no licenses you need to earn here. As long as you have a car that meets the entry requirements, you're free to run a race as many times as you like. For our first race, we took our Integra to compete in the Sunday Cup at Daytona International Speedway, the world-famous oval down in Daytona, Florida. Your online or offline status matters during these race events, too. If you're connected, you can download introduction videos for each of the tracks in the game, complete with that same upbeat, if slightly saccharine, Gran Turismo jazz-lite soundtrack.

[imglink=|Gran Turismo 5 Prologue: Hands-On With the Japanese Version][/imglink]

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