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Gran Turismo 5 2.0: A whole new racing experience?

Doing its own thing better than ever...

GT5 is finished at last! That's what we all said when it was released last year, and we were wrong. Well, now it's really finished, as the succession of patches in the past year have led to this: the 2.0 update. Venturing online, it's a case of so far, so familiar.

You still have to pick a race from a set of awkward menus, you still have to climb through a 'go to track' menu, then potter about doing nothing on the circuit until the host starts the game. It still feels less immediate than, for example, DiRT 3.

SHAM TURISMO
Of course, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd accidentally shoved the DiRT disc into your PlayStation, thanks to the fact that roughly 75% of race hosts think it's a brilliant idea to turn off all traction controls. In my first race, I hop eagerly into my trusty Mazda 787B and get ready to kick ass.

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It goes wrong almost immediately. On the first corner, I wrestle with the raging, crazed beast of a car which seems to favour all other directions over 'forwards', then lose it completely into the second corner and spin across the grass while thrashing at the clutch like a panicked OAP. It's not just me, though - at least half the field has gone off-road, while one or two sensible types in four wheel drives are ambling slowly through the chicane, looking pleased with themselves.

The race is a tightly contested clash of iconic touring cars

Ripping back out of the event, I seek out something a little more welcoming. I venture into a race on the Top Gear Test Track, deciding it's the perfect place to give my new DLC Red Bull X2010 a whirl. Cue 20 minutes
of people mucking about. Sure, it might be in the spirit of the TV show, but where's the racing?

It's a disappointing start. But then, it all clicks. I use the 2.0 patch's new ability to sort races by theme and power setting, and fi nd a tourer race on the Spa Francorchamps circuit. No cocks in F1 cars here. In another nifty new feature, the lobby tells me the next race will start in three minutes. I opt for the Vauxhall Touring Car, tweak the settings and head out for a warm-up lap.

SPA-ING PARTNERS
The race is every GT fan's dream. A tightly-contested clash of iconic touring cars - Corvettes, RX-7s and CLKs do battle in every highspeed turn of the legendary F1 circuit. Engines roar, split-second reactions are everything and each player jostles for position without resorting to silly ramming. I push through the field, grab a couple of places and nestle into fourth.

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For two frantic laps, there's barely time to marvel at what a good job Polyphony have done mapping the rises and falls of the track's undulating apexes - sections which feel fl at and lifeless on F1 2011 are vibrant with tiny twists, bumps and elevations here. I'm inches from first place, on the home straight. I slam the throttle down and try to catch his slipstream - to no avail. Consigned to second, I collect my boosted credits (see 'GT5 2.0's Four Big Changes') and long for the next race.

That next race is a junior kart race on the new DLC kart circuit, complete with massive sweeping corner. I whiz into first place, cause a seven-kart pile up and slump to the back of the pack before limping to the fi nish. Not a vintage performance, but strangely good fun.

Both GT5's mega-patch and the DLC have done much to reinvigorate the game, ironing out kinks in its online and helping make tight, enjoyable races possible - if you know where to look, that is.

It's far from perfect, and still lacks immediacy, but the endless little updates of the last year have all added up to a much-improved racing experience. Finally, this is starting to feel like it should have done all along. Much like everything about Gran Turismo 5 though, it still requires a lot of patience. You didn't think Polyphony were going to make it that easy, did you?

Gran Turismo 5 still insists on doing things differently to other racers - but what it does, it now does a lot better. Perfect at last? No, but GT nuts will lap up the (slow) improvements. The new DLC Spa track is absolutely ace, too.

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