Gamers beware: this is not the eagerly awaited Gran Turismo 4, but as the name suggests, is a sneak preview of what we can expect from the full version, due for release towards the end of the year.

Having said that it is good. If A-Spec is the baby of the family, and Gran
Turismo 4 the daddy, Prologue is probably the spotty teenager. There have
certainly been improvements made in both look and feel, but with only 5 new circuits and a limited single player option, it isn’t fully developed just yet.

But if you are a diehard fan, there are a couple of distinct advantages in getting hold of this. The first and most obvious is the head start it will give you for GT 4.

As well as the arcade mode, there is a driving school, and this is really what the game is based around. In each of the 46 tests you are given expert advice from Vicki Butler-Henderson of 5th Gear fame, and then given the opportunity to reproduce the lesson for yourself. Depending on your skill, you’ll be awarded gold, silver or bronze, some points and the car you took the test in. This allows you to amass both points and, more importantly, cars - both of which will be rewarded with a head start for Gran Turismo 4 via your memory card.

The second advantage is that this is the first game to fully support the Driving Force Pro steering wheel, with its full 900-degree wheel rotation. This takes a bit of getting used to at first and soft hands are the name of the game - with too much steering input, some cars simply can’t hold on and slide helplessly into the crash barriers.

Track detail has been improved, as has spectator interaction - camera flashes, cheers and the brave few photographers who await your arrival in the centre of the road, only dashing for safety at the last minute - all add to the realism. As do the improved dynamics of the cars, all of which are subtlety different and give a real feel of the nuances of each vehicle.

Each limited edition Prologue also comes with a message from Kazunori Yamauchi, creator of Gran Turismo and a bonus disc containing a preview of GT 4, a "Making of GT 4" movie and a couple of other snippets to wow your jealous friends with. It’s encouraging that the extras idea, influenced by DVD movies, is taking hold in the games world as well, but even if Prologue is budget priced, it’s still not quite enough.

Verdict

The gaming equivalent of film preview CDs given away with The Times at weekends, but costing at lot more, GT Prologue is definitely for very serious fans only. Unless you're having withdrawal symptoms, I suggest waiting for the real thing.