Casual Friday: Gran Turismo Edition

In our ongoing efforts to celebrate slack, here are a few great new ways to kill what little free time you think you have this weekend and beyond.

A Need for Speed

Everybody's got a racing freak inside, ready to jam the peddle. Some guys here in the PC World office pimp their rides. Me? I have to settle for watching Speed Racer and playing a couple games. Yeah, I'm a rebel.

Gran Turismo 5: Prologue (PS3 Console)
You're spending 40 bucks on a high-octane hands-on tease. I'm not joking. The full version of GT 5 won't be available until sometime in 2009. My gut reaction before gunning the engines on my PS3: "There are plenty of finished racing games that don't cost much more. What's the big deal?"

Well, if every game had this complete a demo a year prior to release, I'd consider buying them as well. This slice of GT5 has six tracks, somewhere in the

If this is what the Prologue looks like, I can't wait to see the whole game--next year.
neighborhood of 70 tunable cars and a whole lot of polish. So much polish, in fact, that many of the hi-def screen shots (the game runs at 1080p) look eerily real--especially in the new cockpit view. For those who can't wait until next year, the best reason to buy this demo is the online competition. Up to 16 players can jockey for first place on in-game and Internet leaderboards. 

Enough jibber-jabber. I took a quick test drive with the new DualShock3 controller, and it works as well as one would expect. The gamepad feels well-weighted and gives a subtle bit of force feedback when sliding into tight turns.

If there are any major driving quirks, blame user error--you can dive under the hood and fully adjust the car (gear settings, brakes, tires) to your liking from the options menu between races. However, race fanatics will need a proper racing wheel.

Enter Logitech. Its most recent (and most hyped) wheel, the Driving Force GT, is built specifically for GT5. It ships in a couple weeks, but I got a chance

Logitech Driving Force GT game wheel.
to burn rubber with one. The red dial and buttons allow you to tweak and adjust car settings as you race--a handy feature for gearheads. More important, though, is how this $150 controller feels. Solid and easy to anchor to a table, it is rubbery in all the right places, and it pulls enough g's on turns to give a proper roadside experience.

But here's something to chew on: GT5 may make its way to PCs as well, according to one story from derStandard (translated from the German here). The move is intended to target the growing Chinese PC gaming market. Makes sense to me--hardcore racing sims got their start on PCs, anyhow.

Now, this got me thinking: What about using the Driving Force GT on your PC as well? I popped it into a PC's USB port, and I heard that familiar chime of device recognition. Then, seconds later, the wheel sprung to life. The only things that remain invisible to the PC are the red dial and its control buttons. Maybe I'll test it on the fully free racing title that also released this week, TrackMania Nations Forever. (More on TrackMania on the next page.)

The Free Race

Let's just call Trackmania what it really is: an adult version of Hot Wheels.
TrackMania Nations Forever  (PC)
Never heard of TrackMania? Think of it as a computerized version of Hot Wheels with ridiculous twisty, turny tracks that players can build and race over. The huge draw, besides its gratis status, are the number of people that build their own custom racecourses that you can download and join. In fact, there's a huge international online community playing it, so just download TrackMania Nations Forever now. Thank me later.

The Hardest (and Easiest) Games

If you're always looking for ways to whittle away those last few...hours...of your work week, have I got the Web game for you. In fact, it's billed as the The World's Hardest Game. It threatens you with 30 maddeningly-tough puzzles. Associate Editor Danny Allen kept his cool far longer than I did. I made it to level eight before I decided to break my second keyboard of the day.

You Have to Burn the Rope--the easiest game?
With a fresh, new keyboard, it was time for another game. Maybe the easiest I'd played in a while and the most rewarding. OK, rewarding in the sense that I have a goofy song stuck in my head now. Just play through the minute-long You Have To Burn The Rope and you'll see what I mean.

Okami  (Wii console)
Here's a natural fit for the Wii in all its surreal glory: a game based loosely on Japanese mythology and illustrated like someone spewed watercolors at my TV. Oh, and did I mention that you interact with the game world using a "Celestial Brush" aka your Wii-mote? The game originally came out on the PS2 to critical acclaim. And maybe two copies sold.

Is Capcom's Okami art? Is it a game? I say both!
It's a damn shame, but score one for the fans. Apparently raising hell on message boards motivated Capcom to port the game to a newer system. Maybe now this artful action puzzle game will get the credit (and sales) it truly deserves. It's an instant classic and definitely worth checking out. In the meantime, go to the official Web site for lots of unique desktop art.

What would you recommend? Have you found some great gadget, Web site, or game that you'd like to let the rest of the world know about? E-mail me.

Until next week...

Senior Writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.

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