Itís hard to imagine how huge an event the launch of the original Gran Turismo for the first Playstation became. Up until then, racing simulations had been the domain of the PC, with consoles happy to play the likes of Sega Rally and Mario Kart. Harder still, when you consider that Polyphony Digitalís first racing game was the cartoon-like Motor Toon Grand Prix, which although competent enough, showed no sign of what was to come.

When GT launched in 1997 in Japan (it followed a year later in the US and Europe), it was an immediate success. Never before had such an in-depth racer been seen on any console, and it even gave PC racers a run for their money too. With 250 cars to race over 11 courses, and the option to tune your car to your exact specifications, it was a dream come true for petrol heads everywhere. Normal racing fans could get into it as well, though, thanks to the forgiving handling of the arcade mode, and it was this accessibility that drove Gran Turismo and its sequels to sell over 50 million copies worldwide. Now itís getting ready to be unleashed onto the Playstation 3, and the first glimpse of it is Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.

However, as the title suggests, this isnít the full sequel to GT4 Ė rather, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue offers an insight into what the new game will both look and play like when itís released sometime next year. Thatís not to say that GT5 Prologue isnít worth your time Ė offered as a standalone purchase or a download via Sonyís PLAYSTATION Network, it still has plenty to keep you occupied until the main event in 2008. Sure, you donít get the full roster of cars that youíve come to expect from Sonyís racing master, nor do you get all the tracks Ė but for what you do get, youíll be too busy playing it, perfecting your driving style and racing line, to complain.

So, what do you get for your money? Well, even though itís not a full game, both Sony and Polyphony are giving you more than what a lot of other racers have in their proper releases. GT5 Prologue offers you over 40 cars to choose from, and theyíre not just there for effect either Ė how does Ferrari and Lotus sports cars grab you? Add to that five real-life tracks to race your cars around, including the likes of the world-famous Suzuka racetrack in Japan, and itís easy to see this isnít your normal run of the mill ďdemoĒ disc. Polyphony Digital has always been recognized as being one of the premier videogame designers when it comes to fun race tracks, and GT5 Prologue shows no sign of them losing this title.

Yet if this all sounds too good to be true for what is, essentially, a demo for the main game, then the best is yet to come. If youíre one of the millions of racers whoíve wished you could go online with Gran Turismo and race equally enthusiastic gamers across the globe, then welcome to the GT5 Prologue online mode. As long as you have a broadband connection, then the fun is just about to start. Offering full online racing support for up to 16 players, now you really can test whoís the best amongst you and your friends. Yet if you think that gaining bragging rights over your friends is all you should aim for, think again.

If the racing doesnít do it for you Ė although that seems fairly impossible Ė there are also a huge bunch of extras available to play around with in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. The best of the bunch is undoubtedly the My Page option, which allows you to choose whether you want to Race, go to the Garage, watch TV, look at the Album (where any pictures you take in race mode will be stored for you to view later) or use the Calendar. This last feature is easily one of the gems in GT5 Prologue, giving you Race Days and weather reports for upcoming races.

With GT5 Prologue running in full High Definition, the game is guaranteed to be one of the best-looking titles on Sonyís machine, especially with the new rendering models. Couple that to all the features that youíll be getting, and itís hard to imagine the game as anything but a full title. Of course, itís not, but until its bigger brother comes out next year, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is one heck of an appetizer.