(CNN) -- There was an old cassette commercial that asked the question, "Is it live or is it Memorex?"
While playing the latest incarnation of "Gran Turismo 5," you may find yourself asking a similar question after experiencing the lush detail and amazing graphics from this racing simulator.
But is it too real?
Six years in the making from Polyphony Digital and Sony Computer Entertainment, "Gran Turismo 5" features more than 1,000 automobiles and 71 different tracks, making for a very deep experience.
From everyday cars like the Mini Cooper S to powerful NASCAR machines to prototype vehicles built by Ferrari, drivers can tailor their game to whatever style they wish.
The "devil is in the details" and GT5's detail with each car is painstakingly accurate. Cars not only look and feel like the real thing, but sound like them as well.
While I was playing with the Cooper, my wife wandered into the room because she heard what sounded like her car and was amazed how much it resembled what sits in our garage.
The vehicles behave as they should, reacting to weight shifts and (new this year) sustaining damage that actually matters a little. Cars can also be tuned to change their suspension, power or grip on the road.
This is a car nut's dream.
However, it may not be a racing-game nut's dream. The realism almost gets in the way of making this an experience that will reach out to virtual racers.
In single-player mode, there are races that are limited to specific makes and model years, but no easy way to find a car that fits those criteria.
You'll spend time going through hundreds of cars only to find out that (a) you don't have enough credits to get the car or (b) you don't have enough experience to drive it.
The artificial intelligence is at times either too aggressive or too single-minded. Some of my races ended prematurely when I got hooked from the side by another driver or forced off the road because the AI didn't want to take another route.
At times, it was like driving against multiple Dale Earnhardts.
The feedback on the driving conditions was great. Bumps felt like bumps. There's resistance when sliding and catching air when you crest a small hill at high speed.
But the view of the action was limited with the lack of a cockpit view and forced me to drive from a front bumper/hood viewpoint.
There is also a single-player mode that allows players to control a team of racers, putting them in various competitions and helping them grow and get better.
That mode is good if your idea of fun is being the owner/general manager instead of getting behind the wheel yourself.
The online version is pretty much straight-up racing, but doesn't disappoint. Social additions, like posting videos to YouTube and uploading pictures to your personalized wall offer plenty of opportunities to show off your driving talents.
Up to 16 people can compete at any one time. I didn't have any trouble with lagging or dropouts, so it appears Sony has done the back-end work on its servers to handle the crush of drivers.
Despite opting for the rather large download at the beginning that claimed to speed up in-game action, GT5 has download screens after nearly every menu choice.
And don't get me started on the soundtrack, which seems to be a mix of smooth jazz and '70s porn music. Ugh.
In the end, "Gran Turismo 5" is a visually stunning game that hides what is basically a one-trick pony -- even though that pony is gorgeous. Buy a car. Race it. Buy another car. Race that one, too.
Unless you are a gear-head, the option of tuning a car isn't that inspiring when you can find another, more powerful and better-handling car waiting for you at the dealership.
But the game's brilliance lies in the driving, and for that, it takes the checkered flag for providing a racing experience that is minutely detailed with a lifelike feel that almost has the wind blowing against your cheeks.
Be prepared for some uglier moments when you get off the track.
"Gran Turismo 5" is an exclusive title for the PlayStation 3. This game was reviewed by using the standard PS3 Sixaxis controller as well as the Logitech Driving Force GT steering controller. It is rated E for everyone.