At a time when racing games were mainly unrealistic arcade conversions, Gran Turismo came along and defined what a console racing simulation could be. For the past 16 years, the series has remained the definition of console sim-racing games. Part of the reason for this is a complete unwillingness to bow to popular gaming conventions. It is a series that has insisted on maintaining its purity, despite a few missteps along the way. Gran Turismo 6 is the last of the series to be released on the PlayStation 3, and it shows that sometimes, sticking to your roots can be both a plus and a minus.
What Is It?
When the series started back in 1997, it was essentially a sports car racing simulation. You could build up a garage full of cars, earn your racing licenses, and compete in races all over the world. As Gran Turismo evolved though, it began to add different styles of racing. Now, in Gran Turismo 6 there is so much variety in the event types that it might be hard to decide what to do next. You can race on closed circuits, city circuits, rally stages, go karts, and even drive the Apollo moon buggy.
Throughout the years you always felt like there was an underlying passion for motoring that drove the series. It is what has driven series producer Kazunori Yamauchi to add more and more cars, tracks, styles of driving, and seemingly random features, like the ability to print out photos of your cars. That eagerness to show off what could be done with a car is one of the series’ greatest strengths. However, it has also turned out to be one of its biggest challenges.
Gran Turismo 6 is the culmination of 16 years of work. As such, it is saddled with a lot of older assets that have to take the stage alongside newer, higher quality versions. So you get a game where not all cars have showroom galleries, or in-car camera views, or high quality engine sounds. The unwillingness to part with old content does give the game a massive car roster, but the quality varies from car to car. The rationale is that it’s better to have at least a lower-quality version of a favorite car than none at all.
With that said, the game’s visuals are, for the most part, stunning. The interiors of the cars look excellent (the ones that have them, that is), and the dynamic time-of-day and weather effects look fantastic. Driving on Brands Hatch at dusk will make you look over to make sure you’re still playing on a PS3. The older cars look rough up close, and there are some off-track textures that look muddy, but for the most part, GT6’s visuals do not fail to impress. It really is remarkable what Polyphony was able to do with seven year old hardware.
Why Should I Care?
There have been many additions to Gran Turismo 6, but there have also been a number of cuts as well. GT5 featured an experience-based level system. It also had a B-Spec mode which allowed you to direct an AI driver instead of driving for yourself. Both of these elements have been removed from Gran Turismo 6, though the B-Spec mode may make a return in a future update. Paring back the modes has made the game feel more like one of its predecessors, in the right way. It feels more focused and refined. You no longer have to wade through a menu to pick up cars you’ve won or purchased; they are just added to your garage. These cuts let you focus on just those polished features, while giving Polyphony time to refine and hone the rougher ones before rolling them out again.
Don’t let the fact that some of the features have been cut fool you. There is still a lot to do in Gran Turismo 6. There are over 1200 cars to choose from, all available from the start. On top of that, there are 37 tracks with over 70 different layouts. It won’t be hard to stay busy with what the game offers out of the box.
This streamlined approach is meant to help address one of the main complaints leveled at the Gran Turismo franchise in the past: it is nearly impenetrable to newcomers. This time around, the game begins in a much more linear and guided way. The introductory race will guide new players around Brands Hatch, giving them driving tips before they get to buy their first car. For those new to the series, this will be helpful, but for series veterans the opening half hour of the game might be infuriating. Once past that point though, the game opens up and becomes much more like the free-form Gran Turismo career of the previous games.
What Makes It Worth My Time & Money?
The most important thing for a simulation racing game to get right is, of course, the simulation itself. Gran Turismo 6 makes some significant improvements to the driving physics. When playing the game, cars feel distinct. A large 1970’s muscle car is not going to be as nimble as a spry hot-hatch, for instance. The improvements to the tire model as well as the newly-added aerodynamics model lend a far more realistic feel to every car.
Where the game falters is car damage, or lack of it. Arcade mode, for example, only has a modicum of visual damage. That 17 year legacy rises up once again to keep what could have been a near perfect driving model from reaching its potential. Hitting a wall at 150 MPH should end your race, but in Gran Turismo all it does is cause you to bounce off, likely costing several positions in the process. With the sheer amount of cars in the game, particularly the older ones, implementing cosmetic and performance damage would literally take several years. It would have been nice to have had it, but it’s something that I can live without.
Racing against the AI opponents in this game can be downright frustrating at times. They start off easy enough, but as you climb the ranks, the computer controlled drivers will start to display distinctly computer–controlled levels of consistency. It is possible to tell exactly where the drivers will be on the track. All you have to do is turn the driving line on and you’ll notice that they tend to stick to that line with robotic precision. That isn’t to say the game won’t throw some random behavior at you. Occasionally drivers will cut you off, or show off some truly bad judgement by entering a corner far too fast. For the most part though, they are predictable, which means they’re also exploitable.
Another area where Gran Turismo 6 falls a little short is in its overall quality of life for players. While the game’s interface is a large improvement over the cluttered, nonsensical debacle that plagued its predecessor, GT6 still has some rough edges. Aesthetic customization is limited, and simple things such as painting a car a specific color are harder than they need to be because if you want to use a specific color, you first need to acquire a car of that color. On the whole though, the experience is much more pleasant and easy to navigate than GT5 ever was.
There are also things that feel incomplete. You can share cars to your Stockyard, but there isn’t anything to do with them once shared. The social functionality that would make that feature useful simply isn’t part of the game yet.
While it may seem as if I’m down on Gran Turismo 6, I do like it. A lot. It has warts, and in some ways it’s like that favorite uncle you have. He’s a bit eccentric, set in his ways, but still fun to be around. Gran Turismo 6 may have its faults, but it is nonetheless the best driving game, if not the best game, for the PS3.