Gran Turismo 6 arrived on the 15th anniversary of the Gran Turismo series, ending its run on the previous generation of hardware in much the same way as Gran Turismo 4 did on the Playstation 2. With the next generation upon us, this may well be the Playstation 3’s swan song, one last hurrah from what is arguably Sony’s most successful franchise, with the series’ biggest, most content-packed entry yet. But one must ask: is that enough?
The first thing you’re likely to notice is the massively – and I do mean massively – improved user interface. The redesigned menu simply and logically splits career mode races, seasonal events and online lobbies, the tuning/garage area and other modes into partitions on the same front page which is much, much more intuitively designed and quick to navigate than Gran Turismo 5’s convoluted and sluggish labyrinthine menus.
Credit must be given to Gran Turismo 6’s biggest strengths, namely its practically encyclopedic selection of cars and tracks. While I would much rather see a smaller, better curated selection of vehicles rather than one as inflated by dozens of versions of the same few cars as Gran Turismo 6’s, the track selection is nothing short of stellar. Yeah there are a few tracks I’d wish were included like Sebring, Mugello and the Circuit de Catalunya but really, I’m just nitpicking at this point. Tracks like Ascari, Spa de Francorchamps, Willow Springs, Mount Panorama, Brands Hatch and many more do an excellent job to make up for any missing circuits I may have wanted. It’s rare to see a racing game with as much track variety Gran Turismo 6 has and it shows in the career mode, which keeps introducing new tracks just as you begin to tire of others.
The career mode has seen significant changes this time around, eschewing the leveling system from its predecessor and tying upward mobility to getting a certain number of stars in races to unlock a final championship and…a license test. Yes, the license tests are back and mandatory once again for unlocking the next tier of races. Thankfully, they’re quite easy to complete making them a momentary annoyance at worst.
Much has been made about the added microtransactions and the grind-based economy and while there is a bit of a grind for the first few hours, I never felt as though the game’s economy was intentionally skewed toward forcing players to pay real money just to get ahead in the game. Seasonal events, combined with the consecutive login bonus which boosts your credit count at the end of races meant I was eventually swimming in a few million credits. Of course, Seasonal Events expire and thus your personal experience may vary but money was never much of an issue for me in Gran Turismo 6.
On the track, I can’t shake the feeling that something is off with a number of the game’s vehicles, particularly FWD and RWD vehicles with mid-mounted engines. In particular, FWD cars seem to understeer more than they should and liftoff oversteer is too uncontrollable in RWD cars. The way the cars feel on the road has never felt quite right in Gran Turismo and it’s in large part due to the tire physics, which, while improved over previous games, are still weak.
More often than I liked, I felt like I was driving on the razor’s edge, a feeling that’s as exciting as it is exhausting. With Gran Turismo 6, unlike nearly every other racing simulator I’ve played, there’s an extremely fine line between having control and losing it. There’s very little middle ground in the tire’s grip progression under stress, almost to the point where it seems like a binary switch. This comes down to the game’s lacking ability to communicate when you’re pushing your car to its absolute limits until it’s too late. Once you’ve lost control, the twitchiness of the steering response on a controller makes it too easy to overcorrect and send your car into a spin.
This problem is helped significantly (though not eliminated) by playing with a proper racing wheel setup. Gran Turismo 6 feels better than the series ever has on a DualShock 3 but controlling some of the high powered beasts like the Pagani Huayra requires more finesse than the DualShock 3 seems capable of.
Without a doubt, Gran Turismo 6 gets closer to replicating the feeling of driving than the series ever has been. The new suspension modeling creates a palpable feeling of weight and makes slamming a car through a tight chicane quite enjoyable as you see and feel the car’s weight shifting at each turn in. On a visual level, it seems a bit exaggerated, with cars leaning more than they should and dipping slightly too far forward on heavy braking (sometimes causing the back end to lift) but nothing too bad.
Gran Turismo’s AI has always been a sore spot for the series and efforts have been made to correct these problems in Gran Turismo 6 but frankly, it wasn’t enough. There’s less of a rigid adherence to the same racing line and you’ll see the AI drivers regularly run wide in the corners and attempt passes. I even saw a few drivers run three wide down the Mulsanne straight. But as organic as these behaviors look, the AI drivers are quite robotic, like they’re merely going through a set of predetermined routines rather than actually reacting to what’s going on around them. As ever, AI drivers seem blissfully unaware of your presence on the track, leading to more than a few frustrating accidents. I once had the AI pit me on the last lap of a race, coming up to the final corner but I don’t think it was because of any additional aggression on the AI’s part, more like a lack of awareness and it being programmed to get back to a racing line I happened to be occupying.
But those accidents are rarely an issue because Gran Turismo 6 still lacks a competent damage model. In fact, the extent of the damage model has actually regressed since Gran Turismo 5’s already weak damage model. Sure, the extent of the mechanical and physical damage was quite limited in Gran Turismo 5 but that’s no reason to simply remove it from single player races altogether. Instead of the physics based visual damage simulation (which didn’t work too well but was rather innovative) of its predecessor, the most you’ll be able to do to a car in Gran Turismo 6 is give it a couple of superficial scratches.
And that’s just cosmetic damage. Mechanical damage, in large part just doesn’t exist in Gran Turismo 6 so, unlike most racing simulators on the market, you’re free to drive as aggressively as you like without penalty. I’m a firm believer that rubbing is racing and I tend to drive aggressively no matter what racing game I’m playing but racing simulators in particular always instill a certain respect, not only for my car, but for my opponents, forcing me to limit my aggression and drive more conservatively because of what a collision could do to my car and my chances of winning. And sometimes, I drive too aggressively and my car pays for it and I end up paying for it at the end of the race. But that’s just how it goes sometimes. Accidents happen, after all.
Gran Turismo 6 does not make me respect my opponents.
In single player races, I drive as aggressively as I want. I’ll use my opponents as bumpers to allow me to take corners quicker, bump my opponents off the road and once, I intentionally t-boned an AI driver because I could. And in every situation, I drove away clean and I didn’t feel bad for it. Naturally, I don’t carry this same attitude online because I don’t like being a jerk but without a good damage model as a deterrent to driving like a jackass, what’s to stop my opponents from doing so? Respect isn’t given, it’s earned, and in large part due to the lack of a proper damage model, Gran Turismo 6’s races have not earned my respect.
All of this is exacerbated by the simple fact that the game is almost insultingly easy. On top of the AI drivers’ limited intelligence, it seems as though they’re programmed to lose. I’ve noticed that the AI intentionally drives slower until you’ve passed them, at which point they speed up considerably and try to keep pace. Because of this, the career mode is practically bereft of any real challenge. I’ve even wiped out multiple times in a race and still managed to come in first place by a wide margin.
But the biggest problem I have with the game is the inconsistent quality. Though the distinction between standard and premium cars was removed in the game, the gap in visual quality between the two remains. Of the 1200+ cars, about 440 of them are “premium” level, up from little more than half that in Gran Turismo 5 while the rest are a mixture of 150+ “semi-premium” cars, which have seen updated texture and mesh work to bring their visual quality much closer to that of the premium cars, and around 670 standard cars. All of the non-premium cars still lack detailed interiors in the cockpit view and the standard cars look just as awful as they did in Gran Turismo 5.
Visually, Gran Turismo 6 is, surprisingly, slightly downgraded from its predecessor. This is likely due to the new dynamic lighting system which allows for a far larger number of tracks to have a full day to night cycle than Gran Turismo 5. The changes are small but noticeable, ranging from lower quality reflections and shadows to slightly worse lighting overall. The overall resolution is slightly better but issues like screen tearing and slowdowns persist.
Unfortunately, little has improved in regards to the audio presentation. The engine sounds are still mostly awful and inauthentic, with throaty, growling V8s sounding like whining vacuüm cleaners and authoritative V12s reduced to the level of particularly aggressive lawn mowers. The annoying, grating tire squeal sounds remain just as irritating as ever and collisions still sound like plastic bins banged up against a wall. Though the selection of music has been maligned by some, I don’t mind Gran Turismo 6’s retention of the usual mix of smooth jazzy and classical tunes populating the menus and pop, electronic and rock songs during races. As a whole though, I’m quite disappointed that the audio has seen such little attention given how bad it’s been, especially compared to its competition.
If one wants a perfect example of the inconsistency that permeates Gran Turismo 6, it’s the first wave of downloadable cars that have been added to the game since release. Neither Mario Andretti’s famous 1948 Hudson Hornet nor the next generation BMW M4 Coupe (which was unveiled both in real life and in the game on the same day) feature an interior. Even the first Vision GT vehicle, the product of a much publicized partnership between Polyphony Digital and various manufacturers to develop a number of concept vehicles that will soon appear in Gran Turismo 6, doesn’t have a detailed interior, instead having the same kind of blacked-out cockpit the standard and semi-premium cars have. I would’ve thought DLC would be prioritized to deliver a quality level consistent with premium cars but I guess I was wrong. And that’s not okay.
But for all the grief I give Gran Turismo 6, it does have its thrills on the track. There’s nothing quite like flying down the Circuit de la Sarthe at night in a Lamborghini Aventador, with fireworks bursting in the background and a Ferrari FXX breathing down your neck. Driving around the Nurburgring in a KTM X-BOW as the time transitions from day to night is a spectacularly engrossing experience that few racers I’ve played can match.
And that’s what Gran Turismo is about. The drive. Though I still have issues with the physics system, Gran Turismo 6 does a pretty good job of replicating the feeling of driving. It’s not quite up there with other simulators on consoles or the PC but it’s getting there. But due to its moronic AI, lack of any consequence for driving recklessly and good but not great handling physics, Gran Turismo 6 just doesn’t measure up to other racing sims for recreating the sensation of truly racing. It’s a competent driving and racing sim but not one that truly stands out, except for its sheer breadth of content.
But content for content’s sake is not enough to push Gran Turismo 6 over the top. Perhaps I’m in the minority but I would gladly trade half of Gran Turismo 6’s total car count in order to have 600 premium quality cars. I would rather see a competent damage model than moon exploration missions, which, while a fun novelty, are little more than that. Gran Turismo 6’s wide range of content doesn’t make up for the lacking quality in many key areas, from AI to sound quality to the poor visuals in more than half of the game’s cars. With each new iteration, Gran Turismo’s glaring weaknesses become even more obvious and less forgivable and as we’re on the sixth iteration, it’s just unacceptable.
I feel like Gran Turismo 6 is more an expansion pack than a full sequel. In practically every way, this is the game Gran Turismo 5 should’ve been but frankly, that’s not enough. The 150+ new cars and new tracks combined with the new physics model make this without question the best Gran Turismo in the series but not a truly necessary one for anyone who already bought Gran Turismo 5. If you’re a Playstation 3 owner looking to dive into the world of racing sims, or simply a diehard series fan, Gran Turismo 6 should definitely be on your short list but everyone else would probably be better suited skipping this and waiting for the inevitable seventh entry on the Playstation 4 when, with any luck, Polyphony Digital will have realized that quality is more important than quantity.
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