Regardless of whether you were smitten with or despised Gran Turismo 5, it’s quite hard to argue against the claim that it was an inconsistent game. There were plenty of great, jaw-dropping moments in GT5: it was just a shame that almost everything else between was disappointingly mediocre.
That same criticism can also – sadly – be levied at its successor, the PS3 curtain call that is Gran Turismo 6. There’s no denying that most of what’s made the GT franchise great over the last 15 years has been massaged to seventh-gen perfection here: it’s just disheartening to report that the rest of the game doesn’t quite live up to the headline-grabbing highlights.
1,200 cars. 100 tracks. One Blu-ray disc
Of all the complaints that can be levied at Gran Turismo 6, a lack of content on offer certainly isn’t one of them. GT6’s more recent predecessors (not including the bite-sized Prologue versions, for obvious reasons) were already lavished with vast swathes of virtual material to tinker with, and this new instalment really ramps it up to ‘we duly tip our hats off to you, Sir’ levels.
Whether it’s the 1,200 cars, the 100+ track variations from 37 locales – with new highlights being the arrival of Silverstone, Mount Panorama, Brands Hatch a retouched Apricot Hill and the fictional Matterhorn route in the Swiss Alps – or even the 88 different types of aftermarket wheel designs available to bolt onto your various virtual motors, the statistics associated with GT6 are nothing short of extraordinary.
Granted, there have been a moments of corner cutting here and there to boost those figures up (there’s “only” 800 or so cars in the game if you don’t consider the duplicates to be separate models, with roughly half of those being slightly retouched ‘Standards’ ported from GT5). But that’s still a fantastic achievement in Polyphony’s part, and – even with the rough-around-the-edges relics from GT games of yore – there are still more vehicles and circuits, in a far greater diversity, than in any other out-of-the-box racing game on sale today. And those stats are only set to increase with the proposed free and paid-for downloadable additions to the game…
In fact, the only area you could perhaps argue the game is lacking singleplayer-wise is with the career mode. The diversity of the events themselves is nothing to complain about, with everything from rallying to NASCAR oval runs to kart events and even condensed endurance races all featured in the various tiers.
The big issue here is the length of the campaign, or rather the lack of – not including the time it took to complete the optional events such as the Mission Races, One-Make events and Coffee Break challenges (which we’ll get back to in a moment), it took this tester roughly 40 hours to wrap-up the entire career mode. In contrast, it would take considerably more time to conclude previous full-bore GT games.
It’s perhaps developer Polyphony Digital’s way of streamlining the game’s core mode after the divisive MMO-esque Experience Points levelling system in GT5, and recent patches adding new races to the career mode – such as the Gornegrat League and Freshman Cup races that came in the day one ‘V1.01’ update – does provide hope of the core singleplayer component being bulked up in the coming months, but the current roster of races is currently a shade too sparse for this reviewer’s liking.
Of course, a Gran Turismo game wouldn’t be complete without more eccentricities outside of the career mode, and GT6 is no exception to that tried-and-tested rule. Once the campaign’s been speedily whizzed through, there’s still a horde of other little bits and bobs to keep you occupied before the stray into Gran Turismo 6’s online components.
Whilst all devised with the intention of breaking up the relative monotony of doing endless rolling start races in the career mode, though, some are more successful at being more than one-shot gimmicks than others, with the Coffee Break challenges being one a more noteworthy example of this – ranging from toppling cones to eking out those last few millilitres of fuel in order to reach the checkpoint marker, they’re all events that, though perhaps more reliant on the novelty factor than anything else, are intriguing breaks from the oh-so-serious licence tests and Performance Point race restrictions, and inject a little bit of variety to the ‘chase the rabbit’ style of races.
The same goes to the Goodwood Festival of Speed events, which (once you unlock them all) allow players to pilot an assortment of 25 performance cars up the fabled hillclimb route. As with the Coffee Break mode, they’re welcome breaks from the various National, International and Super tier races you’ll eventually encounter, and (in this tester’s experience) constantly beating your previous runs for no more than the simple gratification of posting a faster time can be incredibly addictive . Even if the last mission in the frighteningly fast, 2,700 bhp-per-tonne Red Bull X2010 Prototype does teeter on the edge of being ridiculous…
Other events aren’t quite as successful in execution, though, as the FoS and Coffee Break additions. One-Make races are pretty self-explanatory and so similar to career mode trials that it’s odd (in this author’s opinion) that they weren’t simply shoehorned into the main bulk of the career mode instead of being branded as optional events. Likewise, the Mission races are only really worth participating in for the reward cars you’ll receive upon Golding them all.
The big disappointment, though, are the Lunar Missions: what initially seemed to be a fantastically quirky diversion instead unravels into one of the biggest marketing gimmicks in the game. With just three events dedicated to driving on the surface of the moon (two checkpoint races and a Coffee Break-style cone challenge), and the only noteworthy reward being a couple of Trophies, they have no impact on the core game. The fact the novelty factor of low-gravity off-roading quickly fades only highlights its deficiencies, especially considering this was one of the more publicised modes of Gran Turismo 6.
They’re not definitive deal breakers, but they do put a dampener on the overall experience: bar the online lobby races (which, sadly, shan’t be covered in this review, due to Internet connection issues severely limiting this author’s ability to properly experience this particular portion of the game), there is very little else offline-wise bar the surprisingly short career mode to keep players hooked on Gran Turismo 6.
Under The Hood Is Where It’s At
Whereas GT6 does show some deficiencies gameplay-wise, it shines as a technological showcase. Whilst there’s nothing here on paper to drastically differentiate it from GT5, with everything that has been tweaked being more iterative instead of revolutionary, the changes that have been made to the overall experience of driving cars have made it a truly stellar one, irrespective of the now-outdated hardware the game is running on.
Headlining this evolutionary refinement are perhaps the revisions made to the overall physics: the new suspension and tyre modelling has had a mild yet noticeable effect in terms of adding more depth to the art of in-game car control. In contrast with GT5, there’s a far greater disparity this time around between the personal, psychological reward for managing the weight transfer and keeping the car settled through technical sections of track, and the punishment for leaden throttle application and erratic steering movements.
Visually, GT6 impresses too. As with the physics, there’s little that’s been comprehensively overhauled, but what has is worthy of mention: the particle effects and shading is no longer as jagged or as choppy as they were in GT5, and the HDR, adaptive tessellation rendering does (for the most part) reduce texture and detail pop-in.
Obviously, it’s no rival to the next-gen and PC racers in terms of graphical capabilities, and no amount of streamlining and selective installing can seemingly get rid of the 30+ seconds it can take to load up even brief licence tests, but what Polyphony’s been able to achieve on a console that dates back to the mid-2000s is nothing short of breathtaking. Oh, if only Gran Turismo 6 was a PS4 launch title, instead of being the PS3’s first-party epilogue…
Sadly, such advancements in the physics department and mastery of now-archaic console architecture haven’t resulted in equal improvements to the audio effects, with the same muffled engine sound samples being comprehensively trounced by what the likes of, for example, the Forza Motorsport franchise has achieved over the years. In fact, the audio’s only real saving grace is that Polyphony has managed to accurately implement the Doppler effect in the 60fps replays.
At least the photography element of Gran Turismo 6 can comfortably be crowned the standard bearer of the industry: with a fully replicated digital SLR camera and a host of meticulously detailed Photo Mode setting (along with the 37 track locations), it’s arguably the finest and most accurate of its kind in any racing game before or since, and is engrossing for those who devote enough time to it enough to be a full-on mini-game in its own right.
No Witty-ish Sub-Heading Here; Just Disappointment
It’s such a shame, then, that one of the finest racing simulators is so fundamentally compromised by the franchise’s most derided ‘legacy feature’: the artificial intelligence that controls all those anonymous NPC characters you’ll overtake time and time again in the fairly brief career mode.
It’s not the zombie-like nature of your NPC competitors, though, that’s the primary issue here (even if the AI drivers are, though prone to the occasional barrier collision or spin-out every now and again, as mindless as ever for a majority of the time). Instead, the new ‘rubber banding’ feature is the cause for concern, as it only seems to end up slowing your virtual competitors down, to the point where you reach the chequered flag with a ludicrously large margin between you and the rest of the field.
Sure, the AI drivers do start to speed up as you progress through the various racing tiers, but the problem still persists, and it seriously compromises the longevity of Gran Turismo 6’s offline gameplay modes – even in endurance races, where tyre wear and fuel consumption rates have to be factored in, it’s still way too easy to finish events on the podium’s premier pedestal. As much as GT5’s AI was criticised for its brainless nature, at least the NPCs in that game didn’t suddenly slow down in the closing laps to undeservedly gift you the win.
This is, of course, rectified somewhat if you choose to compete in a car that’s outclassed by the competition, but it shouldn’t be necessary for players to do that just so they can enjoy some close competition with AI drivers. And, given the Single Races in the Arcade Mode already features a three-tier difficulty system, it’s a wonder why Polyphony’s yet to follow in the footsteps of nearly every other racing game developer, and implement such a feature into the career mode of a Gran Turismo game.
As far as blemishes go, this is arguably the biggest one the game has, and – in this reviewer’s opinion – it seriously compromises Gran Turismo 6’s abilities as a racing game, to the point where it would seriously spoil the title if there wasn’t so much additional content on offer.
In many ways, Gran Turismo 6 could be most aptly described as the console equivalent of Assetto Corsa: we know there’s plenty of updates incoming that’ll completely change how players approach and perceive the game, and there’s a top-notch physics engine (in comparison with their respective rivals) to immerse yourself in, but it’s perhaps debateable as to whether now is the best time to add it to your racing game collection.
For those who love their console racers, or were equally head-over-heels for Gran Turismo 5, it’s likely they’ll find plenty to admire about GT6. The problem is, though, is that – right now, as a racing game – it’s nothing more than an iterative evolution from what we saw in GT5. The revised physics engines and the retouched graphics are all fine and dandy, but they alone (along with an array of other, more minor tweaks) are essentially all the game has to justify its existence from an objective standpoint.
Us here at Team VVV know there’s plenty more in the pipelines for GT6, and we’ll be reviewing the game again once more features (such as B-Spec, private online lobbies and the intriguing GPS Data Visualiser, for instance) have been added. But it’s only possible to critique and review what’s currently available in the game at time of writing, and – as it stands, as Version 1.03 – Gran Turismo 6 is phenomenal as a console-based driving simulator, yet so-far incredibly nondescript, basic and (mostly because of the woeful AI) occasionally disappointing as a racing game.