For years, Gran Turismo was synonymous with the ultimate in console racing simulators. On the original PlayStation, there were no competitors, and despite a few contenders on the PS2, Polyphony Digital's game ruled the roost. That changed in the PS3 era when a few games nipped at its heels. The Grid series offers solid simulation-style racing in a mostly arcade package, as did the Need for Speed: Shift franchise, but it was the Forza Motorsport series on the rival Xbox 360 that made large leaps in every iteration to steal the racing crown — or sit alongside the champion, depending on who you ask.
When Gran Turismo 5 finally arrived on the PS3, it was a good game but was plagued with disappointment, including long install and patch times, most cars being ported without touch-ups, and a bad menu system. The flaws were starting to show, and the issues became magnified when you consider the long development cycle.
Gran Turismo 6 comes in with a rather short cycle from announcement to release. It arrives at a time when its closest competitor, Forza Motorsport 5, is experiencing a few issues of its own. It also arrives on the PS3 instead of the newly released PS4. For Polyphony Digital's swan song on the PS3 console, Gran Turismo 6 isn't perfect, but it is very much improved over its previous effort.
After going through an opening video that celebrates Ayrton Senna's school in Brazil, car design, and the usual racing in replays, you're shuttled to a forced tutorial race in a Renault Sport Clio R.S. '11 in Brands Hatch. Though it's meant to mimic the first race that shows up in almost every Forza Motorsport game, you're the only person on the track. It also works too well as a tutorial for absolute racing beginners because the basics are taught in such a way that you're interrupted every few seconds. Once that part is over, you get a Honda Fit R.S. as your first car before being unleashed onto the game.
You'll immediately notice a change in the menus. No longer clunky and hard to navigate like of the menus in GT5, the menu system is well laid out and reminiscent of the PS3 XMB mixed with the new PS4 interface. All of the categories are here, along with a few submenu items, and you don't need to drill down very far to reach any section, making it good to use and providing just enough flash without being too cumbersome.
Unlike other modern racing games, which have an open progression method for the career mode, GT6 adheres to some structure. From the beginning, you're only allowed to Novice class races, though you can tackle most of them in any order. Each race adheres to the standard top-three placement system for regular races and ladder system for championship stints, but they're all governed by a star system for progress. For each course, one star is earned for finishing the race, one for placing in the top three, and one for taking first place. Get enough stars in that class, and you can participate in license tests, which allow you to enter races from the B class all the way to the S class as well as the Red Bull X Challenge featuring Formula 1 cars. You can also unlock special events, like knocking down a certain number of traffic cones in a set amount of time or racing with the same car type as your opponents.
Each class provides a variety of race types. Some are more general while others have specific restrictions, like using only front wheel drive cars, using European cars, or only using Japanese cars from the 1990s. There are even a few races that deviate from standard cars, like go-kart races, NASCAR races and rally events. Every event has a PP (Performance Point) rating restriction to ensure that you can't outrun the competition with an overpowered car. It wouldn't be tough to find a car that skirts the requirements since the game now boasts over 1,200 cars, and that doesn't count the specially labeled Vision GT concept cars. The same variety can also be found in the 30+ tracks, which include real-world and developer-created courses. The day, night and weather cycles make even the same tracks feel slightly different.
What players will notice about the career mode is how it seems to favor faster unlocks while still retaining the feeling of grinding. Despite the number of races in each license category, the number of stars needed to enter the license test for the next category is rather low. Even though stars earned in one class don't carry over to the new one, doing very well in a few races ensures you'll have enough to get to another license class if you want to blaze through the game.
Speaking of license tests, they're still here, but there are fewer of them per class, and they're less demanding than before. While it isn't easy getting gold medals in the higher classes, getting bronze is a breeze and results in less discouraging walls for novice players. On the other hand, vehicles have a lower chance of being given away at the end of events. Getting gold on all of the license tests, passing those tests, and getting all of the stars in all of the tracks in a license class will grant some free cars, but that's about it. Considering how many cars there are in the game, the free ones represent a drop in the bucket. To compensate, you have plenty of opportunities to earn credits, and the consecutive login bonus makes a return to speed things along. When you see the costs of the cars, you feel that grinding through the race types will be necessary if you want a diverse garage.
For those concerned about the use of microtransactions, the game doesn't push the issue on you. If you don't visit the PSN store, you'd be hard-pressed to know that you have the option to convert money into game credits. If you decide to take the plunge, know that the game can become very expensive. At the time of this writing, the most you can spend is $50 for 7 million credits, and while that is a chunk of cash, it's worse when you see some of the cars going for more than 20 million credits. Unless you have cash burning a hole in your pocket, you'd be better served by grinding away for virtual currency.
Players will also notice that the game has taken a few pages from the Forza Motorsport playbook in how to make a sim appealing to both newcomers and veterans. By default, a number of assists are activated, such as a visible driving line or turning off tire wear and fuel consumption. Veterans can turn off these if they want a more pure experience, but there's no monetary gain for doing so.
What all players get to experience is some of the best car physics on a console game to date. You can see each car shift around realistically while taking turns at high speeds or when hitting the brakes. Car weight becomes noticeable, and it only takes a few laps before you believe that Polyphony nailed exactly how each car should feel on the road.
With all of the advances to the game, there are still hang-ups from previous entries that have somehow snuck through. The car selection may be vast, but there's an emphasis on older cars, specifically those of Japanese origin. It also doesn't help that a small amount of the cars are of the premium set, leaving a large swatch in the standard category. There's a sense that the developers find it hard to throw away or retouch their old work, and that isn't exactly a good stigma to have.
The game's other hang-up is the AI, which seems just as robotic and lifeless as before. All of the AI racers follow the racing line as rigidly as possible, even if it means pushing you out of the way. No matter how many times you race on the same track, you'll see the AI make the same moves over and over again in the same spots. While it would be too much to expect the chaotic dynamism of Forza Motorsport 5, it would be exciting to see the AI make a few mistakes or try something different.
A new flaw is the overabundant use of a rolling start for races. With the exception of go-kart races and a few others, just about every race goes for the rolling start and has you starting at the very back of the pack. It seems manageable early on, but once you get into the higher license class races and the opponent count increases, the rolling start is ridiculous because the lead is miles away when you begin. Thus, a good number of races become predictable; the act of jostling for position is brushed aside in favor of making you play catch-up in every event.
As extensive as Career Mode is, the game offers plenty of other modes. Photo Travel mode lets you take any car in your garage and place it in some of the game's more exotic locations. The mode is somewhat pointless, but if you're the type to ogle virtual cars in virtual places, it does a great job of making the whole thing look as pretty as possible. Special Events are races placed outside of the bonus ones in career mode, and they vary wildly from sensible to senseless. On one end of the spectrum is the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a classic course that challenges you to make it from one end of the uphill climb to another. You're disqualified once you hit an object or go off-course, so careful driving is in order, making it a challenging but fun experience. On the other end of the spectrum is moon driving, which lets you drive the Lunar Rover on the moon's Hadley Rille. It is a novel experience, but the zero-G situation means fast speeds and hills will send your craft tumbling out of control.
The online mode is split up into two parts, though only one is accessible from the beginning. Seasonal Events let you participate in specific challenges against every online player who participates, making it the only section that features a leaderboard system. The challenges are time trials that ask you to use a specific car on a specific track, and while a few provide the car for you to use, most expect you to have the car in your possession. Placing within the three given time zones nets you some credits, and going for gold nets you either bonus credits or a new car. Each event has a limited amount of time attached to it, and events rotate frequently, giving you a near-endless source of challenges, provided you have the right car roster.
Meanwhile, Open Lobby is a competitive portion where you can play against up to 16 other racers in a variety of courses and race types. Players can set up a lobby with the desired restrictions and options, and players can go on practice runs prior to the event to see how their car handles on that track. You can even set up races with or without qualifying runs beforehand to set up placement on the course. Those coming into a race late or those who like kibitzing can view the races live, and all participants get some type of credit payout at the end of the race. The online performance is quite good here, with no hitches when you're racing. However, watching a race reveals some odd jumps and stuttering that doesn't exist for the players, introducing a very odd disconnect between what's seen and what's really happening.
Rounding out the modes is Arcade mode, which is the game's version of a quick play mode. Whether you're playing solo or against a friend locally via split-screen, you can race on just about any track with any number of options. You can take just about every car on a test drive on these tracks. Arcade mode provides no credit payout, so players may not be motivated to constantly play it. However, this is the only offline mode available where you can participate in drift races, so that counts for something.
Graphically, there is a beautiful game in here, but it's being held back by design decisions and the hardware. The new and remade tracks look wonderful and have some great detail. That really stands out thanks to the lighting system, and the time shifts show how well the lighting system works. The premium cars look fantastic, with some details in the interior and exterior pieces. The particle effects are rather good, and it's great to see the near-solid 60fps in gameplay and 30fps in replays.
The graphics also show that Polyphony has pushed all it can out of the seven-year-old hardware. There is pop-up in shadows and objects at a distance, and the solid 60fps doesn't hold up in the dashboard cam of some of the premium cars. As alluded to before, the game also relies on plenty of old resources to bolster the roster as far as tracks and cars are concerned, and the results are noticeable. Some of the tracks that were ported from Gran Turismo 4 contain things like less-detailed trees and fewer polygons while standard cars sport fewer polygons, some blurred textures on small things like license plates. The mixing of old and new assets was a major complaint in Gran Turismo 5, and to see that again in GT6 is disappointing, especially if the practice were to continue with the rumored PS4 port.
In the sound department, things are either excellent or disappointing, depending on what you're hearing. If you're listening to the soundtrack, things are great. The game once again mixes up original in-house tracks with licensed ones of different genres. There are some classic Gran Turismo melodies here and there, a perfect fit when you consider this title marks the 15th anniversary of the series. The sound spacing also gets high marks for supporting sound systems all the way up to 7.1. It's too bad that the effects are subpar. Tire screeches and some cars sound fine, but many sound quite bad. Instead of an engine roar, most of the vehicles have engine noises that sound compressed or sound like leaf blowers and vacuum cleaners. The sound of cars driving on bare dirt has been lessened significantly, and impacts with walls and other cars yield a hollow sound instead of the expected massive thump. Considering the latter items were fine in the previous game, this step back is odd and disappointing.
Gran Turismo 6 is a very good racing game that simultaneously improves upon its predecessor and fails to live up the high standards set by the series. The car handling is still the best in class, the races have a good variety, the car tuning options are unsurpassed, and the game is an overall joy to race. The large number of cars and tracks are marred by their subpar appearance. The car effects still can't compete with its contemporaries, and the AI is too robotic. This is still a great game for car simulation lovers, but if the series continues to throw in new elements without improving on older ones before its PS4 debut, the audience might not be as forgiving.
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