It has been just a few days over three years that Gran Turismo 5 launched on the PlayStation 3, ushering the beloved series into what was then the new generation, the very same generation that is now on its way out as we welcome the arrival of Gran Turismo 6.
As the series celebrates its 15th Anniversary, we find ourselves staring at the inspiring introduction video once more, wondering what the team at Polyphony has in store for us this time around. Gran Turismo 5 was plagued with a strange mixture of old and new elements, standard and premium cars, graphical inconsistencies and a few other strange design choices.
Does Gran Turismo 6 finally remedy all of the issues that plagued the previous game and give the PlayStation 3 the send off it deserves? The shorter answer is… well, no not really. When playing Gran Turismo 6, much like it was when playing its predecessor, one word keeps jumping into my mind: Inconsistency. Fans of the series usually know what to expect when playing a Gran Turismo game and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to GT6. However, I’m not sure if that’s good enough these days.
The cars look amazing, except that some of the cars look terrible. The tracks are gorgeous and detailed with day/night cycles and weather, except for the ones that are literally still ripped out of a PS2 game and lack any sort of current-generation flair. From a technical standpoint, when Gran Turismo 6 is firing on all cylinders, it’s the Gran Turismo game you always wanted. When it isn’t, it legitimately looks and sounds like you are playing an HD remake of Gran Turismo 4 and unfortunately, this is what most of the first 4-5 hours of the career mode looks like.
The decision to run GT6 at 1080p may also have been a mistake. The frame rate constantly shifts around from something relatively smooth, to downright jarring at times, especially when trying to make use of the cockpit mode. In the name of all things science, we forced the PS3 into 720p mode and tested the game again only to find that at the lower resolution, the game still looked magnificent and stuck to a silky smooth frame rate without failure. 1080p may have been better off being left alone until the franchise arrived on the PS4, but again this plays into the theme of inconsistency mentioned above. For a series that has seen so much success, I don’t understand how efforts have not been made to update old track and car assets as well as finally record proper engine sounds for all the cars.
Where the team at Polyphony have mainly aimed their sights once again, is at improving all the stuff under the hood that makes a driving sim great at being a driving sim. The new physics systems revolving around suspension and tire behaviour make this Gran Turismo the most absolutely sublime driving experience available on console. Switch from a controller to a proper force-feedback wheel, and as someone who participates in track days himself… this is the closest I’ve ever felt to actually being back on the track in my own car.
Other improvements to the game can be seen in the much improved game interface, which now makes your life a lot easier by being smoother, quicker and more user-friendly. Load times are only sluggish at first, but assets install in the background whenever you play something new, so on the whole the game feels a lot smoother and easier on you than the very sluggish Gran Turismo 5 interface. It does still hang onto some old issues that really need updating, such as the ability to load straight into the next race or license test. The career mode has been spruced up with some additional events that run alongside your usual races, and a new star system allows you to progress by making enough stars up to unlock the next segment of the career, rather than being stuck with needing to get complete or get gold on everything.
I can’t help but feel that the formula for the career mode in Gran Turismo has become, well, boring. The truth is that it starts pretty slow and cumbersome but by the time you get to International B races and so on, the career mode really picks up as the races run longer, the cars get faster and the events become more varied. That said, a little bit of an update to the way they approach things really feels like it would be welcome at this point, and by this I don’t mean the very unnecessary Moon missions, if my car doesn’t have a cockpit view yet, I’d much prefer they get on that before creating gimmicky missions that everyone will only play once or twice.
It must also be said (and unfortunately not for the first time) that Polyphony really needs to step up their game when it comes to A.I, race formats and so on. While some nice little additions have been added to the game in the shape of blind spot indicators (very handy) and a man who waves the chequered flag, it makes no sense that there are still no penalties for cutting corners or ramming cars, no flag system and the very, very tired and crash-inducing race format of always starting at the back of a single file of cars and having to make up 11 places in only 2-4 laps. A driving simulator indeed, but a racing simulator?
A little far from it still I’m afraid. Frustrating when you realise its a design choice, not a limitation. All this made even worse that there still seems to be almost no A.I, to the point that they should rather just be called “Artificial Cars”, as they mostly just stay in a long train and barely ever do anything even remotely intelligent. Worse still is that in both GT5 and GT6, I have witnessed an A.I vehicle car run off a piece of road, or have a slight mishap at exactly the same time and place every single time I retried a race, almost as if the race was pre-programmed.
One of the bigger new features, and something that was missing from the previous game is that a whole load of tracks (not all, but also not just a very select few) now support weather and a full 24 hours day/night cycle. The new time cycle really is impressive and in custom races allows you to set how fast time goes by, so that races can start in the afternoon and move their way into night. The first time you are blasting through the Nurburgring at dawn only to see a magnificent looking sun peaking out through the trees at it rises really is pretty magical. At the same time a race at twilight can really play tricks on your eyes, it’s pretty wonderful and surprisingly effective at enhancing the feel of the race. I did however notice that graphically, night time racing seems to strip away the reflective surfaces on cars and there are a lot of graphical glitches to be seen as well as strange limitations, such as your car usually being the only one to actually beam light ahead of it (this was already a limitation in GT5).
The weather is a bit hit and miss in the fact that you won’t see it in career mode at all for more than the first half of the career even and it doesn’t seem to be dynamic at all, it only seems to escalate one way or the other. I was also a little confused as to why on earth you can set full changing weather to your arcade races (the place where you might want to tinker with this the most), but then have the game not allow pit stops/tire changes at all.
Multiplayer (which now only unlocks after the player has at least passed his National A license) is intact and running as per usual, without major differences really coming into play since the previous game. It works well for the most part, but could possibly benefit from a few standardised official lobbies for casuals to dip into, rather than have you go through pages and pages of hosted games trying to find one that will suit you. That said, for those who dig into this side of GT6 including tuning and more, there is a lot of meat that will keep you busy for a very long time to come.
As a final note worth addressing after some internet commotion, the game does indeed include micro-transactions, however they were never forced, promoted or even displayed on screen unless you went to the in-game store on your own, and together with a reasonable game economy I find absolutely no reason to feel as if they detract from the game in any way.
For the first few hours, I felt disappointed with Gran Turismo 6. I was put off by its continued use of old assets, unpolished ideas and 15 year old problems.
Once the game got into its groove however, it slowly started winning me back with its fantastic new tracks, more accommodating visuals, streamlined interfaces and absolutely phenomenal realistic driving mechanics. That’s not to say that in the end, it proved that it was without its faults.
Gran Turismo 6, while enjoyable to hardcore driving nuts and its longtime fans, ultimately offers nothing fresh to the franchise aside from its improved driving mechanics and additional cars/tracks. Those who have played the games before it will know exactly what to expect, and for those who have never felt the allure of a sim-racer, I’m not so sure that this will be the game to convince you otherwise.