The Gran Turismo series has, since day 1, been a chance for car lovers to build up a garage of their dream cars (as well as a bewildering collection of almost identical Nissans) and take to the track with some of the finest physics seen in console racing games. There have been a range of complaints through the years, be it the below-par audio in some areas, a misguided selection of music or one of the other things that people were hoping for like livery editors, but for actual driving, sitting behind a wheel and getting round the track as quick as you can nothing touched it. Now, beyond the release of Sony’s next gen console, Gran Turismo 6 lands on the PS3 hoping to right some of GT5’s wrongs.
It’s easy to dismiss GT6 as an update to GT5, a Gran Turismo 5.5 maybe, mainly due to the visuals being fairly similar to the previous outing. They’ve been tidied up a little, with more premium cars and those sub-premium models looking distinctly less PS2-like, and some of the nasty shadow effects have been sorted out too. The latter of those still isn’t perfect, with shadows seemingly flashing in and out of shot randomly from some camera angles, but it’s far less jarring than we’ve been suffering for the past couple of years. The tracks themselves still look fantastic of course, with night races being especially gorgeous if you can spare half a second to take a look around, and if you choose to sit through a replay of your race you’ll get to fully appreciate just how far Polyphony Digital have pushed the PS3’s boundaries.
On the theme of things looking nice, the menu has been given a severe overhaul, replacing GT5’s effort which looked like someone had taken a mouthful of options and sneezed on the screen. Everything is nicely in sections now, making it nice and easy to navigate around, using the shoulder buttons to hop between areas. There are a couple of new items in there too, including a really handy area of recommended cars for the various levels of races in case you’re not totally sure what to look for or don’t want to dig through the insane number of manufacturers and their 1200+ cars. On top of that is a set of Red Bull challenges which came in with a recent update, taking you from karting up to the full powered Red Bull designed cars while Sebastien Vettel introduces each section. Pretty cool. Aside from that are the events which let you enter a Goodwood Festival event, and the standard issue moon driving. Yup, you can drive a moon buggy on the moon. Weird, but a nice diversion.
Speaking of diversions, each of the familiar license-based sections supplements its various racing events with some additional extras. One-make racing pitches a group of racers in almost identical cars, taking away the temptation of using an over-powered car to blast past the opposition, and the coffee break and objective challenges give you some pretty unique racing tasks such as knocking over cones as quickly as possible or seeing how far you can get on a certain amount of fuel. It’s a great way to break up the standard racing, and something that was sorely missing in previous GT games that relied on constant grinding and repeating of events to gain the cash needed for some fancy cars.
But in Gran Turismo 6 that grinding, despite being still evident, is reduced by some margin by the return of some great elements of GT5. Seasonal events are back, offering some fun and varied events with generous rewards for success, including free cars and hefty cash values. These values are boosted by another returning feature – the consecutive login bonus. Logging in each day will keep increasing the multiplier until after 5 days, you can earn double the standard rate of winnings. With seasonal events offering financial rewards in the millions sometimes, it certainly speeds up the cash building substantially. The overly-mentioned option of buying credits with real money is well tucked away too, only occupying a single small slot on the menu, and I didn’t see a single mention of it while playing – it’s certainly not something that PD have chosen to force down people’s collective necks.
The new physics engine brings with it some impressive claims, many of which you’ll barely notice if you’re using a standard controller. It’s still a wonderfully refined racer with the controller, but it’s when you hook up a wheel that thing come alive. I found it slightly easier to drive with a wheel than GT5, feeling like the cars were reacting how I expected them to a lot more. It seems to be mostly down to the weight of the car and how it reacts – everything rolls and shifts in an unnervingly realistic manner.
But this is Gran Turismo, and it wouldn’t be complete without a few gripes. It baffles me that in its sixth full iteration since the 1997 original opponents still won’t try to block off an overtaking move that’s been telegraphed since the start of a half-mile long straight. They’ll battle with each other, and having been overtaken will (in the tougher races) work hard to overtake you back without doing the stereotypical GT “just drive into them” technique, but they seem totally oblivious to you until you’re in front of them. It’s something we’ve become used to in Gran Turismo, but that doesn’t make it right. This is a racing game after all, and you’d have thought by now you shouldn’t need to rely on playing online to get some more fighty action on track. Who knows, maybe some extra processing power on the PS4 will allow a new layer of AI to be implemented.
Elsewhere the tyre squeal doesn’t sound too hot, the background music is as awful as ever and those rolling starts are still in full effect in most events – why can’t we choose to have proper grid starts in the single player mode? But it’s the engine sounds which are deceptive and will depend on how you gear yourself up before playing. Through the TV, most engines sound a but feeble (although more powerful beasts still have some good rumble to them) but as I mentioned in our EX-06 review, if you’ve got a decent set of headphones it’s a totally different kettle of fish. When not using the often-pathetic speakers found in modern TVs the engine tones suddenly become strong, powerful and far more like what you’d expect to hear belching out of the back of your newly purchased and upgraded Ferrari.
A key thing to remember about GT6 is that it gets better the more you play – once you earn the higher licenses and get enough cash to start taking part in some of the higher powered races the true nature of the handling and driving qualities become crystal clear. Play online with other real people and you’ll get some fiercely competitive races that make for incredible replays, and the insanely addictive seasonal event time trials only go to emphasise just how amazing the series has become in terms of the actual driving itself. I’d love the AI to get that final push to be more aggressive, but at least they won’t drive into you if you spin and end up facing the wrong way and it’s great fun following an AI battle between 2 or 3 cars and trying to pick the right moment to nip through without making contact. There’s still not much of a damage model so contact doesn’t cause much by way of a problem, but in more beefy cars it’s very easy to get knocked into the gravel and lose precious seconds.
Gran Turismo 6 still isn’t the perfect racer we’ve been hoping for, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s very very good and is an entirely suitable way to close the series on the PS3. We’ve now got GT7 to look forward to with all of the extra muscle of the PS4, and the very idea of that is pretty exciting. For now though you’ll get a huge amount out of GT6, and chances are you’ll lovely almost every moment.
Reviewed on PS3