It’s ironic, really. While there’s nothing more irritating than a Sunday driver when you’re on the road, Gran Turismo 6 feels like the Sunday drive of the car simulation genre. By that I don’t mean that it’s annoying to get stuck behind, or that it hogs the middle lane on the motorway, I simply mean that it’s quite chilled and laidback. There’s something captivatingly serene about Gran Turismo 6.
When it was first revealed as a Playstation 3 game, I – along with many others – frowned and simply asked “why?” Sony had a big new console launch coming up and even though that machine was already being gifted with Drive Club, Gran Turismo is still Sony’s flagship racing title. Why release another iteration in the PS3’s dying days? After spending a good chunk of time with Gran Turismo 6 it’s obvious why – content.
The thing that always bugs me when we go from one generation of consoles to the next is the removal of, or reduction in, content and features between iterations of games in this ilk. It takes an entire console generation for a studio to add times of day and weather effects – then a new shiny console comes along and they’re gone again.
Gran Turismo 6 could have been developed as a PS4 game, it could have focused on delivering shiny cars at the expense of features, but instead it stays on PS3, refines its handling engine, and focuses on delivering an incomparable content and feature spread that borders on the fanatical. Did I say borders? I meant zooms well past the line and nestles comfortably in the fanatical domain.
Having almost 1200 cars would be enough to earn such status, and that is indeed an impressive feat – as is including 37 different track locations – but the dedication to detail and authenticity extends beyond the cars themselves. Weather, all types of day, gorgeous environmental lighting, these are the things that really help give you the feeling that you’re experiencing driving in all its lights. But this attention to detail really hit me when I was navigating the surface of the moon in the LRV from the Apollo 15 mission and I noticed the Orion constellation in the stars above. Yes, really: Orion.
Ok, yes really: the moon. Gran Turismo 6 is impressive in its fanaticism not just for racing cars and typical circuits, but for its adoration of all automotive design and engineering. From the aforementioned moon buggy to Corsas to Ferraris to Go-Karts, there’s a comprehensive obsession with anything on four wheels here that not only informs and educates, but also provides far more variety than any game about cars has any right to.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll spend most of your time in the standard automobiles, braking early for corners, practicing your light acceleration and what not, but Gran Turismo 6’s distractions are frequent and enticing. After sneaking around Silverstone in a basic Vauxhall it’s thrilling to zip around its bends in a nippy Go-Kart, hugging the track and largely ignoring the brake as you leap corners with unstoppable adolescent momentum. Between its core racing, coffee break minigames (knock over traffic cones as quickly as possible), exhaustive library of cars and race styles, and special event situations (Goodwood, the moon etc.), there’s a variety of challenge and play here that you just don’t expect from a “sim” title.
What’s more, this variety extends beyond the real. Vision GT is a segment of Gran Turismo 6 dedicated to concept cars created by every car manufacturer you can think of. And Nike. Only one is available right now, the LED grilled Mercedes-Benz, but this element shows how Gran Turismo is not only a comprehensive view of racing’s past and present, but also as a conduit for automotive experimentation. Gran Turismo 6 isn’t just looking at and appreciating cars, it’s very much part of the lexicon.
This dedication to the engineering of auto-mobiles can, and does, give Gran Turismo 6 a somewhat muted presentation and this is where that serene, Sunday drive feeling comes from. There’s minimal pressure to really do anything in Gran Turismo 6. No levelling system, no career narrative – Gran Turismo 6 is just a thing that is there to be explored and enjoyed. This lack of pomp and circumstance is surprisingly refreshing, with the game simply listing challenges and tasks and saying, “Here you go, enjoy. By the way, did you know that the LRV has tires made of metal due to…?”’ You do have to earn stars and licenses to unlock faster challenges, of course, but it’s easy to do this, and the game is constantly adding distractions and trying to coax you away to side snippets.
Gran Turismo 6 does start a little slow, though. A brief tutorial gives you a bit of info (brake on straights, don’t brake whilst turning, accelerate on straights) before turning every assist on (you can turn them off, of course, but GT 6’s menu’s are far from intuitive). You’re then forced to endure the early challenges in a basic Honda. You can’t play online until you earn your “A” License either, which is a good two or three hours’ worth of racing if you’re easily distracted.
Not that Gran Turismo 6 is hard, it’s just that it has this unavoidable treadmill that some might be annoyed they have to run. Computer AI is incredibly anti-aggressive, and if you leave the assists on then you’ll have no trouble demolishing them as you shave corners and barge past them. Even with the AI slider notched up to 10, the arcade mode AI wasn’t noticeably hostile.
But then that’s where online comes in. Here, you can race against human competition to your heart’s content, as well as take part in community challenges that change over time. This is where people will drive more aggressively, and more daringly. When playing offline, the difficulty is derived from knowing your car and knowing the track, searching for optimal routes and going for the best times. Online is the step you take once that’s all in your brain, because that’s when the other cars will start to truly test you.
You can tell that this is Polyphony’s plan when you realise how players can create and join communities. You’re meant to go online and play regularly, getting to know the car enthusiasts around you. The game’s online component is designed as a clubhouse, of sorts, where you can find those that like to race like you, and you can enjoy their company. Like the main game, this feature feels quite chilled out, focused more on just the being there than the winning.
If you don’t fancy heading online then don’t worry. While it’s simple enough to muddle through the game, simply breathing in the night-time courses, the gorgeous sunsets, and the lovely details, the usual difficulty of earning gold trophies and perfecting lap times remains, and is as compelling a carrot as ever. It’s just that Gran Turismo 6 is a very easy game to relax with, it’s not a title that’s trying to raise your blood pressure.
There are a few issues, mind. The damage model presented here is pathetic, visually amounting to little more than someone coughing dirt on your car. The collisions themselves are rubbish too, presented with all the audio-visual impact of a feather hitting a sponge. Elsewhere, load times verge on painful, averaging 15-20 seconds but occasionally lasting in excess of 30. In isolation they aren’t so bad, but if you partake in a few races in quick succession you’re collectively losing a few minutes to a loading logo. I realise that this is the 15th anniversary of Gran Turismo, but there’s no need to remind us about the PSX’s loading struggles.
VERDICT: Gran Turismo 6 isn’t perfect, but it’s frighteningly comprehensive. Spending time with Polyphony Digital’s PS3 swansong is like being taken on a scatter-brained museum tour of automotive engineering’s past, present and future. A love letter to anything on four wheels and the beauty of racing, Gran Turismo 6 is a studious package that delivers varied, precision gameplay in a calm, zen-like atmosphere that’s quintessentially… well, Gran Turismo.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.