More than 15 years after the first version of The Real Driving Simulator hit the PlayStation, the sixth iteration has landed. I spent a week in its company to find out whether it's still the king of the sims.
"There ain't no replacement for displacement," goes the old American saying. It crossed my mind as my KTM X-Bow was overtaken on the Mulsanne Straight by a bright blue Corvette C7 in arcade mode with the difficulty set to "really, really hard." No matter how late I braked, or how fast I took the corners, every time there was some clear air it'd take me without a moment's notice. V-8 versus blown four-pot, I didn't stand a chance.
The Gran Turismo series has been beating people all over the world for over 15 years now. It's the byword for console driving sims, seeing off contenders like Forza and even GRID. However, the last iteration, GT5, was a bit too accurate for my liking. It was a driving simulator so bang-on it successfully managed to recreate the drudgery of everyday driving. I hated it. I went into GT6 hoping for much, but not expecting anything.
As is the norm with Gran Turismo there are a couple of game modes -- Arcade for quick fixes and the full-on Gran Turismo mode for your proper simulation needs. I stuck to GT mode and played it pretty solidly for a week to see what's what.
You start in a Renault Clio RS for a lap of Brands Hatch to see just how good you are. The game will give you some handy hints as you assault the track (stuff like: "Turning is a great way to tackle corners"). It's a nice way for the game to subtly judge you and for you to have a little fun before diving in.
By diving in, I mean before you're given 30,000 credits and told to buy a Honda Jazz. That kinda cash could get you a tasty Mk 2 Mazda MX-5, but instead you HAVE to buy a shopping trolley. Hardly a glamorous start to a racing career, is it?
Anyway, you're then told to go racing in the local cups, and so on. Nice, simple races against cars at a similar level. This would be a wonderful thing except the people at your level are on day release from the local hospital. That said, pretty much all the AI is a bit on the ropey side, just with varying degrees of talent.
As you work your way up the cars get faster and competition gets tougher, that's a given in a racing game, but GT6 still wants you to win. In one race I'd managed to hoon from the back (and why must you start at the back in every race?) to third place by the end of lap one; halfway through the second I'd breezed past the dude in first. I won by 9 seconds. Impressive, no? Well...I decided to experiment by hitting restart and waiting the 9 seconds I'd not really needed before. I won that race by 7 seconds. The leaders of every race I entered would always storm ahead to a point then simply stop trying. Until I noticed what was happening I felt pretty good about myself, then I felt a bit cheated.
Silly AI aside, there is another issue -- the difference between "premium" and "regular" cars is a biggie. A selection of GT6's 1,200 cars has been given the full Polyphony Digital treatment. Every detail lovingly crafted to take advantage of the PS3's not inconsiderable processing power, fully rendered interiors await your avatar's virtual arse as well. The rest...well, they appear to be reskins of cars from GT4.
Now, not all the cars in the game were created equal and there are questions to ask here: 1) Why isn't such care and attention paid to all the cars? After all, it's Gran Turismo, the most anal of all the console sims. 2) Do you really care about seeing a rendered interior of a 2002 1.6-litre Citroen C3?
If you genuinely care about the latter I suggest you get out more. Maybe meet another human?
Polyphony Digital is particularly proud of the big handling changes for GT6 -- better steering and more realistic tyre physics. And both are pretty hard to notice on a game pad.
You hear the tyres squeal going into any corner on any track thanks to GT6's sound design leaning toward "MAKE THE TYRES REALLY NOTICEABLE" and an analogue stick makes smooth steering really difficult, it just does. That's not to say it's bad with a pad, far from it, you just have to be very careful with your inputs.
However, get yourself a 'wheel like the Thrustmaster T500RS we borrowed for this review and you'll find yourself having a far more realistic experience. You can feel whether you're exceeding grip limits thanks to feedback through the wheel, you learn how much steering lock is too much pretty swiftly, and you have a relatively close experience to driving a proper car. Well, as close as you can get with a plastic wheel bolted to a desk. It's really rather good and I can't recommend it enough.
Gran Turismo's handling has always been its high point and the sixth installment doesn't let it down -- pretty much everything is adjustable, too, so you can turn your already brilliant ride into something much faster OR do what I often do and ruin it forever.
Oh, and yes, the license tests are back in GT6. They halt your progression to the next set of races until you best them but, if I'm honest, I actually found them rather useful this time round. Where I (and many others, I suspect) used to waft through and get a bronze, this time I went for the gold. Not just once, but three or more times, to actually learn the lesson the game was trying to give me.
As a user experience it's been vastly improved over its predecessor -- the menus are fluid and good-looking, rather than clumsy as they used to be. There are a few irritants, though. To get from one license test to the other you can't simply flick through after finishing one, you have to go out of test A's submenu, go back to the license screen, and go in to test B's submenu. Considering loading times are a bit lengthy it can get a bit irksome. I'd suggest keeping YouTube open to fill your time.
Oh, and you can also drive on the Moon. A fun addition, if a little incongruous because, well...it's driving on the moon.
In summary, Gran Turismo 6 is a great simulation even though the AI is a bit on the dozy side, some menus are fiddly, loading times can stretch, and you can't see the interior of a Citroen C3. In places it looks better than Forza 5, too. Want a driving game to tide you over until the PS4's take on Gran Turismo? Buy...Gran Turismo.
You can buy Gran Turismo 6 for PlayStation 3 now and I suggest you do.