Gran Turismo 6 Review
Gran Turismo is one of the oldest and most respected names in racing games worldwide, and the final, eventual release of GT5 back in 2010, which felt years too late, was a mixed affair: sure, the graphics were an improvement and the car selection was massive, but other areas like AI and sound seemed almost entirely untouched. The game's interface was notoriously cumbersome, and loading times on the PS3 were excruciating. That was a mere three years ago, and for developer Polyphony Digital, that's a short time in between game releases. But here's Gran Turismo 6, on PS3 whether gamers want it there or not: how does PD's latest fare in the world of sim racing where there's more competition on Xbox and on PC than ever before? Not as well as I'd hoped, honestly.
The most obvious new features PD brings to Gran Turismo 6 are the moderately improved renderer that tweaks the lighting a bit and the larger-than-ever selection of cars (1200+ at launch) and tracks that puts nearly all other competition to shame. There's something more subtle and possibly even more interesting, though: GT6 includes an updated tire and suspension model that adds realism to the feel of getting and losing grip, and to feel the suspension of a car shift as you brake and turn. On top of this, the interface has been vastly improved to make it easier to upgrade your car, switch between cars in your garage, and get into races quickly.
There are some downsides, though, and they're mostly the same issues that GT5 had. Hundreds of cars here are still of what GT5 fans will remember are "Standard" cars, which means their polycounts and in-car detail are little more than PS2-era quality, dating back about a decade. (In this game, there's no longer any official designation of Standard and Premium cars, but after a while looking at the differences, it's pretty easy to tell which is which.)
The track selection is fantastic, though, and I should take time to point out that of all the PC racing sims released this year, either on PC or on consoles, the only one that came with a version of the Nurburgring Nordschliefe is Gran Turismo 6. PD's dedication to offering a huge selection of tracks to race on (including some excellent new ones) is commendable, but in doing this, they've made the iffy decision to let other parts of the game languish for over a decade now with no appreciable improvement. The AI is still mostly braindead and just drives around like zombies, almost completely unaware of the player and his or her movements on the track. TIre and engine sounds are still downright awful, too, with nearly every car sounding like angry little digital gremlins instead of the roaring beasts that many of them are.
For most developers, three years is plenty of time to rebuild everything in a sequel, but racing games are a little different. They need a vast amount of content to stay relevant and competitive; just look at the slow trickle of new cars being added to PC racing games like Assetto Corsa and iRacing to see what it's like when you don't have eight-figure budgets to make a new game. Still, I doubt anyone thought that GT5's biggest problem was a lack of cars or tracks, so I'm not sure that PD has their priorities straight. They've been dragging on old content from past games for too long in order to pad out an already-large list of cars, and the result is a game that, especially coming out after the launch of the PlayStation 4, feels like an old relic - like it's part of a franchise that can't let go of the past and refuses to get with the times. Sony probably thought that GT6 would serve as a great, final hurrah for the PS3, but now that DriveClub has been delayed until months after the PS4's launch, they might be regretting not bumping GT6 up to the new console some time in development.
I bought a PS4 this year, even though I wasn't terribly excited for the games coming for it. One of the reasons I felt comfortable doing that was because Microsoft and Turn 10, creators of the Xbox One and Forza Motorsport 5 respectively, left behind those of us who bought steering wheels for their last console and game. I don't think I can go back to sim racing with just a controller, but to ask me to buy a brand new wheel when a rather expensive one I bought less than a year and a half ago (one with a Forza-branded jewel in the center of the wheel, nonetheless) works just fine - well, that's just greedy on Microsoft's part.
Funnily enough, Gran Turismo 6 supports my Forza-branded Fanatec CSR wheel while the latest Forza game doesn't. So, kudos to Sony and PD on continuing device support. Sure, the game still handles the clutch and shifter incorrectly, completely ignoring your shifts if you don't engage the clutch just right, but hey, it's better than what Microsoft did, which is to tell everyone some ridiculous line that you've literally reinvented the (steering) wheel and that the old force feedback wheels we've invested in are incompatible. PD doesn't support my steering wheel quite the way I'd like, but it's a lot better than Microsoft telling me I gotta buy a new one - especially when the only offering on their racing game this year doesn't even have a separate shifter module or a clutch pedal.
With all of that said, I am aware that only a small percentage of console racing game players even bother to use wheels, and in that case, yes - the controller works about as well for GT6 as you might expect, although just as before, you'll need to learn to feather the accelerator (whether you set it on a trigger or a button) and execute supreme stick control in order to tame the 600hp+ RWD beasts in the game. Well, either that or you can just make use of the game's generous assists.
I've been complaining about this in racing game reviews for a while and I'm going to continue, especially since GT6 is especially guilty of it: what is with console racing sims and their incessant need to start you in last place every single race, then make you play catch-up over only two or three laps? GT6 winds up even worse than other games because it starts most races from a rolling start where the AI driver in first place is already way ahead of you. Some have said that this is precisely because PD is trying to minimize the players' interaction with its sub-par AI, and it does kind of make sense if we consider that bad AI is a given - but that's from our perspective. Instead of just fixing their AI, PD chose to artificially add difficulty in different ways instead, getting us further away from what I'd consider a fair race against AI drivers.
What I find amusing is that while Gran Turismo on PSP was kind of a disappointment, it allowed players to choose how many laps we wanted for each race, giving us more money for more laps - and on top of that, it also started players with a normal grid rather than a rolling start. Why can't we get that all of that in a big-budget release?
There are other elements that can be frustrating, the biggest of which that I haven't mentioned yet is GT6's still-simplistic damage model and crash physics. You're still largely playing bumper cars here, and while I get that companies like Ferrari won't license their cars out if the developers insist on allowing them to be crushed and twisted horribly, PD could at least augment the cosmetic effects with functional damage that affects handling and performance. One element I'm really happy with, though, is the developers' commitment to doing dynamic weather and day/night effects, as these add a very unique twist to some tracks - challenging circuits like the Nurburgring become downright deadly and hellish when you drive them at night with all assists off - and even worse when you turn on the rain. For those who are looking for a challenge, that's where Gran Turismo 6 shines - not between you and its sub-par AI, but between you, the car, and the environment.
GT6 does have at least a few issues that I'm sure will eventually be fixed - for one, the money-grubbing cash-for-credits can be circumvented via an exploit. Then there's the 280 mph Daihatsu Mira, or the way the game keeps turning traction control back on when you switch cars, no matter how many times you turn it off. The first bug is probably unfixable since it involves deleting the updates from your PS3 which is not going to ever be disallowed, and frankly, maybe it's good that it can't be fixed. But the other two, well, it'd probably be a good idea to fix those. (And I'd love to have the game recognize my Fanatec shifter properly and grind the gears if I don't engage the clutch properly, rather than just ignoring my shifting entirely.)
A lot of the problem with Gran Turismo 6 its timing. If it had come out a month or two before the release of the PS4, it'd feel like a more appropriate release and a final hurrah for the PS3, even with its problems. But launching here in December, after the PS4's already out, makes it even clearer that PD's clinging onto everything they've been building over the last decade-plus and are pushing it out at the last minute on the platform they're most used to. It's not that it seems like they're not challenging themselves, but instead that their priorities are in the wrong place and that they are still having trouble with development times.
Studio head Kazunori Yamauchi has stated that a new Gran Turismo on PS4 won't take as long as some past installments because his team doesn't have to re-do much of their past work. I hope he changes his mind: the game needs revamps of many systems (like AI, damage, and sound), and the devs need to leave the old Standard car relics in the past where they belong. PD's efforts in building the most vast collection of cars and tracks to play in and on is commendable, but they were already the leaders in this regard. Now we need the rest of the game to be properly rounded out. Yes, I'm willing to wait to see that.
The tough part about judging Gran Turismo 6 is that it's clear that Polyphony Digital put an overwhelming amount of effort and love into their latest game, and the challenge between you and the road is better than ever. But much of the effort put in is not what its millions of fans will appreciate or value, especially when it comes at the cost of leaving some of the game's most frustrating issues almost completely untouched. The interface and renderer have gotten the biggest improvement, the suspension and tire model has moved forward, and the overwhelmingly large number of cars and tracks will keep variety up over a career spanning dozens and dozens of hours, but the visual quality of hundreds of the game's previously-"Standard" cars as well as the sound, AI, and damage models, years-old as they are, seem even worse as new hardware and even more advanced racing games are coming out.
If Sony wants to get serious with racing simulators on their new system, they're going to be left with an uncomfortable choice: either let Polyphony Digital take a few years to recreate cars and tracks worthy of the new console, or just keep the old ones like, as limited in look and feel as they are on the PS3, and port them to the new one for a quick Gran Turismo 7 release like they've partially done with the last two games. That's not an easy choice to make. If you're stuck on the current gen for a while and can't do without the latest racing sim release, go for GT6; if you're not that into it, you can safely skip GT6 and go next-gen soon instead.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail, bought copy of the game and was played on both a standard DualShock 3 controller and Fanatec CSR wheels/pedals/shifter.