Gran Turismo 6 review: showing off

By Garnett Lee, Dec 12, 2013 10:30am PST

Sixteen years after the release of the original Gran Turismo, creator Kazunori Yamauchi and his team at Polyphony Digital are still trying to create “the real driving simulator.” The latest effort, Gran Turismo 6 for PS3, may be familiar for series regulars, but new features and tweaks give it real impact.

The game begins by dropping me behind the wheel for a couple of warm-up laps at Brands Hatch. Right from this familiar beginning, though, it catches my attention with the first nuances of its improved progression system. Instead of pitting me in a 500+ horsepower exotic, I'm in a Renault Clio—a car that hasn't been sold in the States in over twenty years. Its choice speaks volumes. With a massive 1200-car garage, GT6 will have players behind the wheel of a whole gamut of vehicles, eventually including sports cars and race cars capable of amazing speed.

Gran Turismo's progression attempts to give players an idea of how to unlock the amazing potential of the game's more exotic cars before handing over the keys. For experienced drivers, tips like "when the line turns red, it means you need to hit the brakes. If you don't, bad things will happen," will seem overly didactic. However, for drivers who don't live and breathe sim-racing, the blunt approach is appreciated. The designers did a fantastic job of matching these tips to the pace of the Clio as I worked my way around the circuit. By its close, the game at least armed me with a good general sense of what to do out on the track, not unlike having an instructor at a real-world track.

But it's not going to just plop me down in a Ferrari yet. I stand at the beginning of my journey to earn that seat and GT6 hands me the keys to a Honda Fit RS. Uninspiring as that felt when I realized the game was going to force me to make it my first purchase, it turned out to be a perfect fit (pardon the pun) to the game's plan to continue teach me. Its front wheel drive layout, short wheel base, and forgiving chassis begged to be pushed. Against the drone-like AI in the novice ranks, I felt like a superstar and gained confidence.

As my garage expanded with a Focus RS and Clio RS, I grew to appreciate the new handling model in GT6. While all three of these cars exhibited the basic characteristics of front drive cars, each communicated their own personality. The Focus begged to be pulled out of corners on power while the Clio exhibited a nearly unreal capability to wait deep into a corner to apply the brakes and still cut in on a knife's edge.

What really brought home the fidelity in the game's handling model was the abrupt slap in the face I received when I moved to a '97 Supra RZ to tackle my first rear wheel drive class races. Every aspect of trying to get this twin-turbo beast harnessed felt different. However, GT6 does such an excellent job communicating all the aspects of its handling, that it took no time to adjust. Of all the driving games I've played, Gran Turismo 6 best embodies what sim driving games should achieve. It may or may not be perfectly "realistic," but it absolutely nails the sense of every part of the car responding to the situation and driving inputs I give in the way my mind tells me a car ought to.

Up to this point, the actual racing offered little racing challenge. GT6 obviously wanted to keep the focus on getting comfortable driving circuits at speed. Progressing through the novice and national B class races felt almost like playing golf. I raced more against myself, with the other cars on the track serving mostly as markers of my progress to the top much as golfers advance on the leaderboard aiming to beat the scores of those above them. Moving into the international ranks competition ramped up and it neatly coincided with what many drivers will find as a sweet spot for racing their favorite road going cars. This is the world of the BMW M3 and Ferrari 458, and it's a beautiful place to play. That said, the AI continues to make egregious mistakes and appears to use assists to ensure it never gets too far ahead or behind.

Gran Turismo 6 benefits from a much improved interface. It may sound like a small thing but simply having a clean interface that's easy to navigate makes Gran Turismo 6 a much nicer game to play. Simple structural improvements similarly improve the progression system. The core track consists only of races, neatly stacked one on top of the other in the menus to give a sense of order. Each race offers stars to be won and once enough are accumulated, the license test to advance to the next level unlocks. Given how they're incorporated into the progression, license tests now they feel like legitimate exams where I must prove I'm ready for promotion, and not just arbitrary gates I must pass.

All of what I'll call the “distraction events” still remain. They just live off to the side now where I can take them or leave them as I like. Challenges like knocking down a number of cones in a set amount of time do nothing to interest me and I don't feel the least bit incomplete now by not doing them.

Gran Turismo 6 also includes events from the legendary Goodwood Festival of Speed, a sort of auto enthusiast party in the UK countryside. Initially, I thought this would be an aimless, if indulgent, inclusion. But Goodwood fits right in with the spirit of Gran Tursimo, and it offers the perfect showcase for the many classic and one-off cars in the game. I've always wondered when I'd want to play with these cars. Showing off at Goodwood answers that question.

Showing off has always been a big part of Gran Turismo, and while it may not have next-gen graphics, it's still quite the looker on PS3. It makes some compromises out of necessity, with trackside crowds jarringly less attractive at times, for instance. More troubling are the occasional dips in framerate I encountered while driving in cockpit view. Not enough to disrupt the game, but enough to notice.

When it comes to the cars and tracks, though, Gran Turismo 6 shines as brightly as the first titles on the new consoles. Gone are the "standard" cars of GT5 with their low-polygon models. All 1200 cars in the game boast maximum detail, at least on the outside. It does disappoint me that many do not have an accompanying full interior for cockpit view, but a shadow outline of the windshield and dash that match the geometry of the car at least provide a playable solution. And with every car now photo-ready, expect to see a deluge of shots on car and game forums as fans flex their photographic chops both with race pics and photo travel glamor shots.

Gran Turismo 6's beauty is not just a still life, either. While racing, the lighting engine creates phenomenally believable environments. An early race takes place at twilight, a striking time of day to capture. Headed out, away from the sun my headlights illuminated the deepening shadows as darkness started to creep in on the track. Rounding a back corner I was suddenly blinded by the setting sun sitting huge just above the horizon. But unlike the washed out screen I've grown to expect whenever a game proudly proclaims its use of high dynamic range lighting (HDR), this properly captured the effect. The sun created a hotspot that all but blotted out any detail at its center but moving away from it my peripheral vision picked up as it naturally does when looking into the sun.

It comes as a real shock, then, that the other important sense to racing, sound, continues to languish in Gran Turismo. How its beautiful cars go streaking by accompanied by what sounds like a kazoo band escapes me. As anyone who has been to a racetrack can attest, the deafening roar of the cars lends a tremendous sense of excitement. Maybe my neighbors are just as happy at 2am that Gran Turismo still hasn't cranked up the sounds of racing but I want more.

Online play also requires some patience, although it does offer the potential for much better racing than the game's AI. The game allows anyone to create a lobby and put together whatever combination of options their heart desires. It makes a great approach for organized groups, but when I just want to get on and race a favorite track it's much less friendly. Browsing through lobbies to find one that looks like a good connection with a setup I like and then going through the process of connecting and getting configured to race takes far too many steps. It's a shame that so much time is wasted simply looking for a race, because once connected, Gran Turismo 6 is blissful.

Polyphony's latest may be burdened by familiar shortcomings, but Gran Turismo 6 reaches its greatest heights yet as a driving simulator. Seeing the light filtering through trees as I made a pass at wide open throttle, feeling the just-right feel of the nose of my car dipping under braking to get the front tire to bite and tuck into a perfect curve—moments like these impacted me as dramatically and fondly as any Gran Turismo before it. [8]


This review is based on retail PlayStation 3 code provided by the publisher. Gran Turismo 6 is now available for PS3 at retail and for download on PlayStation Network for $59.99. The game is rated E.

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