Review: Gran Turismo 6 (PlayStation 3 / PS3)

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Gran Turismo is back for its sixth major PlayStation release with the expected mix of fantastic feats and frustrating failings.

After keeping fans waiting a mere three years since GT5 (lightning fast by its previous standards) Japanese studio Polyphony Digital has produced the latest version of its long-running driving simulation - and it's a huge game in more ways than one. Huge, but messy and imperfect, as GT games have tended to be.

It's huge because it's the last big game release of the year but also because of the massive amount of content it contains.

Like Santa Claus with his sack of gifts, Polyphony has never been lacking in generosity - and it's the same here.

There are around 1,200 cars in GT6, which includes about 120 new ones. Many of the motors are slight variations on others and heavily biased towards Japanese manufacturers, but the variety on offer is still mightily impressive, ranging from the ordinary hatchbacks of Honda and Ford to the oddballs such as the bathtub-on-wheels Citroen 2CV to the awesome Bugatti, Ferrari and Pagani.

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Gran Turismo is as much an interactive car encyclopaedia as it is a video game.

Progressing through the career mode's championships, one-off challenges and licence tests, as well as participating in online seasonal events, allows credits to be accrued (albeit rather too slowly) which can be used to pay for customisations to enhance the cars or to buy new vehicles to improve your garage.

There are 37 courses and 100 layouts on which to race this fine selection of vehicles. The tracks include real-world circuits such as Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Nürburgring and Spa as well as an array of fictional courses and city circuits created by the GT team. Events take place at different times of day and in changing weather conditions to increase the variety.

Gran Turismo usually comes with a couple of gimmicks, and this time around there is the chance to drive a lunar rover on the moon and also to tackle the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb.

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Aside from content, the other area where the GT series has always excelled, and continues to do so here, is in the authenticity of its driving model.

The catalogue of cars all perform in line with expectations and handle in accordance with the individual nuances of their real-world versions in terms of speed, braking, grip, aerodynamics, weight distribution and so on - or at least how I imagine they behave in physical rather than virtual form, having never been behind the wheel of a Ferrari or a Le Mans racing car myself.

Play with a steering wheel rather than the controller and you get a completely different sensation with far greater feedback.

Of course when all is said and done, GT6 is still played on a console, it's still an illusion comprising little more than code that's meant to convince us we're driving real cars on real tracks. It's never going to fully live up to its billing as the 'real driving simulator' but thanks to Polyphony's highly tuned driving model and the extra tools that can be added to the experience, it does deliver something remarkably realistic and convincing given the confines it's up against.

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There are some areas of GT6 where it delivers results that are both good and bad, most notable of these is the graphics.

Attention to detail on the cars, both inside and out, and also on the scenery is absolutely staggering in many places. At other times the visual quality of the vehicles and tracks is much lower. GT6 is a really mixed bag in the looks department - in places it’s absolutely beautiful and in other places it’s outdated and unrefined. Particle effects for water and dust are particularly bad.

As I was with GT5, I’m still of the opinion Gran Turismo actually looks better when viewed in replay mode than during live racing.

There are several areas where GT6 hardly delivers at all and a mixed bag would be a blessing.

One of these is the AI, which is out-and-out bad.

There have been times when I’ve inexplicably found myself 10-12 seconds behind the leader after barely half a lap, only to suddenly and equally strangely be able to pull the gap back on the final lap and snatch victory at the last moment.

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There have been other times when I’ve been able to get into a seemingly comfortable lead, only to have an opposition car miraculously appear in my rear-view mirror on the final turn and threaten to overtake me on the home straight with a bizarre burst of speed.

What I’m trying to say is the racing never feels very real. It feels like the races are all meant to be closely contested no matter how far behind or ahead I might be at any point.

Additionally, the opposition drivers never display any personality or proper racing behaviour. They never seem to take risks or make mistakes (other than to be very straightforward to overtake) and they never seem to pass one another.

The racing is far too passive with no real thrills and spills, and the AI is definitely more artificial than intelligent.

Multiplayer is where you can supposedly find some serious racing action but I haven’t got on too well with it. After several attempts navigating the long, complicated list of rooms to try and find something which might suit my preferences and ability, all I’ve been able to find is small clusters of players messing around among themselves rather than ready-to-go races.

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Damage modelling is just about non-existent in GT6. Cars do not suffer mechanically at all and the only consequence of an accident is a few barely distinguishable marks on the bodywork. Of course, nobody really wants to see gorgeous cars getting all dinged up and nobody wants their race to end prematurely because of a spin, but the fact a car can bounce off a wall after a high-speed smash like a bumper car really harms the game’s realism at times.

Although GT6’s graphics are horribly inconsistent, the game does look better overall than GT5. This extends to the much- maligned menus too, which not only have an improved appearance but are also easier to use, at least on the homescreen.

There are still plenty of annoyances, however. For instance, on completing a race, there is no easy way to quickly get into the next event. The first option is to ‘retry’ which is stupid when you’ve just won a race. Instead, you have to scroll across the screen to find the ‘exit’ button, then go back to the track selection screen for that particular championship, then select the next track you want to race on, then click ‘enter’, then finally click ‘start’. It’s a long-winded and tedious process just to do something which should be simple.

The career structure of GT remains largely unchanged from previous games and so continues to be problematic.

A lack of credits at the start of the game means players have to start out with a slow poor-performing car. Newcomers to the series looking for some instant excitement are going to be very disappointed as they will be required to grind through many events before they get even remotely close to being able to afford a decent ride.

Veteran GT players, meanwhile, will have to put up with effectively starting from scratch again no matter how far they have got in previous games, including having to play through the same basic driving tests they would have completed multiple times before.

There are micro-transactions within GT6 which allow players to part with real cash in exchange for in-game credits so they can afford the better cars more quickly. Technically, if you used only micro-transactions to purchase the most expensive vehicles you could end up spending upwards of £100 per car. Only the most stupid or impatient of people will fall for this trick and for everyone else the transactions are not intrusive at all, but the fact they are even in a full-price retail game to begin with is frankly diabolical.

The final GT6 flaw I’ll mention is the woeful sound. The cars sound sickly, like they’re a collection of electric shavers going around a track rather than a fearsome bunch of automotive beasts. The soundtrack is dismal too, featuring an out-of-date and often out-of-place selection of jazz, dance and rock tunes playing in the background.

With no commentary or other voiceover work anywhere in GT6, it does feel lifeless at times.

The verdict

It may seem odd for me to conclude by saying this after listing off a long list of issues, but I’ve still really enjoyed my time with GT6 so far.

I’m not sure whether it’s despite or because of its various continuing quirks and eccentricities but there’s still something very endearing about the series – and, although it’s a long way short of being perfect, number six is still the biggest and best edition in the series’ 15-year history.

Racing games have come on leaps and bounds in recent years.

Gran Turismo used to have the road almost to itself, but now it has to contend with much more traffic, and there are some real supercars out there. The best looking of them is the F1 series from Codemasters, while the most fun of them are the Need For Speed and Dirt games of recent years.

But if you want something that still provides a hardcore (albeit not entirely real) driving simulation with an unrivalled amount of content and authentic handling model, GT remains the one to go for.

8 out of 10

Out now for PlayStation 3

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