Gran Turismo earned its racing stripes back on the original PlayStation and has become one of Sony’s most valuable franchises over the years. While the track and vehicle numbers have ballooned so have the sales figures. The second and likely final installment, Gran Turismo 6, arrives on the PlayStation 3 just as the console is reaching the end of its life cycle. With a massive list of cars, an expanded track list, improved physics and some interesting special events, the amount of content is astonishing. Though, numbers aren’t all that matter in the automotive world. Is GT6 all simulation and no stimulation?
Gran Turismo 6 boasts over 1,200 cars, all of which are a joy to drive thanks to an improved physics engine. Tire wear also seems less severe, with the focus shifting toward heat, traction and weight shifting. Progression is handled with a star system, locking off the various license tests until a number of stars have been earned across an array of races. The selection is enough to cater to any degree of skill, and there should be at least one option for cars already in the garage. Even when a car needs to be purchased, income was never an issue. Credits are generous in regular and special events with bonus cash at the end of tournaments.
The interface is light years beyond previous titles. It is much faster, more colorful, and easier to understand. A quick menu can be accessed via the start button, for quickly changing settings or cars without having to backtrack through race menus. Navigation is only halted by the loading of races themselves. In lieu of a massive single install, the game will cache data at the beginning of the race, theoretically reducing the load time the next time the track or cars need to load. The issue is, there isn’t ever a detectable difference between something that has been cached or not.
Online offers the same great experience, but with much more options. Lobbies can be a bit sparse, but given the amount of fine tuning and restrictions that can be put in place, each race can be tailored to a specific skill level or desire. Load times were a bit longer than the single player races, but offered its own unique experience.
With licensing deals and realistic release schedules preventing full damage modeling on all vehicles, a smaller roster with more risk involved would bring even more meaning behind the racing. Finishing a race feels cheap when half a lap has been spent scraping the walls. The lack of meaningful damage has been an issue with GT for years, but the majority of race enthusiasts never tough the walls anyway. The visual damage sells the “rubbing is racing” mantra, but make little sense when a Corvette decides to plant itself in the cold embrace of a concrete barricade at 200 mph.
Unchanged from the last game, there are still two classifications: the standard cars and the premium cars. Standards look fine, with some rough corners upon close inspection. The premium cars, while far fewer in number, have an incredible amount of detail, from the stitching in the fully modeled interiors to the shape and color of the brake calipers.
Standard cars offer far fewer visual options. Not only do they lack a majority of the aerodynamic options, but have no modeled interior and have a much lower quality model when compared to the premiums. Rough edges are apparent even in the dealership from quite a distance and textures that differentiate tail lights from bumpers can be pixelated and blurry. It’s a shame that the premium and standards have to be placed next to each other.
Tracks, which now number 37, offer a great mix of the classic original tracks unique to the series and some of the most famous raceways from around the globe. The variations come with alternate paths, time and weather, which make quite a difference in how one approaches certain corners. Some lighting has an adverse effect, as shadows are highly aliased and shiver across the asphalt, being distracting and ruining the illusion. The tracks themselves, from the desolate Willow Springs to the lush greenery of Brands Hatch are all faithfully recreated with the utmost care. It is the next best thing to racing on the real thing.
Engines sound authentic to each and every car. There is a problem, though. Taking a drive in a stock car is recipe for disaster in GT (except for the early races). Despite the vast differences in displacement and tuning, modified cars all tend to have the same engine sound. A fully upgraded 60’s Mopar will have the same engine sound as a fully upgraded 80’s Honda. Everything becomes the same race engine. As the cars reach their ultimate potential, their aural individuality fades away. It is a hard sacrifice to make for auto lovers.
The race and menu music features much more exciting and upbeat songs, making the long load times more palatable. The music in the dealerships are the same as ever, upbeat jazz that the series has kept around for years now, and can become slightly irritating after extended periods, especially as you search for that one special vehicle. There are some nice Easter eggs here and there, as jazz versions of holiday themes will play in the dealerships on certain dates. Also, the soundtrack can be fully customized or replaced altogether by playlists saved on the console.
Gran Turismo 6 offers an expanded vehicle roster with even more roads to conquer. But even more importantly, it adds variety, heart and an ease of use that was sorely missing from the last installment. Rather than being the ultimate driving sim, GT5 felt more like an interactive encyclopedia. The jazz soundtrack didn’t help either. GT6 changes up the progression and has a very improved UI, making it friendly for the casuals while retaining all of the tweaking capabilities for the hardcore. GT6 is the best in the series, but still retains issues that have been around for more than a decade.