It’s taken me quite a while to get my review of Gran Turismo 6 live on Digitally Downloaded. Why? Because it’s such a darned big game, and it took me a long time to really appreciate just how great it is.
It’s almost overwhelming at first. Despite an easy tutorial walking you through the basic racing mechanics, despite the first car purchase being mandatory (and meaning you don’t need to wade through the massive lineup of cars and manufacturers to find one to use at the start), and despite the very easy first couple of races, Gran Turismo 6 is an intense game with a lot of menus to wade through and a lot of difficult decisions to make. At times it feels like you’re spending more time in the menus, tweaking cars and optimising performance, than actually racing on the track.
In fact, the first time I went into a car’s customisation menu I nearly ran out of the room in terror. I’ve played a lot of racing games in the past (and I have a love of serious racing sims too, such as the F1 games), but Gran Turismo 6 is for whatever reason my first GT game that wasn’t on the PSP. As hard as the developers have worked to present the information in a clear, concise manner, I found that there is so much information to deal with that for the first couple of hours it was completely unwieldy.
There’s a steep learning curve on the racetrack too. This is not simply because it’s a serious racing game, rather than something like Need for Speed. Gran Turismo 6 features a lot of tracks (so mastering all of them takes longer than a normal racing game), and the difference between a standard road car and a high-powered race car is significant. It’s appropriate that the more powerful car, the better it feels on the race track, because the smaller engines feel overly sluggish and don’t seem to attack corners cleanly enough. Powerful cars speed around the circuits cleanly and corner gloriously, but because it takes a solid few hours before you’ll have the in-game credits to buy these cars and the higher racing classes unlocked to drive them on. In other words Gran Turismo 6 has a slow start to it that might well discourage racing fans. After all, people go into a racing game looking to drive fast, and there isn’t really a way to expediate that slow introduction to racing if you’re experienced enough that you don’t need a gentle learning curve.
The other disappointment which managed to put me off the game initially is that the range of cars. It’s quite spectacular that despite having just shy of 1200 cars, Gran Turismo 6 is missing key lines from key manufacturers. I don’t care that there are several dozen Hondas. I don’t like Honda. The fact that there’s only one Maserati (and not even one of the better Maserati models) disappoints me greatly. Because there are 1200 cars, just like throwing a thousand darts at a dart board a couple are hit the bullseye and players will find favourite cars and collect up a nice garage as they play, but for all the excess, there are racing games out there with fewer, but better balanced lines of cars. Heck, even Real Racing 3 had a better sense of car progression.
With all of that said, here’s why GT6 is one of the best racing games ever; once I got through that introductory period I quickly forgot about all my initial complaints, because the racing itself is so refined and slick that I relished the challenge of grinding my way through the leagues and participating in race after race after race. The range of tracks is truly spectacular (and Mt. Panorama is especially well realised, Aussie racing fans), and the sensation of nailing a corner in a fast car is almost indescribable; there’s a genuine thrill to hitting perfect racing lines and shaving a half second off your best times, or successfully weaving through a half dozen cars to come out on top right at the finish line.
The real race in GT6 is against the clock, because the car AI is generally quite poor, though fun to race rings around. They’ll stick to decent racing lines, and if the AI has got a more powerful engine then you’re not going to be able to catch it, but they’re also not especially inspired opponents, and it’s painfully obvious that you’re racing against robots.
Still, aiming for fast times is a rewarding challenge in its own right, and there’s always online if you want to test your abilities against human racers. I was very impressed with how slick the online interface is, and how easy it is to organise races against cars of approximately the same power rating (after all, it would be no fun trying to race a Mini Cooper against that Maserati). Online players tend to be quite good at the GT6 craft, so it’s best to log plenty of hours of play working through the single player ranks first to prepare yourself for that experience.
In terms of presentation, I could do without the music soundtrack, which is largely filled with fast guitar junk and second-rate pop music, but the visual style is great. Looking the screenshots you might think it all looks a little simple and old aesthetic shortcuts like ugly 2D sprites for humans remains an issue, but in motion the sensation of speed is good and there’s the odd moment when the wonderful lighting engine provides some stunning vistas of glistening cars racing around spectacular tracks. Urban environments such as Madrid and Tokyo are also especially well rendered.
With the PlayStation 4 out now and selling strongly, Gran Truismo 6 is likely Sony’s last major hurrah for the PS3. It’s perhaps a niche game in that many people would rather their racing games to come with arcade thrills, but for the more serious racing game fans out there, it’s impossible to deny that GT6 is a very fine way to send out the PS3 indeed.
– Matt S.
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