Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Gran Turismo 6 Review

Red Bull X2014 Junior (with a VERY LOUD 2.0 flat-four and no downforce fan)
My right foot is pegged as I climb one of the many hills between me and the finish line. Thankfully I tackled it at the right speed for a safe landing, but I realise mid-flight that there's a problem with my choice of direction: there's a smaller but steeper lump just ahead that I can't avoid, what with a lack of air rudders and all. I hit it and start a slow-motion backflip. My driver's-eye view spins upwards, and as I glance at planet Earth, gliding across the starry sky, I think to myself "well, shit. That's not gone well..." as I land upside down, reset automagically, then pause and restart my Lunar Mission. Again.

Welcome to Gran Turismo 6.

After all the previews and exciting PR videos, I finally got my hands on Polyphony Digital's latest title this Christmas, and it's done the usual trick of completely sucking me in for days on end. Books have gone unread, films have gone unseen, but before returning to Swansea this past Monday I had managed to complete the final championship of the International-A events and watched the ending credits video that follows. Seeing as that's the fifth of six tiers of events finished, I feel I'm qualified to tell you what this game is like. In many ways, it's excellent. Some of the hype is thoroughly deserved. In other ways, perhaps not so much. On paper it appeared to simply be an overhauled GT5, with updated this, improved that and a couple of new features, and there are times when it does feel like just that rather than a brand new game. All the cars and tracks carry over, for example (with plenty of new ones added in), which makes it feel a bit familiar every now and then. What's more, it's arguably not even the finished game yet, as the Track Generator is completely absent. This is because they've decided to get the main parts of the game done on time for the 6th December release date and add the fun little extras in later, rather than delay it continuously like they did with GT5, a game which still turned out to be a bit disappointing in places. The best description of GT5 I've heard is that it's "a 10/10 simulator in a 5/10 game," although updates probably upgraded it to a 6/10 game in the end. Polyphony seem to have recognised this and made an effort to improve the game itself, while also overhauling their trademark graphics and physics to be a step improved again.

I'll look at GT6 in isolation after this paragraph, but in comparison to the previous game, noticeable improvements to the graphics include tyre smoke that doesn't become all jagged where it meets the car emitting it, and small circular car parts that aren't a series of small straight edges but actual curves. In fact overall it looks much better in subtle ways, like improved surface quality and lighting, but look closely and it's clear that while cars and tracks new to Gran Turismo for this edition have had so much attention lavished on them, the carry-overs are merely up-scaled and not re-worked in any way beyond being subjected to the new graphics engine. All the pictures in this review were taken by yours truly using the game's Photo Mode (there are 27 at the bottom because I got carried away), so you can get some idea of how it looks by having a look at them, but if you just sit back and stop fussing over details, it really is a gorgeous game. I don't think you could really ask for much more from the now-seven-year-old Playstation 3, only that Polyphony were more consistent in their execution.

One could argue that getting rid of the Standard Model cars (carried over from GT4, which was a PS2 game lest we forget...) and spending time upgrading the GT5 cars that little bit to GT6 quality would have been more satisfying, even if it would mean chucking out ~750 of the ~1200 cars. The reason this argument can be made is that the range of Premium Model cars is now big and diverse enough - with some of them being remodeled cars that were previously only Standard models - that you never actually need to use the GT4 cars at all. Sure, they couldn't brag about having six times more cars than Forza 5, but as I say, when you're only going to use just over a third or so of them, would it really be a problem? Besides, the Japanese do not brag, and I'm pretty sure Polyphony only exist in their own little bubble most of the time, not looking at competitors on other consoles.

The game's creators claim that Gran Turismo 6 "pushes the PS3 to its limit," and there are actually times when that seems apparent, particularly in the graphics processing. There are times in races when you're out on your own and it will momentarily run at what must be 60 frames per second, and it's incredibly smooth (the intro appears to be in 60fps format too). Alas, it can only manage that some of the time, and once during a replay of a NASCAR race at night when all 16 cars were in shot, it started to judder and lag just slightly as it rendered every car during a long panning shot down the back straight. Perhaps if your PS3 is newer than my original 2007 one, you'll be treated to a slightly smoother experience. Loading times aren't as bad as they were in GT5, but starting a race can sometimes take up to around 30 seconds after you pressed Start while it loads even more stuff. You can install game data onto your PS3 to allegedly reduce loading times, which I haven't done yet. Too busy racing!

McLaren F1 GTR (1995 LM24 overall winner), Renaultsport Clio 200 and my fave racing gear.
Both of these cars are really excellent in their own way. That Clio is a giant-killer!
But look, I don't want you to think that Gran Turismo 6 is a disappointment like its predecessor was, because it really isn't. As I've said above, it looks better, smoother and more realistic. The driving physics have been overhauled too, with data on tyres, suspension and aerodynamics from real-life companies to help them make the driving experience more life-like than ever, which is saying something. With a decent steering wheel I'd wager this is the most realistic racing game this side of a serious PC simulator, and with the new PlayStation 4 essentially being a jumped-up PC, that bodes well for the eventual seventh main title in the series too (potentially due in 2015). You can feel the tyres load up and lose grip to such an extent that you usually have just enough time do something about it if necessary, while weight transfer is clearly communicated through the wheel as well (I'm using a Logitec Driving Force GT, on which the Real-time Adjust feature still works for changing brake bias, AWD torque-split and driving aid settings on the fly). These two things mean that you know when the car's likely to break loose, which is great when you're not using traction or stability control (TC or ASM, to use the in-game acronyms) and you're really on it.

One thing I don't enjoy, though, is that the weight transfer in some select MR-layout cars is massive. The Audi R8 LMS ultra in particular is so difficult to get round a fast corner that I gave up on ever using it after repeatedly failing to hang onto the rear end in the first two turns of Apricot Hill. However, it's fair to say that I was still getting used to the new physics at that point. The R18 TDI proved similarly tricky at first, but when I returned to it later it turned out to be fine. The Lancia Stratos, on the other hand, is not fine. Its weight transfer is compounded of course by its absurdly short wheelbase and relatively high ride height, which makes it change direction a lot more than you were expecting and then not have as much control over its mass, despite said mass being very little. I needed racing suspension set up for understeer and soft tyres before it was even remotely trustworthy, and I still spun it! Apparently the real one's a handful too, to be fair, so maybe that's just realistic. You need a mix of smoothness and respect to lap that thing. Generally though, I have noticed that even on Racing Hard tyres, mid-engined racing cars can break away mid-turn on some long flat-out corners, possibly because of that weight transfer. Having not driven such cars in reality, I don't know how life-like that is. But if I ever win the lottery and enter FIA GT3 races, it'll be in a front-engined car (probably not a GT-R, as the 2013 Schulze car has too much understeer. The SLS is pretty good, or the Z4 if you sort out the occasional instability under braking). The thing is, though, that other MR-layout cars like the McLaren F1 GTR, Honda NSX, Ford GT40 Mk.1 and Dino 246 GT are lovely cars to drive. I'm not really sure how that works...

Before you can find all this out, though, you must buy a Honda Jazz. No, seriously, every other car in the Dealership - even other cars you can afford with your initial Cr.30,000 budget - is greyed-out until you buy the Honda Fit RS (or Jazz Si as the real one's called in Britain). But before you can even do that, you're immediately thrown into a Renaultsport Clio 200 in the pit lane at Brands Hatch. A couple of quick welcome messages appear, then they show you the basic controls as you roll down the pit lane and off you go to set a time around the short but challenging Indy circuit, a BTCC classic that's a hoot in the RS Clio, possibly my favourite hot hatch in the game and second only to the razor-sharp Honda Integra Type-R in terms of front-wheel-drive handling prowess. Happily, you win the Clio as a prize car early on. Anyway, with your time set, you're presented with the new home screen. It's a much cleaner layout than in GT5, with no tabs or jumble of rectangles to get your head around. Each segment is grouped into columns and you simply scroll across to reach each, while pressing Start lets you change or adjust your car whenever you want. It doesn't take long to learn where everything is. There aren't even separate Arcade and Career modes to dive in and out of any more. Arcade races are accessed next to the Career events, with "Single Player" and "Split Screen" options, the latter being very welcome in a world hell-bent on replacing split-screen multiplayer with Online functions instead. Of course, the online component is very much there as well, again not quite finished to the promised spec but revamped with the promise of further features in future updates. Online Seasonal Events are already up and running, so if you didn't get the Anniversary Edition and need an expensive car, they're an easy way to make as much as seven figures for doing a few weekly Time Trials (the prize money multiplier for signing in on consecutive days remains too). Mercifully, there is a single dealership with all the cars in it this time, divided up by world region with Standard and Premium models mixed together. How progressive! If you can't tell them apart, the "Gallery View" option is only available on Premium Model cars.

Coming back to Career Mode though, one huge improvement is that they've dropped the driver level system introduced in GT5. The system of levelling up by gaining XP points through racing works fine in other games like GRID 2 and Forza, but Gran Turismo has always used Licence Tests tiered similarly to real FIA racing licences, and having both systems in GT5 completely negated the need to do Licence Tests. This time, it's much better-structured. You start out doing Novice events that don't require a licence at all, gaining up to three stars per race (one for finishing, one for a podium and one for a win). Once you gain the requisite number of stars, you unlock National B Licence tests, of which there are now five instead of the usual eight. If you've played GT games before you'll recognise it instantly, as it starts with a simple go-then-stop test and gets more complex from there. Passing every test unlocks the National B tier of events and nets you a prize car, while gold trophies in every test will win you another one. This cycle continues through National A, International B, International A - after which you see the "Ending Movie" - and finally Super Licence tests and events, which I haven't tried yet due to being away from my PS3 at the moment. Each series of events is more comprehensive and more competitive than the last. They have managed to keep it interesting for you as you plow through these events by having a wide variety of formats and rule changes, like night races, timed events, wet-weather races and events for specific types of cars, forcing you to try out the diverse range of cars available, which is good as there's now a decent variety of every type*. What's more, to space out the racing and make it less of a grind, there are now little side missions you can do, unlockable by accumulating stars. There are "Mission Races" where you overtake one or more cars in a certain section of track in a given car, One-Make races where you need a certain car or type of car (ideally, get the one in the picture if you're given a choice, as that's what all the opponents will be) and Coffee Break challenges. These include cone challenges (either knock over as many as possible or avoid all of them), drift events and economy challenges where you have to go as far or as fast as possible using just one litre of fuel. Harder than you might think!

*Top Tip: If the vast array of manufacturers and tuning companies leaves you bewildered, then go instead to the "Recommended Cars" section for a streamlined choice of relevant cars for each event tier, or cars grouped by type (Supercars, Classics and "Hot" [trendy] Cars for road cars, and Rally, GT, Super GT and NASCAR for racers). If you need a go-kart then go to Gran Turismo in Dealership ->Asia-Pacific, where you'll also find specially-modified cars from GT5 Prologue and the extreme Red Bull X machines.

Ferrari 250GT SWB and Audi R18 TDI 15th Anniversary, enjoying the new Ronda location in Photo Travel.
Curiously, none of the GT5 Photo Travel locations are in GT6, and almost all the locations there are are in Spain...
But that's not all! As you progress through the main Career Mode events, you'll unlock the Special Events to the right of the home screen. Initially you'll be invited to take part in the Goodwood Festival Of Speed, which - sorry to brag - I've done in real life. Sort of. In total there are five sets of three events, all of which involve driving a given car, be it an obscure classic or a modern racer, up the famous and surprisingly tough Goodwood Hillclimb Course, which is so tough mostly because it's so bloody narrow! The final FOS challenge is not for the impatient or slow-witted as you have to get the 1600-horsepower Red Bull X2010 fan car up the hill in under 30 seconds. You will crash a lot. I thank my lucky stars that the one clean run I managed was a gold-trophy time. Then of course there are the Lunar Missions. There are only three of these (unless you unlock more during Super events). Two follow a route traced by the real moon explorers, where they give you a very wide route - limited at the edges by big red boundaries you mustn't cross - that looks patronisingly simple on a map, but can actually be extremely frustrating due to the terrain and the reduced gravity. The Moon Buggy Lunar Roving Vehicle itself has four-wheel-steer and an electric motor in each wheel, which sounds sporty, but the top speed is about 25mph and because the low gravity means less weight on the wheels and thus less traction, its reactions to your inputs are exceedingly slow. Like driving a rally car round Chamonix in slow motion, you have to turn well before you actually need to change direction, especially on the third challenge where you need to knock down 30 cones in 90 seconds on a circular course. If you've got the game and you haven't done them yet, here two bits of important advice:

> DO NOT HIT THE ROCKS. You'll be OK if you get them between the wheels, but if you catch a wheel on a rock (they're usually in clusters), you will do half a barrel roll, you will land upside down and you'll be reset automatically somewhere close to said rocks, at 0mph, in a car that accelerates slower than a fat child at Sports Day. This will impact on your time. If the rest of your driving is good enough, you can get away with one or two resets and snatch a gold trophy, but don't count on it.

> There are many Moon Dunes on these routes, which means you'll be airborne spaceborne quite a lot of the time. It's quite easy to take them as ramps, and if you do that then do so in a straight line on a relatively horizontal bit, lifting off the throttle or even dabbing the brakes just before you jump. Otherwise you'll likely be in trouble, landing at who knows what angle and probably rolling over. But hey, the replays will look cool.

Aside from those two things, though, lunar driving is strangely awesome. I love that it's in the game, and it symbolises what's great about GT because it lets you drive this incredible thing that you could only dream about driving in reality. Sure you haven't actually done it, but you'll have a much better idea of what it was like for astronauts on the real Moon embarking on some of the most important car journeys in history as they learned more about the universe. Magical.

Instead of a windscreen, you have a satellite dish in front of you. All-Wheel-Drive vital to help find any traction you can.
There is, however, one thing that still manages to take the shine off that magic for most of the cars, and it's one that has been present in every Gran Turismo title: poor engine sounds. Obviously that's not a problem on the moon, as there is no sound in space, but aside from a select few of the 1190 or so engine-powered Earth cars, the sounds are too synthetic or just plain wrong. The V12 Lamborghinis sound like the V10 Lamborghinis (Countach and Miura aside). The SLS and Z4 GT3 racers sounds like vacuum cleaners. The Audi Quattro rally car, famous the world over for its five-cylinder bark, sounds like a tuned Skyline. The Renaultsport Megane 250 sounds like it's got a V6 (it hasn't, unless we're talking mid-engined Megane Trophy silhouette racer). The McLaren F1 GTR racing cars sound like Peugeot 908 diesels, and the Peugeot 908 diesels in the game sound less like the real things than the McLarens do! This is baffling, because some of them (Ford GT40 Mk.1, Jaguar XJ13, Nissan Skyline GT-R and R35 GT-R, for example) sound exactly like their real-life counterparts, while other ones (Mazda 787B and most RX-7s, Ferrari 458, both Audi R8s and the C6 and C7 Corvettes among others) are at least close, if still too synthetic, and ironically the entirely fictional Red Bull X2010/11/14 cars sound incredible and pretty realistic. So how are they getting the rest of them so wrong?! Most baffling of all is the newly-added Pagani Huayra. From idle to 4000rpm, it sounds identical to the real car, but from there to the red-line, it sounds just as computer-generated as the others. You can change the engine sound with an exhaust upgrade, but on the Huayra adding a Sports Exhaust makes it sound like a Ferrari 458! The 15th Anniversary Huayra has this exhaust fitted as standard, so it I want to hear a semi-realistic Huayra sound, I'll have to drop Cr.1,350,000 on buying a normal one. You can also spot when one generic race car soundtrack has been used on more than one car.

This is the most frustrating flaw in the game for me, actually, more so than the still very limited damage (which now looks a lot better with crumpled metal effects, but is purely cosmetic). I can usually ignore it if I'm concentrating on driving fast enough, but to finally get that dream car and then find that it sounds completely wrong - repeatedly - is not cool. I don't like to compare GT to Forza because few people have both consoles and that renders the comparison pointless, but this is one area - possibly the one area - where Forza has Gran Turismo squarely, unequivocally beaten. Most if not all of the car sounds in Forza sound like they were actually recorded from the real engines, not copied with computer sound effects. The reason for that is that they generally are real recordings, or at least based on them. It would take some pretty hard evidence to make me believe that Polyphony Digital does the same, outside of perhaps the occasional special one-off like the Jaguar XJ13. It's been a source of criticism for so long that I hate bringing it up, but it's still there and it's not really acceptable anymore. PD, if you ever read this, get it together. The sound is a major part of the driving experience, even in electric vehicles with the novelty of near-silence at all times, and for it to be so wrong so often is a mark against you. It's so annoying because the rest of the actual driving simulation is so good, including the looks (especially the looks) that the poor sound sticks out like a sore thumb...

There is only one Plymouth XNR in real life, making this scene impossible
While I'm ranting, let's mention the AI cars. In the first four GT games there were only five of them, and they were pretty tame. In GT5 you had up to eleven, and they stuck religiously to the racing line, only occasionally overtaking each other or having problems in certain situations (worn tyres or rain, maybe). In GT6 things have improved, but not by enough. As you ascend through each tier, you'll gain another two AI opponents until there are 16 cars on track including yourself in the International-A and Super events. They're more intelligent than before, sometimes actually trying to overtake you, but still more A than I. If you try a fairly late move down the outside, they'll probably cut you off and blindly push you off the circuit as they move over to brake for the corner on the racing line, plus if you do get round the outside and stay there through the middle of the corner, at which point you gradually become on the racing line when previously you weren't, it still freaks them out and makes them back off completely, spoiling the racing. These things don't happen every time, but you notice when they do.

As with GT5, almost all the races are begun with a rolling start, either in double-file if it's karting, GT racers or NASCAR, or single-file for road cars, and in the latter races they're often spaced quite far apart, with one or more leading the pack quite far ahead. This means that the racing can feel a bit contrived and more like a multi-lap Licence Test (except you can go off the track without being disqualified), as it's less of a race and more of a challenge to overtake as quickly and cleanly as possible in order to catch up to the leader(s) late on in the race. I get the feeling they did this because they wanted to balance the difficulty for a range of players, making it easy to get into the top five or top three, but then more challenging to win. This is one reason why I think PD exist in their own little bubble, because in every other current racing game on the planet, you can choose the difficulty of the AI. Hell, you can even do that in GT6's Single Player mode! Why the hell can't you do that for Career Mode and just make the racing that bit more realistic? Ugh...

And yet.

And yet somehow, despite itself, Gran Turismo 6 is nonetheless a bewitching racing game. Given that I've found three pretty big things to complain about - the number of up-scaled PS2 cars, naff engine sounds and fairly daft AI - the fact that the rest of the game kept me deeply engaged from Christmas to last Saturday (save a two-day break to visit family) says a lot. I think ultimately, while three elements of Polyphony's execution are either inconsistent or just disappointing, their intentions are good and this shines through in the sheer number of improvements big and small over GT5, a game which I will now probably never play again. I speculated last year that the latest edition of "The Real Driving Simulator" would be everything the previous one should have been, and about 90% of it is just that, which is very satisfying indeed. The photo mode remains excellent, the user interface is immeasurably better throughout, and the choice of cars will appeal to just about every type of car fan. What's more, you now have slightly more freedom to customise said cars, with more external options including a flat floor/diffuser and enlarged wheels, as well as the return of Nitrous Oxide and - gasp - brake upgrades!! Fancy that! As another little aside, I really like that some of the menu music is remixed from previous GT games. Given that they celebrated an anniversary with this one, it's very apt and allows for a bit of nostalgia.

Another 5% of the makeover is due to come along in future updates, along with lots of extra content including 27 more Vision Gran Turismo cars designed specially for the game by a range of automotive manufacturers, plus Nike and Air Jordan for some promotional reason.

If we now say that GT5 was a 9/10 simulator in a 6/10 game, GT6 is a 9.9/10 simulator in an 8/10 game. They've managed to fix the problems that were in 5 even if they haven't fixed all of the perennial idiosyncrasies that run through the entire series. It's a game that celebrates the automobile, on road, on track, even on the moon. It makes cars into characters, each unique in their own way. In a gaming world with far more fierce competition than there was 15 years ago, Gran Turismo remains a unique proposition as much for its quirks as for its traditional USPs of stunning graphics and physics that make part of you believe that you are discovering what these dream cars, and a Honda Jazz, are really like to drive.

It may have one or two sore spots, it's still the king.

Rating: 85/100


There are no extra rally circuits in GT6, so Chamonix remains the only snowy location. Thankfully it's a pretty good one.

This is what happens when you forget to change the Panning setting to Mode 3 for replay photos. Action shot!

The Lamborghini Countach [green] is one of many cars that have been re-modeled for GT6 as a "Premium" (HD) Model

If memory serves, this is the Sepia filter in action. The filters are the same as in GT5, but with two more X-Processing ones

Classic V12 Lamborghinis on cobbled Rome streets. What more do you want?
This Countach is an early "Periscopo" model from 1974, which has a mirror that looks out over the roof!

Given how unpredictable some MR cars are, I'm very pleased that the Le Mans McLaren is such a sweet handler.

But here's the question. Is the Clio big, or is the McLaren small? And how fabulous is that driver?!

Proof that the above photo isn't a perception trick. I should've lined them up with the tiles better...

Before I took this photo, the Jazz was in perfect focus when viewed through the windscreen. Alas, once snapped and processed, it was as out of focus as the rest of the background...

The Plymouth XNR Ghia Roadster '60 isn't the fastest classic car, but it looks brilliant

It's like the cockpit is an escape pod!

"Adaptive Tessellation" means that once you focus the camera, the polygons in the model readjust to give you very high detail regardless of how far away the camera is. This is the XNR's right-hand indicator and wheelarch flare

The XNR is a reward for winning some Goodwood events. The Jazz - sorry, Fit - is yoru reward for buying GT6. Lucky you.

This is the LCC Rocket overtaking a Honda NSX. The LCC Rocket is your friend. You like the LCC Rocket.

No seriously, this car is fantastic. Essentially Gordon Murray's attempt at a four-wheeled superbike, it weighs an astonishingly light 380kg. As a result, 170 horsepower is more than enough to tackle supercars with.

So, er, where's the Traction Control on this thing?

The XNR's chromed tail sort of looks like a Danish flag after wind tunnel testing

As if it wasn't cool enough, here is is with the Cool Colours filter

This bridge is really very old indeed. Its name translates as "New Bridge."
It seems only right to have both new and old cars parked on it.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you can now have two cars in Photo Travel, and even your virtual self if you want.

You can pose the cars, turning lights on and rotating the wheels, but the driver just cycles through poses, changing every five seconds or so. I wish I could just choose the pose for him and not have to wait for the right one...

The 15th Anniversary cars come with a couple of pre-fitted upgrades, apart from the racing cars. All 20 get this paint scheme

The thing I love about having two cars in Photo Travel is picking two completely contrasting cars, as you've seen.
Classic road racer vs diesel Le Mans spaceship!

The left-hand headlight on the Audi R18 has the number 1 in it, because they win Le Mans a lot. Not arrogant at all......

The Ferrari 250GT SWB in the game is a specific one that won an award at a Concours event, which lead to its inclusion in GT6

The Dino 246 GT (seen here completely unmodified beating an Impreza) is lovely. Willow Springs, on the other hand, isn't. None of the corners are interesting other than the fact that three of them tighten just as you want to accelerate out of them. It's just a go-kart track that's been built three times too big...
Well crikey, if you've scrolled down this far then I should reward you with something. So here's the game's intro. It's not as long as either of GT5's, but is still in two parts, starting with Lang Lang on the piano. I quite like it, but it's not as thrilling as the original 1997 game's opener. That remains, to me, the best one. GT4 is a close second.

Anyway, here you go:

1 comment:

  1. Great review, and some excellent images too!