As an outsider to Polyphony Digital’s storied facsimile of real-world racing for the better part of its fifth and sixth console generation outings, I’ve always thought of Gran Turismo the way one might consider an ancient relic or piece of fine art; with the utmost respect, but with a distinct lack of true appreciation. When GT5 came and went, I immersed myself in the series’ stunning realism more so than ever before, and despite being truly wowed as I hurtled across the game’s lush and varied tracks in my childhood-favorite Audi TTS, I still felt there was an invisible barrier denying me access to the series’ alleged true brilliance.
Gran Turismo 6 does a lot to improve on GT5‘s admittedly lengthy list of issues (the suspected architects of the aforementioned barrier), and though it makes strides in areas where it definitely needed to, it stagnates in others with such oblivious carelessness that you have to wonder if the game’s creators have even considered addressing certain recurring problems at all.
I’ll start with the good: Gran Turismo 6, as is par for the GT course, plays like an absolute dream on a fundamental level. The extent to which general handling of the game’s 1200 different vehicles has been fine-tuned cannot be overstated, and the joy of trying various cars (or possibly each-and-every car if you’re dedicated) and simply experiencing the distinctions in feel between them is an experience to behold. A large part of this has to do with the game’s new suspension system, which as far as I can tell has been substantially overhauled – at the very least, it’s the most noticeable change when driving. When you navigate a turn or change direction, you can quite literally feel your car’s weight shift; the result is an almost instinctual response to correct its center of balance that has nothing to do whatsoever with your pre-existing knowledge (or lack thereof) of cars and how they handle. This struck me as a tremendous feat – for whatever reason, the way vehicles handle is remarkably intuitive, something I wouldn’t have pegged a racing sim to be able to nail down so effectively.
Of course, there are ways to make it less so (some folks call it “authentic,” I call it scary), and placed within the game’s menu options are sliders that allow for sensitivity tuning of various driving mechanics. For example, traction control can be adjusted along a 10-point scale, the idea being that as your driving skills improve, the slider will notch its way along in one direction until you’re not terrible. In my case this worked pretty well, though I did eventually quit moving certain sliders and call it a day – I found my sweet spot, and I appreciate that the game allowed me to do so.
And now, for what I feel (and hope) is an apt analogy. The way Mario handles in Super Mario Galaxy is, to me, an example of downright perfectly tuned controls in a platformer. In the sequel to that game, you can unlock Luigi, whose weight and center of gravity noticeably differ, but come to feel equally as impeccable once the player adjusts. Such is the experience of test-driving the many cars of GT6. Though some feel more similar than others, there were times where I was sufficiently blown away at the difference in weight and balance between vehicles, and this is coming from somebody who didn’t come close to unlocking every car in the game. As with the preeminent plumbers, you come to appreciate how exquisitely each vehicle handles the more you sit behind the wheel, and I think that anyone condemning Polyphony Digital for the game’s other faults, no matter how glaring, ought to take that into consideration. It’s not an exaggeration to say that hundreds if not thousands of hours went into tuning these cars, and it is far and away Gran Turismo 6‘s greatest strength.
That said, this doesn’t earn the game a free pass, and the aforementioned glaring issues are ultimately what keeps it significantly far from a first place finish. To start, the damage system has still not been improved (has one even really been implemented?), and your vehicle will remain shiny and pristine no matter how many cement walls or metal poles you slam into. This goes for opponent racers as well, and even flipping your vehicle and blatantly scraping its paint job along a lengthy strip of asphalt will leave no more than, well, nothing marring its surface. This isn’t a game-breaking issue at all, but it makes very little sense, and whether or not Polyphony Digital is too stubborn, too lazy, or too busy to act on it remains a complete mystery to me. I want to believe the latter, but even that is a frustrating reason.
When it comes to actual game modes, similar annoyances rear their ugly heads, but just how ugly will depend on your personal tastes. For example, the Career mode — despite featuring an enjoyable and helpful tutorial — proceeds to be a lengthy slog from there on out. As noted by other reviewers, you’re stuck behind the wheel of a Honda Fit during the career’s early stages, and even when you do finally shirk the embarrassing arbelos of a hatchback and acquire a better ride, you’re still forced to partake in periodic license tests to prove your worth and access more cars. Though this is probably perfect for first timers, it doesn’t make much sense to structure the entire career as a drawn-out how-to-drive tutorial; how about a more fleshed out Practice mode, and a Career mode that changes things up a bit instead? It doesn’t help that buying all of the game’s cars through other means is near-impossible – credits are much more scarce than they ever were in GT5, so if you want sexy sports cars early on you may have to succumb to microtransactions to get them.
On the flipside, the game does attempt innovation with Special Events, though aside from one or two I found them to be disappointingly lacking. Yes, reliving lunar expeditions from the 70s is a cool idea, but if you’re not going to execute it perfectly and make it unequivocally awesome, then what in the world does it have to do with Gran Turismo? It feels like Polyphony tried to take “a throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks” approach, but instead of scrapping the ones that ricocheted they instead picked them up and used them anyway. To be fair, certain special events are very enjoyable (the popular Goodwood Hill Climb comes to mind), but on the whole I didn’t come away overly impressed.
Visually, Gran Turismo 6 is an achievement on the PlayStation 3, but once again, an inconsistent one. All the new cars that have been added since GT5 look absolutely stellar – the poly-counts on these things are presumably off the charts, and the fact that they’re zooming around inside a world brought to life on seven-year-old hardware is a true feat. The thing that always enticed me about Gran Turismo before I ever tried it was the photo-realistic screenshots, and if you catch GT6 at the right moment it can look almost unsettlingly gorgeous. Unfortunately, there are niggles that quickly multiply, such as a sizable number of cars that have been simply polished and up-resed from the older GTs, and random assets like rocks and buildings that look downright silly in their bland and low-res texture wrappings. Though not more annoying than anything else, cardboard-cutout audiences add insult to injury and really cement the “don’t mind that, just look over here!” feeling that permeates the entire game.
As with any challenging piece of art, one’s quest for understanding will inevitably be littered with doubt, and the more I play Gran Turismo 6 the more I can confidently say that I’ve reached an important conclusion: There may not actually be anything behind the invisible barrier I’ve tried so hard to break since GT5. As an entity, I think Gran Turismo is a bit too stubborn and stuck in its ways for the cream-filling bliss of racing perfection we all crave to ever really take shape. Gran Turismo 6 is noticeably flawed, but it also does certain things better than any other racer, bar none. Whether that’s “good enough” or not falls squarely to the discretion of the player, but for this reviewer, it errs on the side of disappointment.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 exclusive, which was provided to us.
Gran Turismo 6 is an exceedingly frustrating masterpiece, if there ever was such a thing. Though the staples of the series remain (mainly unparalleled and exceptional controls, and at-times gorgeous visuals), problems that have persisted since the early days have far overstayed their welcome by the series' sixth incarnation. Turismo die-hards have no-doubt already bought this, but if you're new to racing, you'd be wise to consider all of your options first. If you do opt for GT6, though, you'll likely have a wonderful time.