Le Mans. Twenty-four hour racing. Day-night cycles and variable weather. Pit stops. And all of it simulated over twenty-four minutes of intense racing in my Toyota Minolta 88C V Ď89. This is the pinnacle of racing, the peak of any race car driverís career. No challenge greater and none more enjoyable. This is Gran Turismo 6ís endgame and it and all that has come before has been astoundingly glorious, enthralling and oh so moreish. Gran Turismo 6 is the best driving simulator around and although not without fault, it proves a timesink for any fan of driving.
Gran Turismo 6 is the latest in Kaz Yamauchiís, and his studio Polyphony Digitalís, long-running series described as the real driving simulator. Itís the second game in the series to come out on Sonyís PlayStation 3 and on booting it up the immediate feeling is that very little has changed. It has the same aesthetic even if the actual menus and options have changed, the sounds are the same when you select a game mode and the music you hear is familiar when waiting for a race to load. Thereís a career mode of course, although only for yourself this time around - none for your so called B Spec, or AI drivers that you managed in the previous title. Thereís an arcade mode, your garage, dealerships (no used cars this time around) and then a few novelties such as Glorious Goodwood and Lunar Missions.
Over time the front end changes do manifest themselves. There are still significant loading times, although ostensibly superior to Gran Turismo 5. Things are more logically laid out and easier to find from day to day. The career mode is where youíll spend much of your time, at least early on. Itís still a driving RPG in that you start out as a new driver tackling very straightforward races in very basic cars (in fact youíre forced to buy and race a Honda Fit for your first time out, a horribly frustrating decision given very few would ever choose this car and it costs a significant chunk of your starting credits) but instead of finishing a tier of races and levelling up before moving on, youíre tasked with obtaining a number of stars from each set of competitions. Once youíve done that - typically twenty-five stars are needed out of many more available - youíre free to tackle the final championship of that round and/or the licences. Once complete you can move onto the next selection. It makes for a quicker route through the main game and feels less of a grind for those who are more capable than the game would have you believe as you start out.
Earning stars also unlocks various alternative challenges to keep you entertained if it ever starts to feel like a grind or too much of a challenge whilst youíre saving up to buy that souped-up Nissan GTR. Coffee break mode sees you tasked with trying to knock over cones, or wind your way through an obstacle course in double-quick time. One make races see you up against cars of the same make, unsurprisingly. All of this opens up in each tier of competition when you earn a set number of stars. One star is gained by completing a race, a second if you medal and the third is given to the winner. Whilst the opportunity to do something a little different is welcome, in practice the coffee break mode is throwaway and not something which will keep your mind off of the racing for long.
With all the above itís difficult to assuage concerns that Gran Turismo 6 is really nothing more than an extension of the fifth game and could easily have been offered up as DLC. That would at least have provided the benefit of allowing you to keep your car collection lovingly built over the years since its release. However such concerns are blown away after a few hours of racing.
It turns out that the biggest change that comes with Gran Turismo 6 is the driving model. Gran Turismo 6 truly is the real driving simulator. No other game has ever matched so closely the actual feel of driving. Not just in terms of emotional feeling but actual physical feedback. Everything is communicated to you so that you know exactly what your car is doing. If youíre accelerating hard you feel it, if youíre aquaplaning you feel it. When youíre coming up to a high speed corner if youíre a little too speedy the car tells you and you tap the brakes and regain that control. You know when youíve got understeer and you know when youíre about to spin thanks to the oversteer. Itís truly remarkable. It enables you to actually learn to drive at speed in wonderful vehicles rather than learn to beat the game. When you get to tackle the Nurburgring in all its fifteen mile glory, with all the vehicular challenges it brings from undulating chicanery to top-speed straights and more, the joy you get as you feel the suspension move and respond to that which you ask it to do; the feedback from the tyresí grip which allows you to just maintain control, well itís just all rather wonderful. You really will feel like youíre out there.
The best thing is it encourages you to progress further in the game in terms of racing challenge and mode of transport. Races early on, as mentioned, are simple affairs. Basic cars, few competitors, short and simple tracks. As you progress you come up against ever more fierce competitors and more of them, over longer and more complex tracks. There are seventy-one layouts of thirty-three tracks in Gran Turismo 6 over which youíre asked to compete. As things get harder the intensity of racing is that much harder but unequivocally more rewarding too. The joy is always player versus environment in Gran Turismo games historically, with racer AI lacking. Here though, it feels different. You donít get anything like that you might hope for in terms of AI - Senna against Prost type competition would be remarkable - but when youíre up against the computer in fast cars over multiple laps of difficult tracks it becomes a wonderful battle for those top places. The AI will look to maintain the racing line or move into and out of your way to get the advantage. It feels like a race against another, rather than just the clock.
The true joy is there in the environment though of course. You want to tame the track and refine your times and your carís setup to enable the best possible laps and the simplest win. No matter how you do youíll find the AI a match though. Thereís definite rubber-banding here as the cars ahead go way out in front until you start to claw some time back and then you claw it all back. Whilst itís a rather brute force technique by the gameís devs it does ensure the AI feels real at times compared to the very pure, very mechanical and totally non-interactive AI of times past.
There are over twelve hundred cars available in Gran Turismo 6 from classic race cars of the past to road legal hot hatches, Formula One cars and the supercars everyone drools over. Interestingly, this time around Polyphony Digital have linked up with various manufacturers as part of Gran Turismo Vision. The first such collaboration brings us a gifted in-game car from Mercedes which is very much a design created for the game. We are promised many more over time. Whilst we wait thereís a fine selection of vehicles to choose from - both standard with no visible interiors and premium where everything is as it is in reality. Cars are priced from a few thousand credits all the way up to twenty million. Of course the aim for fans of this series is to build up the collection of their dreams in their garage, enabled by their improvements in racing and their earning of credits. This is still very much the case but with this sixth iteration of Gran Turismo the spectre of microtransactions looms. You can spend your way to buying the old-school Ferrari, Jaguar or Ford which each costs twenty million credits. But that equates to one hundred and twenty pounds in real money. Thankfully the microtransactions are not even obvious unless you go looking for them in the GT Store off of the main menus. Equally Polyphony have been very sensible in how they dish out in-game credits to make sure the economy is not broken and biased towards real expenditure. You get a login bonus for each of five dayís consecutive play which if continued will maintain at the maximum bonus, doubling all earnings. The final races are worth over a hundred thousand credits each and if taking part in a five-race championship can yield a million if you win (bonus for the championship too). Seasonal events return and these are incredibly kind in rewards. Over the course of our career and after completing the game weíd amassed around seven million credits in the bank in addition to those we spent on vehicles and tuning along the way. Total earnings were over ten million. So even if you do want the really expensive vehicles once you get to the final tiers of competition getting the credits will be eminently achievable.
Seasonal events are part of the online experience this time around. One of the best things is being able to load friendsí or leaderboard ghosts to show you how a particular Seasonal event or challenging license is beaten and eventually golded. In addition to this, and the obvious leaderboard rivalries in competition or via time trial mode, you can easily jump into someone elseís online room and race against like-minded folk. Each room is described as for fun or racing and often youíll find there are online communities who organise various race competitions, usually with specific entry requirements. The online experience is not jazzed up in anyway, unsurprisingly, but works very well and ensures good quality gaming for any period of play.
Really the whole thing works wonderfully. The whole game. Gran Turismo 6 is still from another time, a behemoth which hasnít moved with the times and is eternally playing catch-up. Its design and structure can all be criticised and each and every one of us would be able to make multiple suggestions for improvements every time we play it. The thing is though, what it truly sets out to be - the real driving simulator - is what it actually is. It achieves with aplomb the goals that Polyphony had. With this iteration you have something which although better with a steering wheel is equally playable with a Dualshock 3, a crowning achievement for the team. Gran Turismo 6 is something that will keep folk entertained for hours of in-game play over years of real-time whilst we wait for something bigger and better. That itís likely the only thing which will be able to do that will be Gran Turismo 7 speaks volumes.