Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Gran Turismo 6: initial impressions

Words & photos - Cian Hanrahan

I picked up my copy of Gran Turismo 6 over the Christmas holidays, and I've been working my way through it since then. There's a pretty hefty update to download when you start the game for the first time, but you can sidestep this by playing offline. Your "career" starts with a couple of introductory tutorial pieces (a lap of Brands Hatch Indy, and your first car purchase, a Honda Jazz of all things...) before the Home screen pops up. Navigating around the menu system is much smoother than before, easier to use, quicker to navigate, and a big improvement over the clunky GT5 interface. There's no bonus for having a GT5 game save, you start with a small budget of 30,000, and you have to do all the licences. Personally, I like that, it brings back some of the RPG feel of the the early steps in older GT games as you progress through the levels. You earn stars for competing in each event, with an extra star for a podium finish, and a third for a win. Events unlock as you accumulate stars, though you also need the right licence to compete.

A quick run through the first Sunday Cup races reveals the biggest changes, and for me these are the most important, as they relate to the driving experience itself, the heart of a real driving simulator. There's a lot more connection with the car now, from the way the new suspension and tyre dynamics let the car move about on its suspension, to the way the car nosedives under braking. I noticed more tyre squeal, which serves as a very usable indicator as to what the tyres are at, grip-wise. The car reacts to inputs a lot better, for anyone who's driven a car enthusiastically it will feel more intuitive.

The early races are aimed squarely at the novice or casual player, it's pretty easy to get past the AI competition without much of a challenge. It's very easy to pass them under braking, there's no need to resort to the old "GT Barge" up the inside to get past (which unfortunately you can still get away with penalty free, should you choose). It's not until the later races that they start to behave as serious competition. The impression I get is that all the AI drivers have the same base skill, but that they drive smarter as you progress through the game, some "learning" faster than others.

There's less need to upgrade every car you buy to beat the field. I haven't had any trouble earning credits, the Seasonal Events pay really well. For those that can't wait to earn credits themselves, Sony will be rolling out purchasable credits through the Playstation Store.

What doesn't change is the nature of the Story Mode races. It's still a matter of "charge from the back of the grid to the front in the allocated number of laps" (or time limits, in the case of the 5 and 10 minute races). It's familiar GT fare. Other events include cone bashing and eco challenges in the Coffee Break events, some Driving Missions, and sprints up the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb in a variety of old and new metal. There's also the Lunar driving challenge, which is fun for a few minutes.

Load times are better than I expected; there's a certain amount of waiting required when each new race is loaded, but once it's cached to disk, subsequent reloads take less than a second. This takes some of the pain out of reloading a time trial for the nth time. The quality of models is a bit of a mixed bag - the legacy models from GT4 and GT5 look better than they did in the past, but there's a marked gap in quality between them and the newer models. The newer models also feature better options for customization. There's a wider selection of wheels, and you can now fit larger wheels. Despite the improved new rendering engine, there are still visible "jaggies", mostly noticeable in the rendering of shadows, or reflections of shadows.

The car sounds have been criticized in the past, and while they are a slight improvement over GT5, there's an update to the whole sound system in the pipeline which promises a bigger improvement. The sixes (inline and vee), flat-fours and rotaries sound very distinctive. The bike-engined cars scream and rasp. Straight-fours still lack drama, (but most fours do in real life). The 1600 engine in the MX5 sounds pretty much like my real Eunos Roadster. Take an excursion off track, and you'll now hear gravel pinging off the underside of the car.
My online experience so far has been limited to the time trials. When you compete in these, the ghost laps of your friends appear as traces, which adds an extra incentive to get the Gold time in each event. It's handy to compare braking points and racing lines, but it can be a little distracting at first, so I usually turn it off until I get the hang of an event. There will be further tie-ins with the GT Academy competition down the line, but for me getting into the top 100,000 on the leader boards is an achievement in itself.
Overall, it's quite an improvement over GT5, though not the giant leap we've seen between GT titles in the past. I think the biggest improvements are where it counts, in the way the cars behave and feel. The lack of damage is disappointing, but as with GT5, the will be continual updates to the game. I'll probably still be playing it a year from now, in the same way I was still playing GT5 right up to the moment I popped GT6 in to the PS3...

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