Gran Turismo 6 a reasonable but not revolutionary upgrade
By Jim Bray
If you like driving simulators, you can't go far wrong with Sony and Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series. And there's a new version out now, for both Playstations 3 and 4, and it ups the tech ante, adds more features and a few welcome tweaks.
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What Gran Turismo 6 doesn't do is make a quantum leap from GT5, which was an excellent diversion already. Oh, the graphics seem smoother, they've reorganized some interface things - and I could swear they've added more background stuff such a birds flying over the track and better animated spectators - but the action feels pretty much like the previous version.
I don't really have a problem with that, even though a quantum leap would have been interesting (I wonder what GT7 will offer!). But GT5 (the first version I lived with) is already fantastic, so even though 6 is more of a tweak and enhancement than a totally new version, it's still worthwhile.
On the other hand, I've only been wasting time - er, honing my performance driving skills - with the PS3 version, so for all I know the PS4 version does represent that quantum leap. I somehow doubt it, though.
So this rant concerns only GT6 as offered for the PS3 - and I still love it. Is it worth the $60 or so if you've already shelled out for GT5? That's a tough call. But I think if I'd pretty well exhausted GT5 and was looking for a new challenge, then it would probably be worth the wampum.
There are warts, though. The first thing that disappointed me was the fact that you can't bring your existing GT5 cars and "track" record with you to GT6 - which means you have to start from scratch again, in an entry level car, until you can earn enough credits to buy something faster. Fortunately, it doesn't take long. I now have at least a dozen vehicles in my garage, ranging from karts to much more stratospheric dream machines, and I sit currently on a bankroll of about 650,000 credits that means I can afford some nice iron if I so choose.
So far I haven't so chosen because I've been using a favorite car and have been able to beat most comers in the events that allow it (sometimes I have to dumb down its performance to qualify for a particular event, though). It's a fantasy car for me: I own a 2005 (B6 generation) Audi A4 Avant sport wagon in real life, so when I noticed a same generation RS4 Avant in the dealerships I scooped it up, souped it up, and have been having a wonderful time whooping it up, driving a fantasy version of my "real" car in a variety of fantasy situations.
It doesn't hurt that I use Logitech's Driving Force GT racing wheel, which offers force feedback and a pair of pedals to help maintain the fantasy. I can't imagine driving competently using the PS3's gaming controller! I can't even use it competently for non-driving games! Even the wheel doesn't offer complete accuracy - for example, it gives me sequential auto/manual shifting rather than an honest to goodness clutch pedal/six speed manual - but that's okay. It's close enough for a game, er, simulation. Any more real and I'd probably just blow the shifts anyway…
GT6 offers some new cars (still no Porsches other than a handful of "RUF" models, though, which is really annoying to this Porschephile) and new tracks (including such classics as Brands Hatch in England), and it appears they've redesigned cars' suspension and other physical aspects like that because my Audi seems to exhibit better suspension play than I remember from my reasonably similar RS6 Avant in GT5. But overall, the cars don't seem that much different to drive, at least as far as I've gotten into the simulation so far.
They've also apparently upgraded cars' interiors, especially premium cars. My Audi and most of my other cars are pretty plain inside, but it doesn't really bother me because I'm too busy looking out of the windshield anyway. You can choose from a variety of "virtual camera angle" views, but I like the one best that puts me right in the driver's seat.
One thing you lose in GT6 is the online, used car dealership - where I had picked up some nice, racy classics in the past. You do get new seasonal events and there's a healthy online component, though I crawled away with my virtual tail between my legs after I entered a few "rooms" online and realized the folks there must do nothing other than race GT6. I could hear the other players (er, simulators) there discussing how they'd tweaked their cars and these guys were so seriously into this that I knew I had no chance - so I took my Audi and went home, where I win plenty of times against the computerized opponents.
Okay, I'm a wuss. But I'm also only a casual gamer, so I realize my limitations. Besides, there's enough stuff offline to keep you going for - well, I'll let you know how long! So far, after a few weeks of on-and-off racing, I'm about 20 per cent through the events.
New series are opened to you once you've qualified by passing a series of drivers' tests. I usually don't leave the tests till I've reached the top "gold" status, but I bailed at silver a couple of times because it was cutting into my limited racing time and even that level qualifies you for the license. If I had more time to spend I might continue (the cones slalom in a VW Scirocco was particularly annoying, especially since I've aced cones many times in real life), but such is life.
I wish they hadn't messed with the post-race interface, which now sends you directly to a replay instead of back to the main screen and thereby requires you to press the "start" button to get out. On the other hand, you can get at your car's settings a lot easier in GT6 than in the previous version, thanks to the same "start" button.
Races seem to load more quickly than before, too, which is great - though it could be that they've just redesigned the interface to make it more interesting while you wait. Either way, I like it better.
All my favorite tracks from GT5 are back - places such as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Indy, Daytona, Suzuka and many more. It would have been interesting to have some more familiar street circuits (Long Beach, perhaps?) instead of places like London, but since GT6 is sold globally they spread the circuits around. Fortunately, the tracks that are included offer a great variety of scenery, challenges, and difficulty.
As with the cars and experience earned in GT5, I couldn't bring my credits forward, either. If I could, I'd have a few million of them burning a hole in my virtual pocket. Grrr.
I haven't noticed any endurance races this time, either. I tried a couple in GT5 - including the Indy 500 - and they were a lot of fun. On the other hand, they require a time commitment I can't spare often, so it isn't much of a loss for me.
The big upgrade is probably waiting for Ultra HD, a.k.a. 4K, which will offer a whole new ball of wax when it comes to graphics. As it is, GT6 for PS3 still offers 1080p (60 Hz) and lossless surround sound, and that's about as good as you can get from this technology today. And it's very good here.
Bottom line? To me, a casual gamer and racer wannabe who'll never achieve that dream, GT6 is a worthwhile entry in the series. It's a lot of fun, very exciting (I usually end up wound so tightly after a few sessions that I feel almost - almost - as if I've really been on the track), and if you use a racing wheel it's a pretty decent simulation.
Naturally, it isn't the same as going onto a real track in a real car, which I've done (though far too little and never under racing conditions except for one "media race" 35 odd years ago), but it's a pretty good way to get familiar with racing dynamics, finding the proper driving line, etc. Good practice for real life even if it falls short of being a true "virtual reality."
And if nothing else, it's plenty of fun.
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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