One individual’s clever streamlining is another’s shameless grab for cash, and the stark differences between Microsoft’s newfangled Forza Motorsport 5 and Sony’s defiantly old school Gran Turismo 6 can’t fail but provoke a bit of a discussion. When all is said and done though, it all boils down to a single question: how obsessive are you, exactly? Purely in terms of content wealth, GT6 trounces Forza 5 every single time. GT6’s frankly ludicrous selection of 1200+ vehicles positively dwarfs Forza 5’s spread of 200-odd. Forza’s relentless sunshine and dry tarmac is trounced by rain, snow, dusk, sand and gravel in GT6. There are over one hundred tracks in GT6 and just fourteen in Forza 5. It’s almost literally like comparing a mountain to a molehill.
But how much is too much? While the latest Forza provides just about enough entertainment to keep you going until next year’s all-but-inevitable sixth instalment, Gran Turismo 6 almost has enough content to keep you going until forever. It’s a series that has always endeavoured to be definitive, and the ludicrous wealth of content is a testament to that. You can quibble about the superfluous nature of some of the cars (a great many of which are duplicates) but this has always been a series aimed at the hardcore automobile anorak, and the subtle differences between each of those vehicles is what excites so much of that audience. If someone were to buy a Playstation 3 console exclusively to play Gran Turismo 6, it’s easy to assume that they’d end up getting more than their money’s worth from it. And there aren’t many games that you can say that about.
However, Gran Turismo 6 continues to succeed despite its most glaring omission: personality. Think what you like about the hosts of the BBC behemoth Top Gear, but in hijacking that world-beating brand, Forza has hitched a ride to something that unquestionably belongs in the twenty-first century. Conversely, were you to show GT6 to a series newcomer, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you told them that they were looking at a souped-up remake of a PS1 game.
Everything, from the workmanlike menus to the monotonous soundtrack to the often laborious loading times… GT6 just feels like a bit of a relic from the get-go. It almost appears to have been assembled by a computer; businesslike presentation, a totally nuts-and-bolts levelling system, no unnecessary excitement. But despite its outright lack of aesthetic charisma, Gran Turismo 6 triumphs thanks to its relentless obsession with the finer details, an ever-peerless handling model, and a very welcome selection of enjoyable side digressions.
The career mode – like the centrepiece of any great driving simulation – has always been all about the grind, and the ever-contentious addition of micro-transactions initially seems like it’s going to negatively affect the game’s core sense of progression. The truth is that, if you’ve played a Gran Turismo game before, buying a shortcut for yourself will probably seem like a pointless way to cap your own entertainment. Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida pointed out on Twitter recently that these transactions are totally optional and are here to provide “an alternative path to busy people.” But if that’s the case, why should these busy people be asked to pay the full asking price up front? The debate continues to rage on, but one thing is for certain: if you’re thinking of picking up Gran Turismo 6 with a view on potentially bypassing your progress through it, it probably isn’t really for you.
Speaking of progression, GT6 still escalates its difficulty quite brilliantly, and all of the things that the competition doesn’t offer – night-time vistas, mountain climbs, desert rally scrambles – are used as devious campaign stumbling blocks. Most of those events are completely locked away from the novice sections of single-player and it’s just as well, because keeping four wheels on course on some of the later rally tracks is ferociously taxing.
Likely to irritate a few fans of its immediate predecessor is the return of mandatory licence tests. This process was completely abandoned in Gran Turismo 5, where players were allowed to ignore all available licence tests if they chose to, as player progression was exclusively level-based. Forcing you to jump through (often laughably simplistic) hoops has always seemed like a curious restriction to impose, but its creators obviously don’t agree. This wouldn’t be quite so irritating if the loading times weren’t so drawn-out, but what’s acceptable in between ten-to-fifteen minute races stops being palatable when you’re moving between tests that take less than thirty seconds to complete. You end up spending far more time waiting to play them than you do actually racing, which is nobody’s idea of a great time.
On the other hand, the highly enjoyable Coffee Break mini-games return here, and while they start off very conservatively – with you knocking over a few hundred traffic cones – they soon give way to missions in which you’re literally driving around on the surface of the moon. Lending the whole thing a welcome (and unexpected) air of eccentricity, these lunar morsels are deliberately slow and lethargic, which makes for a very pleasant change of pace.
The 16-player online multiplayer component is both functional and highly enjoyable, buoyed by a solid matchmaking system and servers that have proven to be perfectly stable thus far. Multiplayer is going to be a big priority if you’ve recently come from racing cars on Microsoft’s Xbox One, if only because GT’s habitually stiff and unexciting AI has barely been tinkered with at all. Your offline opponents still basically ignore you for the most part – until you attempt to move beyond third place, that is – and an unassailable lead is never that unassailable: occasionally, race leaders will still inexplicably slow down and wait for you to pass them on the final lap. So if racing against inane droids all day is making you lethargic, jump into a quick online race if you’re looking to give the game a much-needed shot in the arm. In addition to the online side of things, GT6 also has a two-player split-screen mode; a lost pleasure which qualifies as an essential inclusion for some fans.
It has to be said that the new menus (monotonous as they are) are a wise step away from GT5’s ugly and confusing cluster of panels, and the main hub interface seems to have been directly inspired by the elegant simplicity of the Playstation 3’s cross-media bar.
It’s unusual (and unfortunate) to see a heavy hitter like this arrive on outdated hardware at the beginning of a new console generation, but if you’re able to keep the Forza comparisons out of your mind for the duration, GT6 is a fantastic-looking excursion. Running at a silky smooth 1080p and 60fps, it may have had most of its thunder stolen by that new hardware, but this remains a true sight to behold, a few occasional stray jaggies aside.
In the end though, Gran Turismo 6 is all about tradition. The default controls still map the accelerate and brake prompts to the face buttons like it’s 1998, you’re not rewarded (at all) for winning races without driving assists enabled, and the AI is all artifice and zero smarts… but this is a robust and ludicrously generous christmas gift for the genre faithful. It is fundamentally not an innovative package, and hopefully Polyphony Digital will decide to make a few significant steps towards the future next time. But this is an enthusiast’s dream and very much the game that series vets have always wanted it to be. A slightly rusty old banger perhaps, but also the most reliable motor in town.