Content Test 3

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Gran Turismo 6
Graphics: 9
Gameplay: 8.9
Sound: 8.5
Control: 9.1
Replay Value: 10
Rating: 9

For a myriad of social and psychological reasons, some franchises become popular prey for critics. En masse, the entire reviewing populace decides that instead of issuing a fair, accurate analysis of a new title in the targeted franchise, they will pick out every tiny flaw and turn it into a critical failing. Gran Turismo has become the trendy whipping boy of critics. Occasionally, that treatment is warranted but this time, there’s only one logical explanation and you can quote me—

The response is nothing more than video game critics attempting to lend their expertise to a game that requires a driving and racing expert.

Now, graphically, Gran Turismo 6 excels. That’s expected, of course, but it’s always amazing to see just how much effort developer Polyphony Digital expends on the technical aspects. Detractors will point to a few low-res textures somewhere in the backgrounds of certain tracks, along with the absence of livery. How that affects the driving in any way is beyond me. The cars are beautiful; the tracks are exquisitely designed, and let’s not forget that overhauled presentation. It’s much smoother to navigate in comparison to GT5, but I do miss the slickness of the previous interface. Oh, and the dynamic weather and day/night effects take these visuals to yet another level.

Sound is a sticking point for many critics and to some extent, I do agree that the audio isn’t a big highlight. The balancing remains a little off (as it has always been throughout this franchise in my estimation), and such effects as the squealing of tires is way overdone. However, the complaint about cars not emitting accurate engine noises doesn’t seem founded. Big V8s have big V8 growls, supercars have a distinct high-tech power that speaks to futuristic engine design, and little four-bangers sound like…well, little 4-cylinder cars. I’ve never been a big fan of any GT soundtrack and GT6 doesn’t make me change my mind, but this game has it where it counts. The authenticity of the gameplay audio is what ultimately matters.

I will freely admit where Gran Turismo can improve. Being a fan of cars and racing, I only want Polyphony to deliver the most realistic experience possible. What hardcore simulator fans desire is a game that is challenging, that teaches and rewards at the same time, that features mind-bending depth that demands a firm knowledge – and implementation of that knowledge – of the subject at hand. When the sound is a tad off, I notice it and acknowledge it. I don’t make a federal case out of it because the only legitimate drawbacks are barely significant, but I notice. I also notice when a game that calls itself a “simulator” hasn’t progressed enough.

One could make that argument about GT6. The entire argument will have to hinge upon two important factors, though— lack of vehicle damage and questionable AI. Before I go any further, as these are sticking points for a lot of critics and gamers, let me address the damage and AI arguments. First, the AI could indeed be better. Opponents don’t always seem to be aware of your track position, and they’re extremely determined to stick to the same driving line. One could call this approach robotic and unrealistic and at least in some ways, they’d be right. But those who know and understand racing won’t be anywhere near as annoyed.

This is because, A. Racers do take the same driving line 99% of the time. There’s usually only one proper way to enter a turn. And if a professional racer is thrown off that line, he’ll usually try like hell to get back into it ASAP. The longer you’re out of that line, the longer you’re out of position, and the more likely you are to fall back in the pack. B. If your driving is subpar or if you’ve got a vehicle that doesn’t cut the mustard, it is not the responsibility of the other racers to constantly make room for you. You’re the slow car; you have to be aware of them. C. The only litmus test for this is as follows— when you drive as you should, the AI suddenly seems right, doesn’t it? That should tell you something.

Regarding the lack of damage, I will agree that at this point in time, Gran Turismo is behind the times. Not because it has to keep up with the competition (no racer features truly realistic vehicle damage; the damage modeling in Forza, for example, is a joke), but because it professes to be a simulator. If you are, you must penalize drivers for slamming into other drivers. If you’re not going to do damage, institute a mandatory time penalty. GT has done that in the past, by the way, but it was basically only for specialized hardcore events. That’s the way it needs to be throughout if you’re going to be a simulator.

However, that all being said, I refer you to the AI argument above. I said that if you drive correctly, the issue almost becomes a moot point. This holds true for the crashing bit; although it’s still ridiculous that you can bump a car out of the way on a turn and gain a spot, it’s still not the recommended method. There are all kinds of problems with that plan, which are reflected accurately. You lose a ton of momentum, for instance, or you could power slide, which – as a brief education for all you novices out there – is a mistake. The reason you don’t see pro racers pulling off power slides during road races is because it’s stupid; it’s erratic, unreliable and ultimately, it isn’t proper driving form. It's flash for the sake of flash.

I will also add this about the damage: If you want truly authentic damage modeling, the game would be borderline unplayable for the vast majority of gamers. If you want real damage physics, and not that comically lenient damage seen in other racers, you’re in for a rough ride. Even scraping a wall or bumping another car can result in damage to your wheel, which effectively ends the race. If they were going to do this, and make it right, it would have to remain an option. Gamers would have to be able to turn it on and off. Still, it needs to happen in the next generation in some form, just because of what GT has – and will always – claim to be.

The rest of the analysis is simple. Gran Turismo 6 is a game for those who love cars and love to race. It’s a game for the passionate hardcore. It’s a game that rewards the informed and dedicated. There are more cars and tracks than ever; I find it annoying that all other racers are commended for such additions, while GT is attacked for having some low-res textures on the older tracks. Those who say the assortment of low-end cars is pointless don’t care about real driving. They only care about flashy Need for Speed action; if so, go right ahead and play NFS. Lovers of the sport enjoy experimenting with all types of vehicles.

The control is borderline perfect. The physics have once again been refined, to the point where we once again feel as if we are indeed driving a real car on a real track. Altering the car’s settings and changing things such as ABS, skid control, gear ratios, and suspensions have the appropriate impact on the car. This is where GT always shines and where only racing experts – and not necessarily gaming experts – recognize the franchise’s superiority: GT remains the only franchise that continually implements each mechanical upgrade and alteration in a way that most closely resembles reality. Even simple weight reductions can be noticed by the astute driver.

Gearheads can spend hours fiddling with the settings until their favorite car feels exactly right. Changing those settings based on the course is another challenge and another thrill. Then there’s dealing with the dynamic weather conditions and the day/night cycles, which have never been implemented quite so flawlessly. The effects weather has on a vehicle are huge and immediate, as is night’s impact on visibility. All of this is wonderfully captured by the extremely talented and driven individuals at Polyphony Digital. There’s also just about every form of road racing imaginable, and tons of different events. Love the challenging Mission races!

No other franchise offers this level of diversity and variety when it comes to driving challenges. I mean, it’s not even close. People can complain about the license tests all they want; they can call them outdated and boring. That’s fine. Just because you’ve done them before (and they’re hardly the exact same tests) doesn’t mean someone else has. A driving simulator teaches and rewards. It starts you off slow and shows you the fundamentals. It opens your eyes to the nuts and bolts and then lets you experiment. GT6 only holds your hand for an hour or so; it gives you the foundation and then lets you off the chain to do as you please. But you still need those fundamentals and that’s where the license tests come in.

If they weren’t there, I’m sure critics would find a way to bash the game for not having some authentic driving test. There are plenty of other attractions as well, such as humorous events that test different aspects of your driving skill, go-kart racing, and photography. As for online racing, getting on the track with as many as 15 other racers is a heady experience and it works beautifully (at least thus far). I haven’t experienced much in the way of lag and because you’re typically playing with avid fans, you play with dedicated, relatively well-mannered individuals. The options are vast and the mechanical and cosmetic possibilities will keep you busy for hours and hours. Is that not enough? What more do you want?

Did you know that the game will continue to receive new content on a monthly basis through 2014? The team is also working on the sound and livery issues. However, I will say I’m not a fan of that, and I’m not saying it’s okay to release an incomplete product. I will never support that idea. At the same time, what fool views a game like GT6 as “incomplete?” What’s missing? Rather than focusing on where it lags, which doesn’t take long, why not emphasize the fact that GT6 is a hardcore racer’s dream? Perhaps critics are prisoners to the more trivial flaws simply because, as I’ve said many times before, they don’t have the chops to fully understand and evaluate a driving simulator. They're overmatched in more ways than one.

Gran Turismo 6 is still a beast of a game. You can attempt to break it down ten ways from Tuesday, you can attempt to disparage at every turn. And I will even go along with particular arguments, especially in regards to the lack of penalizing aggressive bumping. The sound isn’t quite right, either. GT6 is not the full-on mind-boggling masterpiece it could’ve been. But it remains a mammoth achievement because fans can tell, within seconds, just how much TLC has been put into this production. Into every GT production, in truth. That’s what separates this franchise from any other and if you know cars and racing, you’ve been saying this for years. And I’ve got your back.

The Good: Beautiful detail and weather effects. Lots of great tracks and tons of awesome cars. Excellent control throughout. Realistic physics that accurately reflect mechanical alterations. Plenty of distinct events. Smoother, streamlined presentation. A love note to hardcore racing fans.

The Bad: Minor sound balancing and accuracy issues. AI can use a little improving. There needs to be some penalty for hitting cars.

The Ugly: “If you’re a confirmed car and racing junkie, ‘ugly’ is nowhere to be found.”

12/10/2013   Ben Dutka