Gran Turismo 6 is nearly upon us, and I've been racing around classic tracks like High Speed Ring and new additions like Brands Hatch for a few days now. So far, I've been having a blast. But while I'd love to give you a full verdict on the game, GT6 has fallen pray to the dreaded day-one patch, meaning the multiplayer, online community features, and microtransaction features of the game aren't yet available, as well as other as-yet-unnamed tweaks. That said, I still want to give keen racers out there some idea of my experience so far with Polyphony Digital's latest simulation.
GT6 makes a highly polarizing first impression, offering excitement with one hand and taking it away again with the other. For the first time in a GT game, you're dropped into the action immediately with a single test lap at Brands Hatch in a swift Renault Clio RS to give you a feel for the handling. Unfortunately, this one lap is the most fun I had in the first 90 minutes.
After a positive start, GT6 immediately falls back into the series' bad habits by forcing you to drive the incredibly slow, incredibly dull Honda Fit for over an hour. You aren't given any choice over your first Career mode car, and credits are handed out dreadfully slowly at the beginning of the game. That means you can't afford to replace the Fit for some time, so you have to wait until the game gifts you a new car at the end of the first set of Career events--and when you are given the car, it's only a go-kart. This whole sequence leaves you crying out for better machinery and is only going to make newcomers to GT wonder what all the fuss is about when other racing games put you behind the wheel of a sports car within minutes.
Here's where I would talk about the touchy subject of microtransactions, but they aren't going to be enabled until launch. What I can say, though, is that while buying your way to the top certainly will be possible in GT6, at this stage it doesn't look like the ability to do so has had a detrimental effect on the way the the game works, nor are the microtransactions pushed upon you during play.
Once you're through the slog of the first 90 minutes, the credits and cars arrive much more quickly. Career mode also puts the new circuits up front, keeping returning GT fans entertained while repeating the usual pattern of having you drive slower cars to work your way up to pure racing machines. Silverstone, Goodwood Hill Climb, Bathurst, and Willow Springs are among the new real-world circuits, and there are a couple of returning fictional tracks from past Gran Turismo games that were absent from GT5. The sheer number of cars and tracks is one of the most impressive aspects of GT6. Polyphony Digital claims there are more than 1,200 cars and 100 track layouts, so there's plenty for drivers to dig into.
You can feel the body of your car roll as you change direction, making it natural and instinctive to correct tiny slides and massive oversteer moments.
Out on the track is where Gran Turismo excels. The handling model in GT6 is far and away the best, most detailed, and most engaging car simulation available on consoles. The suspension modeling is the most noticeable improvement. You can feel the body of your car roll as you change direction, making it natural and instinctive to correct tiny slides and massive oversteer moments, especially with a steering wheel. Stock road cars also feel much more lively now. In the past, they've been almost as stiff as the racing cars, but in GT6, you can sense much more movement through these less-high-end machines, especially when the nose dives forward under braking. You can also feel the limit of grip much more easily on standard street tires, meaning you can extract more performance than usual from some slower cars.
However, while the driving is executed beautifully, there are other areas of the GT6 experience that are pretty ugly. Gran Turismo has been around for a long time, but in all of those 15 years, it doesn't seem like the AI has ever improved. Computer-controlled cars still follow a rigid racing line that they are barely capable of deviating from. The AI shows little awareness of either you or the other AI cars, making most races play out like mobile obstacle courses with very little challenge.
There are some graphical problems as well. Wet weather looks really poor, particularly the effects of water hitting your windshield in the cockpit view. Environments look dated too, especially up close. Grandstands are full of cardboard fans, and some of the texture work leaves a lot to be desired, especially on trees and rock surfaces. Then there are the cars. For the most part, the car models are stunning, inside and out, but the distinction between premium and standard models is still an issue, and which cars fall into which category isn't clear.
GT6 no longer separates these cars in dealerships, and it doesn't distinctly label them. Though the developer has argued that there is no longer a visual difference between standard and premium cars, you can spend credits on a cool-looking ride only to get it on the track and discover that it looks jagged and blurry beside the other pristine machines. Many of the cars still sound like lawnmowers as well, but the day-one patch is supposedly going to sort this out.
Polyphony Digital seems to have carried on where it left off in Gran Turismo 5 and produced a sequel that's a natural progression of all things Gran Turismo, rather than a great reinvention of the franchise. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there are parts of the game that are sorely in need of a makeover, things that a day-one patch is unlikely to solve. Look out for my full review of GT6 once I've spent some more time on the track and burnt some rubber online.