Gran Turismo 6 hands-on: Polyphony’s unfinished business on PS3 is more than a numbers game

By now you’ve formed your own opinion of Gran Turismo 6 on PS3 and whether another current-gen outing is worth getting hot under the flame-retardant overalls for, 1200 cars and 71 track layouts or not. But the numbers don’t do Polyphony’s sixth motorsport odyssey justice – because those numbers don’t tell you how it feels to wrestle a Nismo 350Z through Club corner at Silverstone.

GT6 exists because Polyphony president Kazunori Yamauchi won’t rest until his games perfectly reflect the sensation of driving a race car – something he’s come to know a lot about having competed in pro events himself – and armed with that first-hand experience and all the telemetry data you can shake a team of analysts at, Polyphony’s back to have another go at living up to that age old mantra – the real racing simulator. I got hands-on with GT6 around Silverstone in a Nismo 350Z and an Audi Quattro Group B S1 using a force feedback wheel and pedals, and this is how it’s left me feeling.

 ”Like the high-poly cockpit of the Audi rally legend, it’s something for the hardcore to enjoy”

If you play using manual gears, you’ll be struck by how much more notice you need to take of your revs when downshifting. Previously cars would accommodate a flurry of downshifts in a split second without even a hint of lock-up from the rear, but just two corners in I nearly bin the Nismo by clicking down to second while the revs are too high. I wrestle with the wheel, bringing the whole graceless affair almost to a halt before I regain control, and tell myself I know better for the next turn now. Manual drivers make up the minority of GT’s users of course, so it’s all the more impressive that this detail’s present. Like the incredibly high-poly cockpit of the Audi rally legend, it’s something for the hardcore to enjoy.

Both the aero and suspension physics engines have been rebuilt according to the real race data Polyphony’s acquired since GT5, and that translates into much more realistic weight shifting mid-corner, and on the exit. Dampers and packers strain to balance my weight as I throw the S1 through Maggots, Beckets and Chapel a little bit quicker than it’d like. I wouldn’t like to say how this will feel when you’re using a pad rather than a wheel, but at least some of the necessary counter-steering I needed to stab into the wheel will translate to the analogue stick.

With a wheel and pedals, GT6 demands as much from you as hardcore PC sims GTR 2 and rFactor. The sound mix is set to highlight lock-ups and tyre squeals, and that lets you react instinctively with your ears and your hands. The cockpit camera remains static though, unlike those of the aforementioned games or Slightly Mad’s Shift 2, which throw your POV forward under braking and convey lateral G-force in and out of corners. That makes for a cleaner, easier to control ride, but one that’s lacking slightly in conveying the speed of its vehicles – something so rigorously implemented in terms of accurate numbers. But then, this game isn’t about numbers, right? 1200 what?

“It’ll be very interesting to see how the authenticity in wheel & pedals control boils down to a DualShock”

When asked by a table of reporters what he felt GT5 lacked the most, Yamauchi-San was clear and quick to answer: “responsiveness.” Improved feedback from the car is hard to convey in presentations to hundreds of journos, but it’s Gran Turismo 6’s raison d’etre and that’s a principle the Polyphony boss is clearly resolute about. When the next hands-on opportunity rolls around, it’ll be very interesting to see how the authenticity in wheel & pedals control boils down to a DualShock.

It’s surprising to go hands-on with a game at its reveal, and our extended hot-lap session around the all-new Silverstone Circuit suggests GT6 is already well into its polish phase, and that Polyphony won’t need to throw you a Prologue edition to keep you from storming the Bastille.

It’s less surprising that we’re seeing the PS3 version first. As SCEE president Jim Ryan points out, Gran Turismo has a tradition of releasing two games per generation. “If you look at the difference between GT and GT2, and GT3 and GT4, the change is not incremental. It’s absolutely massive,” says Ryan. “We’re very confident that you’ll see the step change between GT5 and GT6 as on the previous platform iterations. There’s a sense of very much unfinished business on PS3.”

Ed: The real question is, can GT6 inspire Phil to take part in another day-long racing marathon where he briefly hallucinates thanks to dehydration after 17 non-stop hours of virtual motoring? Yeah, we’re guessing not…