The Real Driving Simulator Returns
May 15th, 2013: Sony and Polyphony Digital are holding an event at the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in rural Northamptonshire, ostensibly to celebrate 15 years of Gran Turismo. GT-branded race cars roar around the circuit, while press and guests admire display cars from the PlayStation racing series' history. Those attending know this can only mean one thing, and Polyphony head Kazunori Yamauchi soon confirms the rumours that have been flying around: Gran Turismo 6 is in development for PS3, and it will be out by the end of this year.
Since PlayStation 4 will be released at around the same time, many were surprised that GT6 wasn't announced as a PS4 title instead. But that has never been how Polyphony works. On both previous PlayStations, the studio took its time developing their astounding graphics and simulation technology for the first release, and then followed it up with a sequel late in the console's life that refined the tech and piled on the features and content. This time is no different. If Gran Turismo 5 was huge - and with 1000 cars, it very much was - GT6 will be absolutely immense.
That car list expands to 1200, while seven new race tracks are added. There'll be many more extensive customisation options for your car too, with many modifications such as aero parts and wheels available to buy. New car models include the classic Ferrari Dino and Renault Alpine, the outlandish Alfa TZ3 Stradale and the brutal 1980s Audi Quattro rally car. The only new track that's been officially unveiled so far is Silverstone itself - which has appeared in virtually every racing game except the Gran Turismo series. Willow Springs in California and Australia's Bathurst are also rumoured, along with returns for classic GT tracks set in Tokyo and Seattle.
Doubtless there's more to be revealed, but it's not just about new content. The car nuts at Polyphony don't do anything by half measures, and they're overhauling the graphics and physics engines for this new instalment as well. Graphics upgrades include better dynamic lighting and smoother detail transitions for the car models, although GT fans will probably be more concerned that the game keeps GT5's commitment to running at full 1080p HD and 60 frames a second - which it does.
The handling model is a bigger deal. GT is already known for its realistic handling, so a substantial improvement sounds like a stretch, but there's a much more detailed simulation of suspension and tyres in GT6 and it does make a tangible difference to how the cars feel. The realistic behaviour is still there, but the cars both look and feel more alive, leaning into corners on the suspension, and communicating how much grip they have back to your steering wheel or game pad more effectively. Aerodynamic effects are now more realistically simulated, too.
So far, it's exactly what you'd expect from Gran Turismo, a series that's known for its comprehensive libraries of tracks and cars and cutting edge graphics and driving simulation. But there's something else going on with Gran Turismo 6, too, and Yamauchi surprises everyone when he says that improving GT is no longer about improving the visuals or simulation. He's got something else on his mind.
Stripped Down And Rebuilt
Although GT has a huge following - the series has sold 70 million copies to date, 10 million of those on PS3 - most fans will agree that the games can be complicated, slow and painful to play, with sluggish menus and long loading times. GT5's online mode and downloadable content support was lacking compared to some competitors, too.
This is where Polyphony is really focusing its efforts with GT6. The interface is being simplified and completely overhauled to be more responsive. New community features will allow fans to organise their own car clubs, tournaments and racing series. There will be smartphone, tablet and PC apps that tie into the game servers and allow you to access community features and more. And there's a plan to support the game with a constant stream of add-ons, including an impressive new track every month.
It doesn't stop there. Gran Turismo is known as a game series that blends the real and the virtual, and thanks to its close links with car manufacturers, Polyphony is taking this to a new level. Crazily, you can download data from a Toyota GT86 sports car to recreate a real drive in GT6's replay engine, while the prize for the GT Academy competition series is now an entire season of racing in the GT3 motorsport series.
It may not be on PS4, but Gran Turismo 6 still looks likely to push the boundaries of what's possible in racing games.