Gran Turismo Is Great Just The Way It Is
People like to argue about racing games. Why? Just play Gran Turismo
This is a community editorial post by JT Russell, friend of Handsome Phantom.
The coolest kids are the ones who do something different and own it. The Gran Turismo series from Polyphony Digital has always been hailed as the Obi-Wan Kenobi of driving games. (Yes, Obi-Wan died and Luke steals the limelight moving forward, but eternally he has an impact on all Jedi.) The master will always be the benchmark.
Even today, after 23 years of simulating race cars, they are still pushing the boundaries on the racing genre with their latest entry, GT Sport. After 4 years of development, GT Sport offers best in class visuals, revolutionary driving mechanics, and inarguably the most single player content when compared to the other Padawans Forza 7 and Project Cars 2.
Since the original Gran Turismo, Polyphony has pretty much kept the same formula for its gameplay loop. You start off with just enough credits for an old rice-rocket and maybe an engine upgrade. This gets you going for a few tournaments until you can afford something else, but you can’t just save up for your dream car and use that to conquer all the other races. No, many of the tournaments have strict requirements which only allow specific drivetrain, brands, engine type, etc. This forces you to explore and really feel many different cars which brings lots of variety to the gameplay.
If they didn’t spend so much time and effort getting as much detail as technology allows, the variety of cars would make this an extremely tedious venture and, sadly, that’s what you get with most other racing games – particularly games like Need for Speed, Burnout, or The Crew. I would even go so far as to say that Forza could be in this group as well (don’t crucify me just yet!). I’m glad these racers exist, it’s just that Gran Turismo is on a whole different level for me. It’s like the difference between playing chess and playing checkers. Playing checkers is fun to play with your girlfriend or buddy for a few laughs but, if you want an experience, go read a few books on chess and play the guys in the park on a Sunday morning.
As you traverse through the many game modes, you will do all kinds of racing related activities such as street drifting, rallying through the Swiss Alps, zipping in a professional go-kart, even navigating uncharted territory on the Moon. One mode I love to hate is the license tests. The short little challenges can be a breath of fresh air to break up the lengthy tournament events. There is just so much content to enjoy and grinding to unlock them makes it just oh so rewarding. Polyphony really owns their Japanese approach to game design. The Japanese love their grinding mechanics and love to always be on the cutting edge of presentation.
Once you get near the end game content and pick up your first actual race car (the cars that kind of look like spaceships), the game evolves once again, and this is what really sets GT apart from all the others. When I used a racing car for the first time, it was almost unplayable. There was just so much torque compared to the weight distribution of the car that I couldn’t get around any corners without looking like a grandma. Before this moment, I really never touched any of the custom suspension settings because everything worked pretty well. But now, I was stuck. I started researching what all the options meant and how to make them work for me. This challenged me to specifically identify what was actually happening. It was a true testament to the meticulous crafting by Polyphony Digital that what I learned about tuning actual cars translated accurately to the gameplay in Gran Turismo. Remember, this was in 2001. Since then, they haven’t changed the core gameplay offerings and have just made incremental improvements and added certain features like online multiplayer, day/night cycles, and astrologically accurate star patterns (lol GT6).
The lack of change to the base gameplay loop for almost twenty years has been the topic of conversation about this series for a while now. Forza, for the last six years or so, has been the leader in the racing sim conversation. However, Forza is clearly designed to reach a wide audience and that’s just not what GT is or should ever be. Some of the pro Forza highlights are that it has more realistic damage, better audio, faster sense of speed, fantastical experiences, open-world driving, and a more consistent release schedule. Unfortunately, in my eyes none of this criteria really appeals to any “hardcore” racing sim fan.
As for audio, I will say that Gran Turismo has always suffered from lackluster car audio. However, this has been a huge push for the guys and one of the main improvements for GT Sport. I played it at PSX last December and there was a significant difference in the audio from the last entry. Gone is the overbearing whiny sounds of the turbo system, now it sits in harmony with the satisfying growl from the engine. What’s also funny is even though Forza seems like the more successful franchise after the decline in sales GT has experienced since GT3: A-Spec, Forza still doesn’t sell better. It just feels more popular because it’s in the limelight every year with it’s annual release schedule. Forza Motorsport 6 sold 1.99 million units as of Aug. 12, 2017, while GT6 sold five million as of Aug. 11, 2016. Keep in mind, GT6 released on the PS3 right before it’s last breath. Forza Horizon 3, which most would say the most critically well-received entry, sold around 2.5 million copies as of December 2016 and GT5, critically reviewed worst in the series (even though IGN reviewed GT6 worse), sold over 6.5 million not including the 4 million from the Prologue.
My point here is not that Gran Turismo is the best driving game now and forever, just that it offers something no other developers offer and it would hurt if they sacrificed that to be like everyone else. Just like Rockstar who has offered the relatively same formula with GTA every five years or so with a few tweaks, Gran Turismo feels fresh after 4-5 years of waiting. This keeps from brand fatigue and makes every new game an event.
This will definitely be a fall that racing fans won’t forget. Slightly Mad Studios with Project Cars is doing great work. Their latest entry received a 9.2 on IGN which makes it “amazing” according to the rating scale. It’s out now, so go ahead and pick it up if you’re itching for some simulated racing, you know where I will be come October 17th. Hopefully you will give Gran Turismo a chance too!