Driving a wedge.
The comparison to Forza Motorsport 5 is inevitable: Where FM5 is the young whippersnapper—flashing its next-gen graphics, brashly plastering microtransactions all over the place, and presenting bold, new ways to approach artificial intelligence and online functionalities—Gran Turismo is the stalwart veteran who has the experience to take things in stride and champion a more thorough plan of attack. While it also stubbornly clings to the past in many ways, Gran Turismo 6 is an obvious improvement over its immediate predecessor and treats both newcomers and hardcore racing fans fairly. But it needs to get with the times soon, or it'll be lost in the dust.
Gran Turismo 6 follows the tradition that the series has set for the last decade, mainly focusing on a single-player career where you must climb the ladder from a lowly novice to a fast and furious supercar driver. Along the way, you'll need to collect stars to unlock additional missions and license tests to advance to the next tier. Capturing first place in any race will net you the maximum of three stars, and while it's not necessary to earn every star, doing so will grant you free gifted cars. In this manner, along with the much more lenient requirements for getting bronze for license tests, this driving simulation is quite forgiving to new players.
At the same time, GT6 is a car aficionado's dream come true in terms of sheer quantity. The breadth alone might leave you stunned: Over 1,200 vehicles and over 35 tracks are available at launch. While the modeling for the liveries and the environments are definitively not as refined as those in FM5, the comprehensive roster—almost overwhelmingly so—is more than a saving grace and rescues the single-player campaign from boredom. Unlike its immediate competitor, you will rarely revisit the same track within a span of three hours, and if you do, the conditions are usually different enough that it remains interesting.
Better yet, go-kart races, Coffee Break challenges where you knock down cones or attempt to drive as long as you can with one liter of gas, and special events where you can ride the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon all break up the would-be monotonous pace of racing. It must also be said (strangely) that you'll need to cross the finish line in first place to earn the most credits, not the minimum of third place as in FM5. And if you've purchased a high-end racing setup for GT5, then it will most likely be compatible with this installment as well. The user interface has been simplified and condensed as well, though it would been more expedient to allow you to move onto the next event in a series that isn't a part of a championship.
Otherwise, the Gran Turismo routine should be familiar. The vast majority of races plop you at the back of the pack where you must scrap and claw your way to first place, aggressively passing the competition while following the driving line for the best areas to brake and accelerate. There's no rewind feature here so a single mistake can easily cost you a top placement. That's just par for the course for a racing simulation, where each of the 1,200 cars has distinct and accurate physics and mechanics. Usually, purchasing or upgrading a car as close as possible to the restrictions placed on a race will make the climb to first place extremely simple, but there are a few tracks that are short and have narrow lanes, so getting gold in a limited number of laps is a worthy challenge even with a decked-out car.
Where Gran Turismo 6 shows its age, though, is in some of the advances that Forza has made outside of its graphical capabilities. There's no additional reward for increasing the difficulty or disabling the numerous driving assists, and the feedback for passing and turning quality is nonexistent. The multiplayer integration with online leaderboards and the extent of livery editing are lacking, while the roar of engines don't sound impressive. Cars crash right into a metal barrier without so much as a dent, and passing AI opponents on the road is more a matter of bumper cars, especially since the AI opponents generally drive on-rails. Going off-track straight through a series of turns, like the last tricky bend at the Suzuka Circuit, won't count against you either. Worse yet, the rock music during races can be downright awful.
Microtransactions present a similar problem that they did in FM5, but at least they doesn't rear its ugly head over and over again like car tokens, car tokens, CAR TOKENS! There are no notifications of microtransactions whatsoever on the upgrade screen or the main menu, and they would have otherwise gone unnoticed unless you knew about them in the PlayStation Store. The rate of gifted cars has been lowered somewhat, but they still exist and Vision Gran Turismo, where more than 28 automotive manufacturers will design special cars for the game (the Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision GT is currently available), provides free cars as well.
That said, Gran Turismo 6 isn't even finished yet. Polyphony is still working on bringing along B-Spec mode, GPS Track Regenerator, GPS Visualizer, Course Maker, and several new community features, on top of the current ability to create car clubs and converse with members on forums. New vehicles and tracks will be available as well and can be purchased with in-game credits.
Gran Turismo 6 feels like a last-generation model car with premium parts. It's certainly no slouch, but there's only so much room left for improvement, where an upgrade would finally mean moving to the most current edition. The Forza Motorsport series has been moving in the right direction for the last decade, whereas the Gran Turismo series seems like it's stagnating despite several minor improvements. Polyphony needs to reexamine the programming behind AI, damage modeling, and online integration by the next installment on the PlayStation 4. Anything short of that will be a disappointment, but for now, the effort is more than acceptable.