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Gran Turismo 6 marches toward reality, races toward a holiday 2013 release

Aki Sugawara
Associate Editor

Everyone needs a rival. In case of Ayrton Senna, it was the cool-under fire Alain Prost. The Porsche 911 Turbo continually swaps Nürburgring hot-lap bragging rights with Nissan’s Godzilla GT-R. With racing games, Forza strives to out-simulate Gran Turismo, which has endured for 15 years. And in celebration of that milestone, Polyphony Digital head Kazunori Yamauchi announced that the much-anticipated sixth version is slated for a holiday 2013 release on the PlayStation 3 — a drastic contrast to the development cycle of its predecessor that saw more delays than a Fisker Karma launch.

The game, previewed at the Silverstone track in England, looks more like a major tune-up than a re-imagining of the franchise. The new installment features 33 locations and 71 course layouts, which is nine more locales than GT5. New models range from the KTM X-Bow R to the 1971 Ferrari Dino 246 GT to the Tesla Model S. Forza Motorsport fans have long grumbled of the lack of customization in the Gran Turismo franchise, and this game promises thousands of aero parts and numerous wheel options, as well as the ability to create your own community club. Still it doesn’t look like you can create your own elaborate decal designs, so you probably won’t be able to plaster anime characters on your hood as with the competing Xbox 360 title.

For people who track their car outside the game, the most intriguing feature is the ability to upload data logs taken from your car’s ECU and see your laps in-game via GPS tracking. Only one car so far will support the feature — the Toyota GT86 (known as the Scion FR-S stateside) — though Yamauchi hinted at more manufacturers following suit.

Although there wasn’t a GT86 on hand to test the feature, I did get a chance to get behind the wheel of the Nissan 370Z in-game, and drive the Jaguar XKR-S on the actual track (which felt like I was sprinting backwards because of the right-hand drive). Not surprisingly, it’s more fun to drive a 550-hp Jag in the real world, but the game’s reworked physics, tire and suspension modeling imparted the feeling you’re actually pitching and rolling with the car. The body motions were more nuanced than in GT5, and the weight transfer more palpable as I swung around the tights bends of the famed track. Compared to the engine in Forza, where every car feels floaty like you’re Anakin Skywalker in a pod racer, there’s a more tangible feel of rubber grip and the limits of adhesion.

With the caveat that it’s only a preview build, the feel and visuals are similar to Gran Turismo 5, and it’s not the quantum leap that Polyphony made between GT2 and GT3. Although Kazunori Yamauchi promised quicker load times, at least in the preview build the track load time didn’t seem any shorter than its predecessor. But as a realistic driving simulator, GT6 continues to push the envelope.

Gran Turismo 6 doesn’t look to redefine the genre, but it doesn’t need to. The franchise in its 15 years has sold over 70 million units worldwide, with the last game selling over 10 million units on the PlayStation 3. With over 1,200 cars available at release, and more to come from download packs, the franchise won’t need to look at its rearview mirrors anytime soon.