“The real driving simulator”
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”
If you’re going to write a weekly series based on racing games, you’re going to feature Gran Turismo eventually. It’s inevitable. Developer Polyphony Digital gives it the tagline “the real driving simulator” and it really is. No other racing game so accurately recreates real driving physics, nor features such a large collection of real cars, let alone any so authentically replicated. The attention to detail has made the games more than just digital entertainment – a Gran Turismo title is a virtual museum, scientific document and practising tool. Every degree to which an aspect of a car can be modified and tuned makes a real, subtle difference. They’re games that should only be played by those who truly know what they’re doing. Every car featured in the games are studied meticulously, industry experts are consulted during development and vehicle sounds are recorded from the real thing. It’s Peak PlayStation – nothing demonstrates its capabilities like this. No surprise, then, that it’s the best-selling PlayStation exclusive franchise.
The car collecting aspect is the most addictive; I consistently find myself wanting to acquire one more vehicle for my garage. The temptation that keeps me playing is to see just how big my collection can become. The career mode events are designed with specific vehicle specifications in mind and buying another car may be necessary in order to enter. Having exactly the right car for a particular event is the way to progress. It will only grow from there. Events are accessible to any driver with the relevant license, with can only be awarded by completing challenges that will push their driving skill to the appropriate level. Thus, the learning curve is drawn as perfectly and precisely as the hundreds of thousands of polygons that go into every vehicle’s design.
Each wheel is modelled independently, interacting with the car on its own. This is symptomatic of how Polyphony Digital makes the physics so realistic – by breaking the cars down into their constituent elements, they’re able to simulate the subtle dynamics that we don’t know we notice in real life. This also allows the modifications to make more accurate differences, as any changes can be affected right down to specific parts rather than as making a general difference to the car as a whole. If you don’t have a developed understanding of practical automotive theory, you’ll be lost. The original Gran Turismo – which remains the highest-rated racing game on Metacritic – came with an almighty information booklet that has been identified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest video game instruction manual. Playing Gran Turismo requires the same kind of passionate obsession as its developers have for it. If you don’t have it, you’ll probably find it tedious and dull.
In real life, an interest in cars is often based on their characteristics – the way they look and handle, how they can have their own personalities. Gran Turismo takes that concept and applies it on a grand scale. They are, essentially, role-playing games, in which the cars are characters. Each of them have different strengths and weaknesses and increase their stats as you progress. Alternatively, they’re like Pokemon for the same reasons – and also because you’ve gotta “catch” ‘em all. You start with the obvious ones, eventually acquire the iconic legends to prove your worth, until eventually you’re finishing your collection with obscure entries that are of no value whatsoever but earn you bragging rights. The Mercedes-Benz Daimler Motor Carriage 1886 is never going to be of use, but merely being able to say you have one is what makes it worth having one.
Very few series have had such a direct impact on the real world. Aston Martin has attributed increased awareness of its models in the United States to the cars’ presence in such a best-selling title. Samsung have said the same of its Skyline in the United Kingdom and subsequently invited Polyphony Digital to work on the display graphics for its GT-R’s dashboard. Starting in 2008, they launched the GT Academy, in which the best Gran Turismo players could win the chance to become a professional driver for Nissan, so reliably true-to-life are the games.
Nothing else comes close to being such an adoring love letter to cars. Gran Turismo virtually recreates them with the accuracy of a renaissance portrait. You can find tracks that extend high into mountains and take a classic European sports car for a leisurely drive, or you can go all out in a touring car race at Daytona or a rally on gravel or perhaps snow. Different racing game genres are all combined here, from Need for Speed to DiRT Rally. In what other racing game can you go from the streets of Rome or Tokyo to a NASA rover on the surface of the Moon with realistic low-gravity?
All the reasons to love cars and driving them is in Gran Turismo. It’s made both by and for people who understand the beauty of auto-motion and everything it can provide, from excitement to relaxation. Driving can be its own reward, even without a destination. Most other racing games are about how the cars are used, but Gran Turismo is about the cars themselves and the tracks to race them on, with ultra-realistic depictions of legendary courses like the Nurburgring and all the detailed contours that make them what they and give them their unique identity. Each game is a highly-budgeted commercial for its featured cars and tracks that are made with such love and car as to go beyond the realms of advertisement and into being a tribute.
Of all the racing games I’ve played, these aren’t my personal favourites, but I do recognise their status as the ultimate example of the genre in terms of everything it can do and everything it can be. They do what they do better than any of the others, technically – though, for the same reason, it’s unlikely to appeal to anyone beyond the most extreme level of interest. As it is, I do have the most extreme level of interest, so the best compliment I can bestow upon the Gran Turismo games is to say that they truly are everything great about the racing genre, in all its various forms.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column aīnd also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com. This is a side-project he’s working on while he finishes his novel.
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Categories: Racing Column