If you haven’t noticed by now, certain driving games are almost taboo to talk about within the sim racing community – regardless of what particular message board you find yourself visiting. Jumping into any kind of discussion and proudly announcing your love for Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport roster of titles, or better yet Polyphony’s Gran Turismo series, and you’ll promptly be met with a plethora of users doing their best to knock you down a few pegs on the local totem pole. “How dare you compare the lowly Gran Turismo 6 to a mighty PC simulator”, one will cry; “Forza is not a sim and has never been a sim – it’s a simcade driving game for little kids who like to collect cars”, says another.
While no true hierarchy has been firmly established within the genre of sim racing, one general consensus has reigned supreme throughout multiple console generations and endless online debates: Gran Turismo and Forza have no place being discussed in the same realm as hardcore PC racing simulators. And no matter how many videos you can find about Forza’s advanced tire model, or the amount of car manufacturers who have spent weeks aiding the development of newer Gran Turismo iterations, sim racers simply don’t want to hear about it. Gran Turismo is simcade. Forza Motorsport? Simcade as well. It’s as if you’ve walked into an online guitar community, and merely mentioning you enjoy the works of Metallica prompts a flurry of obscure YouTube links from veteran members to bands whose names you can’t pronounce, and whose songs you don’t quite understand the appeal of.
They may mean well, and these hardcore sim racers may truly want to help expose you to the world of PC sim racing – encouraging you to get rid of your preferred console and dive head-first into Assetto Corsa or rFactor 2 – but is this hate for mass market auto racing titles justified? Or, like many other aspects of the sim racing community, has the common sim racer been brainwashed into babbling on about something they don’t fully understand?
Spoiler: It’s the latter.
I own one of those beefy George Foreman grille PS3 models from the first production run back in 2006. Yes, the console is slow as shit, the user interface is poor, and the lineup of PlayStation 3 games is pretty embarrassing compared to what was available for the Xbox 360 – but the console, or at least this particular model, does have it’s perks. It’s compatible with basically every Logitech wheel released in the past decade, meaning I can use what’s almost my exact PC sim racing setup on laid-back products like BAJA: Edge of Control, Motorstorm, and Formula One Championship Edition. Backwards compatibility for original PlayStation, as well as PlayStation 2 titles, allows me to enjoy some of the utterly fantastic racing games we were blessed with in the early 2000’s in high definition, more often than not producing an extremely enjoyable nostalgia trip thanks to today’s half-finished racing sims. And lastly, thanks to the PlayStation 3’s architecture, messing around with the save game data to explore the game’s list of content is as easy as locating a USB stick somewhere around the house, and dragging different folders around. I was a strict Xbox 360 guy back when Call of Duty 4 was new, but now that I’m not obligated to join an Xbox Live party with my high school buddies each and every night for months on end, this was an awesome investment.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I picked up a copy of Gran Turismo 6 for $20 at my local Wal-Mart at least two years ago, maybe more. And I’ll be quite honest with you guys, I never really got into it. Because I originally grew up with PC gaming in an era ripe with cheat codes and trainers from GameCopyWorld, the whole Gran Turismo career mode grind didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. After years – no wait – almost a full decade of messing around in isiMotor sims, a developer locking all of the desirable cars away behind ridiculous grind sessions is an easy way for any game I’ve purchased to be delegated to the shelf and left untouched for years. So yes, I’ve put bits and pieces of my time into Gran Turismo 6, maybe run a few online sessions back in the day with guys from 4Chan prior to achieving near-alien status, but that’s where it ends.
And then I just… I don’t know. Something came over me when I was at work, and I was suddenly compelled to look for a save game editor for Gran Turismo 6. I figured if I could simply bypass the ridiculous Career mode bullshit, and approach the game as I would any modern PC racing simulator by having all of the content available at the start, I’d get something more out of the experience. I mean, I’ve got a PS3 compatible wheel, and my skillset has increased dramatically since I tried the game at some point in 2014… Maybe there was something out there, and maybe it was time to give it another go?
Anyways, the hack featured in this YouTube video by RTDRONE still works as of June 2016. For those who may have abandoned Gran Turismo 6 because of the grind, and want to play around with the game as if it’s this huge automotive sandbox, go nuts – this is what you’re looking for. 50,000,000 credits get deposited to your profile, and every single car in the game automatically appears in your garage.
With the absurd – and quite frankly outdated – single player campaign now completely optional, a PS3-compatible steering wheel that I was more than familiar with hooked up to the aging console, and nearly 1,200 cars at my disposal, I finally got to try Gran Turismo 6 in a way that worked for me. So rather than evaluating the game as a full product, weighing the pros and cons of how the game was built versus the on-track experience, I could treat Gran Turismo 6 as if I’d just bought a traditional PC racing sim on Steam. I’m not going to outright review Gran Turismo 6, as pretty much every other publication has already done so when the topic was actually relevant. Instead, I’d like to talk about what I found as a hardcore PC sim racer when I proceeded to jump into the game with a master key. I didn’t go in looking for a compelling campaign mode, riveting customization features, or quirky social media integration to serve as a distraction from the simulations I usually dedicate my time to. Hell no.
Like many of you, I’ve heard from several individuals around the sim racing community that this game was simcade garbage, and anyone serious about pretend race cars should avoid it like the plague.
I simply wanted to know if that was true.
So, my gear, and the game’s initial setup. That’s important.
On the PC, I use a Logitech Driving Force GT, coupled with Logitech G27 pedals via the Bodnar cable. I obviously can’t do that on the PS3, so I’m forced to use the cheap plastic pieces of shit that come bundled with the Driving Force GT. Provided you can take care of your stuff, these pedals do last, they’re just… well… they’re plastic. As someone who can wheel both a virtual race car, and a real-life shitbox barely passing as a race car, it’s only the quality of the brake pedal you need to worry about when it comes to budget pedal setups. I can deal with a flimsy throttle pedal, as usually I’ll be either at 50% or 100% input – which is easy enough to modulate even on plastic garbage – but yeah, the default brake pedal sucks. To compensate for not having sturdy G27 equipment under my feet, I jacked the anti-lock braking assist up to the maximum value of 10.
Everything else, I made sure to turn off. Skid recovery force? Gone. Traction control? Nope. Stability control? Nah, no thanks. Force Feedback was turned down to the absolute minimum value as well, to prevent the PS3 from killing my steering wheel. You’re really dumb if you set it to a level where the wheel is physically trying to jump out of your hands. Unless you’re literally in the process of crashing while driving a modern IndyCar, your plastic steering wheel shouldn’t be operating in a manner that creates a genuine workplace hazard.
Lastly, there are the tires. While nobody’s really figured out if it’s a cold & calculated design decision, or an error on the part of Polyphony Digital, it’s widely understood that the default set of tires each car in Gran Turismo 6 comes bundled with, provide far too much grip than exists in real world conditions. The story goes that if you select a tire compound one or two clicks lower than what the car is equipped with by default, the car’s behavior will accurately reflect what you’ll experience in a hardcore PC racing simulator.
I’m not going to bombard you with vivid and colorful descriptions of my time spent blasting around in Gran Turismo 6, because y’all will just call me delusional for falling in love with a console game most people have written off long ago. What I will do, is get right to the meat of the article and point out five very specific things I’ve been impressed by during my time with the game.
#1 – New Tires = Completely New Game
I took Dale Jr’s 2013 Sprint Cup series ride to the East layout of Suzuka, and I wasn’t all that impressed. It was far too stiff, far too grippy, had too much downforce, and drove like a V8 Supercar with four gears. Oh, and the sound was pretty awful, let’s not forget about that. Venturing to the other side of the globe, I took the 1999 Dodge Viper to the fictional London street circuit which first appeared in Gran Turismo 5, for a complete change of pace. I may as well have been playing Project Gotham Racing. It was like, fun, but it wasn’t very good, or very accurate.
But then you throw on some news shoes – four to be precise – and suddenly you don’t feel like you’re playing Gran Turismo 6 anymore. Each of the twelve different tire compounds available for you to purchase in the garage are much more than just a simple grip value receiving a boost or reduction based on the direction you’re moving in. Jump from race tires to sport tires, and the whole behavior of the tire changes – how it bites under acceleration, how it maintains grip under load in the corners, and how much you can lean on the outer edge when powering out of a bend. It’s as if you’re playing iRacing, and a drop-down menu let you select which of the eight previous tire models you’d like to turn laps with during that particular session. There isn’t a magic compound that works across each car, so obviously that’s left to a bit of self-experimentation, but when I found something that felt right, I was more than satisfied.
#2 – Longitudinal Grip Levels are Excellent
A topic bound to cause some controversy, so let’s get this out of the way first: What both Assetto Corsa and Project CARS do wrong when it comes to how each respective game’s tires behave, is something called longitudinal grip, otherwise known as forward bite. When you floor the throttle in Assetto Corsa off corner exit, the rear tires grab the asphalt at precisely 100% grip – no more, no less. In Project CARS, if you’re right on a dude’s ass and need to apply power just a few milliseconds earlier to generate a run on him out of a corner, again, send the throttle pedal through your desk, and you’re granted with absolutely perfect grip. The concept of rolling onto the throttle in a smooth and controlled fashion doesn’t exist in either game, taking a lot of the skill away from driving notoriously difficult or quick cars.
Gran Turismo 6 re-introduced me to a lack of longitudinal grip. Now, it’s not over-done by any means, and it’s barely noticeable in proper race cars unless you’re really pushing – as it should be – but the fact that Gran Turismo made me manage the throttle on corner exit, and neither Assetto Corsa nor Project CARS cared to even introduce that concept, is both bloody awesome and a cause for concern. It’s awesome that something labelled as simcade by elitists gets something like this right, but a pretty big disappointment that two of the most popular PC sims have outright ignored it.
There’s a particular turn at Silverstone, Luffield (Turn 7), where throttle management is extremely important, and had I not been surrounded by GT6’s trademark HUD, it felt as if I was driving one of the Corvettes in rFactor 2. I tried to document this in the shot of the Viper above. Meanwhile, in Assetto Corsa, you just sort of floor it halfway through and point the steering wheel at the wall when the time comes.
#3 – Instantaneous Handling Feedback
I didn’t realize how sloppy my set of skills had become until I started running laps at the Nordschleife and other locations with the BMW Z4 GT3, and it wasn’t just the lap times which told the story – a combination of the tire behavior and Force Feedback effects directly notified me when I’d royally fuck up. I’m a huge isiMotor guy and I love RealFeel, but Gran Turismo 6 was on an entirely different planet in terms of understeer nuances, as well as Force Feedback.
When your car exhibits understeer in something like Assetto Corsa or a classic isiMotor sim, the front end of the car just sort of floats vaguely forward until you reduce your speed and decrease your turning radius. Gran Turismo 6 is the only racing sim I’ve played where you can physically feel, hear, and sense that the front tires are literally being pushed forward by the weight & momentum of the car. Reducing understeer – and steering out of it in extreme circumstances – feels natural in Gran Turismo 6. After completion of the corner, you immediately know you really fucked things up, and desperately need to back up your braking points or concentrate on your line.
Continuing on that note, getting the line just right through a corner, the neutral feeling through the wheel’s Force Feedback effects instantly indicates that the car is traveling on the optimal path. If I were to compare GT6’s Force Feedback effects to a modern PC simulator, it’s like they took RaceRoom Racing Experience as a base, and expanded upon what the vehicle chassis had been exhibiting on a turn-by-turn basis. You can feel when the car is under load, when the chassis is tightening up, and when the car is perfectly balanced. I can’t say the same about something like rFactor 2, which feels very canned, even on an elaborate simulator center setup.
#4 – You Can Drive It Like a PC Simulator
For something that’s been given the title of simcade, all of my shift points and braking points worked at the Nordschleife. And at Silverstone. And at Spa. In a variety of different cars. That’s not supposed to happen in a game where the primary focus is single player progression and car collecting. This kind of accuracy wasn’t supposed to show up in a three year old game for the PlayStation 3, but alas, it sure as hell did.
It’s no secret that I’m a big GT3 guy, and I took the BMW Z4 GT3 to plenty of different tracks to achieve a sense of some familiarity within this new and strange environment. Before long, I was ripping around Brands Hatch and posting times almost identical to the one’s I’d posted earlier in the year during an rFactor 2 race on Race2Play. At the Nordschleife, the line composing the first 45 seconds of the track – violent flicks of the wheel back and forth with a few shifting segments serving as interludes – yeah, it carried over perfectly from RaceRoom Racing Experience and their glorious laser-scanned rendition of the ring.
The more I kept exploring, taking things to Silverstone, then Spa with the Sauber C9, lines I’m familiar with from other simulators… braking points, shift points, even turn-in points… There wasn’t a learning curve, or a “well, this is Gran Turismo, let’s try a gear higher” moment. Had it not been for the awful engine sounds or the poor cockpit view, there wasn’t much simcade about what I was experiencing. There would be a flash of rFactor 2, a pinch of RaceRoom, maybe a brief cameo of Assetto Corsa’s original tire model, but above all else, nothing that warranted the extreme elitism of the PC sim crowd. It was the opposite. This kind of driving model is something they’ve been wanting from a few different simulators, currently stuck in the eternal science project phase of things.
#5 – The Visual Fidelity is Insane
I’m not a graphics whore, but I certainly noticed the jump. When you put up with visually dated products like Automobilista, rFactor 2, iRacing, and even Assetto Corsa to an extent, nothing really prepares you for how fucking awesome Gran Turismo 6 looks – even at speed. I’m sure attaching photos to this post won’t really convey the immense amount of detail in the environments, but certain things catch your eye in Gran Turismo 6 that just aren’t even there in hardcore PC simulators. I found myself marveling at the scenery in Belgium more than a few times during my test session with the Sauber C9, as everything from the rumble strips to the grass are just that much more visually appealing; a far cry from the cartoon-ish visuals of Stock Car Extreme. The grass looks so fluffy, the rumble strips so slippery, the preferred line on the tarmac so slick…
It’s one of those deals where isiMotor stuff or iRacing stuff is serviceable, but once your eyes are caught by something insignificant on the side of the track in GT6, it’s incredibly hard to look at what’s currently installed on your PC and deem it to be acceptable – even beautiful in the case of third party tracks created by talented modding teams. Gran Turismo 6 obviously gets shit for the pitiful inclusion of standard PS2-era car models, but the environments themselves more than make up for it. Project CARS came close, but was eventually ruined by intrusive lighting and poor reflections. Gran Turismo 6 is aided by a great combination of impressive high resolution textures and a natural lighting pallette, giving the game some truly impressive visuals – though the framerate kind of shits itself once in a while.
I drove four cars during my time spent fucking around with Gran Turismo 6, and I guess I’ll give a quick rundown of each of them, how I felt about their behavior, and which PC sim car they closely resembled.
- 1999 Dodge Viper – I bought this one from the dealership, made a tire compound adjustment, and installed a full race suspension to achieve the level of tuning options available in something like Assetto Corsa. Had this car been yanked straight out of Gran Turismo 6, including both the tire compound and underlying physics engine, and released as a free mod for Assetto Corsa, it would be considered the greatest mod car of all time – eventually landing a spot on the roster as official content. You’ll hear guys like me say they wish they could have Assetto Corsa feeling the way it did back in 2014, prior to the next generation console push, and this car came pretty damn close to replicating how that felt. This is a big deal, considering the ’99 Viper is a standard PS2 model neglected by Polyphony Digital, and most likely wouldn’t receive the same level of polish as a premium car.
- 2011 BMW Z4 GT3 – I threw on a set of sport compound tires instead of the ultra-sticky racing set, and it felt no different than URD’s Z4 for rFactor 2. To demonstrate how closely it aligned, at my local sim center I’ve got the Nordscheife record with the Z4 set at a stout 6:54 – and that’s with a strictly stock setup as per house rules. The same approach in Gran Turismo 6, with the same car in the same conditions, warranted a 6:59. That’s pretty damn close considering I was driving with plastic pedals rather than a triple monitor setup and Fanatec V2’s under my feet. For a better comparison, the car put out high 1:22’s around Brands Hatch in GT6, while I could extract low 1:22’s in rFactor 2. Virtually the same car.
- 1989 Sauber C9 Prototype – Haha, this thing is fucking insane. Lots of short shifting and throttle management on corner exit. Just a bit too crazy for my tastes, but it was no more or less difficult than the same car in Assetto Corsa. Not a fan of the Group C stuff from a driving standpoint, but if there was any car to make or break my opinion on whether Gran Turismo 6 is simcade or something more, it would be this car. Had this title’s physics been as poor as people have claimed, I wouldn’t have struggled to the extent I did. Not in the mood to try this one again. Does that make me a bitch? Hell yes.
- 2013 Chevrolet SS Stock Car – I think my only complaint was the fact that it had too much power. Once I installed a realistic set of tires, the car felt like a mix between the Ford Fusion recently released as DLC for Project CARS, and what I vaguely remember from iRacing’s Gen 6 Sprint Cup car, leaning more towards the iRacing side of things thanks to the snap oversteer with too much throttle application. I still don’t think anybody’s really dialed in modern stock car behavior in a commercial racing simulator, but what I felt through the wheel was acceptable for a game featuring 1,199 cars they had to get reasonably right.
On a personal level, I’m quite satisfied with the way Gran Turismo 6 drives, but the state of the entire PC sim racing scene was promptly drilled home once I backed out of the Garage menu for the night, and got a nice, proper look at the title’s main menu. I’d spent maybe five to six hours hot-lapping four of the twelve hundred vehicles available with the game, and I hadn’t actually done anything of value within the virtual world. No offline championships were completed, no races were held against the AI, no online lobbies were entered, no moon rover expeditions or hill climb events were completed… Not even any attempts were made at the dreaded Gran Turismo license tests! I’d spent so much time treating Gran Turismo 6 like a hardcore PC racing sim – picking a car, a track, and messing with the setup – that I sort of forgot that there’s this whole game to explore built around the application.
By comparison, when you read build notes or message boards for modern PC simulators, there’s people saying stuff like “pit stops planned for next build” or “use the rFactor data spreadsheet to keep track of championship points in single player races.”
And yet, Gran Turismo is the game that gets laughed at.
Sim racers far and wide have this thing where, like, if you mention that you’re an avid Forza or Gran Turismo fan, you’re instantly labelled as this idiot who promptly needs to sell his console and build a super computer to run eternal science projects at the highest possible settings, because the aforementioned console titles are supposedly for plebeians who can barely keep the car pointed in a straight line. I sat down for a night and played Gran Turismo 6 the way I wanted to – as if I had bought some new racing sim off of Steam – and what I found was quite shocking: This is a game many hardcore PC sim racers would love to get their hands on had it been released for the PC, a game which features a physics engine rectifying many common complaints surrounding what are currently two of the most popular titles.
Instead of getting slightly excited for Gran Turismo Sport for the PS4, a title which will refine this driving model while introducing an iRacing-like online structure to the franchise for the first time, PC sim racers are collectively turning their noses up at Polyphony’s newest project. They scoff at the fact that a completed $60 game featuring competent realistic driving physics exists, retreating to their message boards to praise games where in some cases there isn’t even a single player championship mode.