TheSixthAxis has always been behind the Gran Turismo brand, and our community has embraced the series of late, focusing on the PlayStation 3 Gran Turismo 5 with its fancy graphics and solid online multiplayer. The game might have released to a mildly luke-warm reception when everyone expected it to launch in a state of perfection, but over the months following it’s hard to argue that GT5 hasn’t become the premier video game racer.
The truth is, though, looking back, that the series has always been at the pinnacle of what has been possible on admittedly limited hardware. From the very first game back in 1997 through to the wildly ambitious PSP game in 2009, Polyphony Digital have continued to put realistic physics and visuals at the forefront of what they do. For driving enthusiasts, Gran Turismo is the one game to own.
When the first game released in 1997, it boasted just 140 cars and a surprisingly low 11 tracks. Those numbers seem limited compared to the sprawling behemoth we have today, but remember that just seven people worked on the game, although that number doubled at points during development. Gran Turismo, for the original PlayStation, introduced some series staples like License Tests, car tuning and upgrades and some courses that are still being renovated for use in the most recent games.
It was, in terms of production, massive. It features a cute car wash option, different music for each car manufacturer, a menu system that – at the time – was utterly beautiful and, if you can remember that far back, a fancy new mode (dubbed Hi-Fi) that was limited to just the Special Stage Route 5 courses and just one car, but ran at 60 frames per second. It was dreamy.
The PlayStation was also host to a second Gran Turismo game, a routine that would perpetuate over the next two PlayStation consoles. Gran Turismo 2, released in 1999, not only came with a scratch and sniff disk (at least here in Europe) but featured the first real world track – Laguna Sega – and marked the introduction of rally courses. Spread over two disks (GT, the main campaign, and Arcade) Gran Turismo 2 was bigger and better than the first in every way you could think of.
In terms of cars, the number was staggering: 650 vehicles in total, and now you could change wheel rims and the Race Modified versions with distinct body kits and liveries were fantastic. The game also featured 27 courses, lots more licensed vehicle types (like SuperGT, DTM and some Le Mans prototypes) and even came with an Event Synthesizer, which creates races for you based on your car selections. Title track The Cardigans’ My Favourite Game, taken from their album Gran Turismo, cemented the deal.
Gran Turismo 3’s trailer.
In 2001 the series moved onto the PlayStation 2, and with it came the shift to a much smoother 60fps as standard, which made a massive different to the handling as well as the visuals. Gran Turismo 3 was the first game to support 6 player local races, force feedback on the wheels and even – if you were ballsy enough to set it up – a three screen affair. It was technically ambitious, to say the least.
Sadly, the increased fidelity meant a shortfall in the number of cars (just 180) even though the game now boasted a wet track and snow. Sony’s cinema advertising for the game relished in the visuals though, with a mountain-top road showing off the vistas, and a lone Aston Martin, parked, admiring the view. Various ‘Concept’ games followed, including one focused around the wonderfully cute Toyota Pods, until Gran Turismo 4 Prologue launched in 2003.
The full Gran Turismo 4 would appear another two years later, but this was the big one, and marked the series out as being the ultimate choice for petrolheads. 700 cars and 51 tracks dwarved everything else, and the improved physics meant that, in some countries, Sony actually issued a 200 page book with the game showing people how to drive. Gran Turismo 4 was huge, and featured photo mode for the first time along with a number of now-staple tracks like Suzuka.
The move towards an RPG-esque points system (dubbed A-Spec) provided grounding and short term goals, but there was so much structure in GT4 that it was easy to get totally caught up in the game for months. 24 hour races and Formula GT were new feature highlights, but the B-Spec semi-management system was neat too, and provided another angle for gamers that the competition simply couldn’t match up to.
When the PlayStation 3 came around, it was GT HD, at the launch of the console in 2006, that showed what might be possible on the new hardware. Just one track (Eiger) featured, but there were online leaderboards and a clever drift mode, along with a smattering of cars. The game ran at 60fps in 1080p, and was free to download. It looked beautiful, despite its obvious limitations, and opened up the road for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue two years later.
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue was an impressively fully featured package. It boasted a full online mode, in-car cockpits, 16 cars on track, the introduction of Ferrari (including a properly licensed F1 car) and the Daytona track. It was also used to showcase new (real world) car launches, with carefully timed in-game reveals showing off brand new Japanese vehicles as they were launched at trade shows. Everyone remembers the cover drape animation, right?
Masdas around Monza, our community plays GT5.
And then, finally, in 2010 (after numerous delays) Gran Turismo 5 launched. The game was the first to feature damage, although it didn’t really work at launch, and reportedly cost $80 million to develop. New features included 5 screen support (yes, really), time changes, weather, new tracks (including Spa and Monza) and individual race suits and helmets. It also brought in DLC (as you’ll no doubt be aware) and could boast 81 tracks, although that figure includes variations, as it’s always done.
There were issues though – a lot of the cars were pulled from Gran Turismo 4 and Gran Turismo PSP (itself an ambitious, if not structurally flawed game) and so jarred massively with the so-called Premium vehicles that were modeled especially for GT5. Some of the tracks looked ‘last gen’ too, although the new ones were frequently gorgeous to race around. The much touted Top Gear license also didn’t really amount to much, and the menu system was a mess. Long loading times also spoiled the package.
Much of what was problematic with Gran Turismo 5 was gradually patched out, of course, and it’s now a vastly improved experience, although the sheer amount of downloads and installs to get it to that stage are bewildering. It did some good things, though – online was great, the introduction of the GT Academy has worked wonders for both Sony and the drivers involved, and the photo mode has produced some of this gen’s prettiest screenshots.
And so, onto Gran Turismo 6. Set to be revealed today at a media event in Silverstone, little is known about what Polyphony have been doing since Gran Turismo 5 although hopes are high that both developer and publisher have learned from the slip ups with the last game. With a substantially bolstered staff list (now at over 100 employees) we’re hoping for more Premium cars, better looking tracks, a smarter UI and a more stable frame rate.
Most assume the game will stick to PlayStation 3. That ties with the usual ‘two per console’ schedule we’ve had in the past and it’s evident enough why the brand won’t be appearing on PlayStation 4 any time soon. We’d love a Vita version of something though – that kind of scope on a handheld won’t be easy to pull off but Polyphony seem to know how to get the best out of Sony’s hardware, even the portables. If nothing else, today could be very interesting indeed for racing fans.
We’ll see soon enough…
Thanks to James McCaughern for his assistance with this article.