Whether you like racing games or not, there’s no denying the importance of Gran Turismo to the PlayStation brand. The Gran Turismo intellectual property sells systems and is one of the best selling series in the history of PlayStation. With the impending release of Gran Turismo 6 later this year, GT Academy 2013 gives us a tiny glimpse of what we can expect from the highly anticipated successor to Gran Turismo 5.
The first thing I noticed when getting into GT Academy 2013 is that the menus have been simplified. I’ll admit that since it’s a stripped down GT6 demo there is minimal risk of complicated menus, but it appears Polyphony Digital have learned some lessons from the utter mess that was GT5. Pressing [Start] now takes you to a menu that gives you access to the garage, game settings, user manual and the option to save. Grayed out are options for messages, tuning, and profile management. This is a marked improvement over the sidebar menu present in GT5. The layout of the menus is also much cleaner with areas broken into segmented columns. “My Home” contains the Garage and Gallery. Then there’s “Dealerships,” “Beginner Events,” and “Special Events.” If a more robust version of this layout makes it into the full game I think many, especially Gran Turismo new-comers, will be very appreciative. Gran Turismo has always had a bit of quirkiness to its menu layouts but I think the time has come for an overhaul. It is nice to see it seems Polyphony also feels the same way.
Maybe not as surprising as the menu redesign is that the physics engine has been overhauled completely. Just from the demo, and driving around in the limited vehicles accessible in GT Academy 2013, it is clear that the folks at Polyphony have been tinkering around. For instance, the feedback from the tires is exceptional. I could actually ‘feel’ the understeer from going into a corner too fast. As I ploughed through my tires with the wheel cranked over to the right, I scrubbed off speed until the tires finally gripped and tracked around the corner. Finding the limit, especially with a racing wheel, isn’t necessarily going to be easier but the information relayed to me while driving around the new Silverstone Circuit gave more context into how hard to push the tires.
Since I mentioned the addition of the legendary Silverstone Circuit, I should mention that it is gorgeous. It has been lovingly recreated in stunning detail as Polyphony Digital is known for. The new Silverstone layout is the one featured in GT Academy 2013 but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the older layouts will be available in GT6. Overall the graphics engine looks to have been improved over its predecessor. The lighting is ever impressive, especially when driving in the cockpit as the shadows play over the dashboard and interior. Even the car models are looking a bit improved with their insanely high polygon count. While “jaggies” are still a thing in GT Academy 2013, they appear to be reduced, giving curved surfaces smoother edges.
While there are notable improvements in almost every aspect there is one area that Gran Turismo under-performs in almost every installment: sound. While driving a tuned Nissan 370Z around Silverstone seemed to create the right sorts of sensations, the true test of how well they’ve recreated the sounds of each car will come in the full game. For the most part GT games produce a sort of buzzy experience that lacks the visceral and violent howl of performance machinery. This is most apparent when driving in large displacement vehicles like an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, 1969 Camaro SS or a 2010 Mustang GT. Many of them sound like hopped up buses with turbocharged diesel engines which is not the sound those vehicles are known for. They lack that throaty rumble that evokes the spirit of the muscle car: the torque monster lighting up its tires in a cloud of smoke as the rubber tries desperately to cling to the tarmac. It is this area in which the “Real Driving Simulator” must improve the most because its biggest rival has that in spades.