What has been the best Gran Turismo ever?
Remembering the best of Gran Turismo as Sony's Game-Changer Turns 20
Twenty years ago today, something special hit the store shelves in Japan: the first Gran Turismo game.
Gran Turismo is a phenomenon. Born from the Japanese car modification culture, the first game allowed players to take a range of ordinary cars – from the humble Honda Civic to the top tier of Japanese-market sports cars like the Toyota Supra – and race them against each other. It made a variety of realistic car modifications available and gave you a motorsport career, racing around dark city streets or purpose-built track venues, while teaching you how to drive fast through its licence system.
Two decades on, the Gran Turismo series is Sony's number one franchise, selling more than 75 million titles across five platforms. It's become integrated into car culture, appearing in the Fast and Furious film franchise and even getting involved in the design of real cars. Gran Turismo has also been the tool to give a number of young gamers – like Jann Mardenborough – their own real racing careers.
The game has been constantly evolving and reinventing itself over the years, perhaps most of all with the latest version, Gran Turismo Sport, and we've been looking over the old titles to decide which was our favourite. Here's our top six countdown:
6. Gran Turismo 5
The fifth game was the first to bring online racing as standard. It set the benchmark for vehicle and track counts that games today are still trying to match, but for all its scope GT5 was the least satisfying of all of the numbered entries.
A prolonged development spell – the PS3 being notoriously difficult to develop for – meant that the game arrived five years after its predecessor, and three years into the PS3’s life.
Three quarters of the game’s car list was old content. And we don’t just mean stuff we’d seen before – GT5 literally used old, PlayStation 2 car models straight from GT4, labelled as 'Standard' cars alongside the new, high definition 'Premium' cars.
GT5 also featured a strange experience point system. This prevented players from even buying cars unless they were the right level or higher – and since the Standard cars were only available 30 cars a time, it meant players could end up waiting for ever to buy a rare car they needed for an event.
5. Gran Turismo 6
GT6’s development was much quicker, and the game arrived three years after GT5.
In most respects it was a considerable improvement over GT5. It did away with the roadblocks that GT5 left in the way of your progress, and improved netcode made the online racing more stable. The system’s main menu was slicker and more contemporary, and the game threw in some amazing extras like a special section celebrating Ayrton Senna’s life, a track creator, a data logger that allowed comparison with real life laps of the real tracks, and three driving missions on the Moon. Yes, the Moon.
Polyphony kept the game updated with free downloadable content, including the unique Vision GT project which involved car manufacturers creating concept cars specifically for the game.
There were still one or two foibles though. Again, the majority of the car list was those PS2 relics dating back to 2004. Stranger still was the decision to release the game on the PS3, as the PS4 came out the week before GT6 did. This no doubt contributed to GT6 being the poorest-selling title of all mainline GT games to date.
4. Gran Turismo 2
Separating out the PS1 and PS2 titles is a challenge, as each has their own charm – and their own flaws. Your own favourite may simply come down to which you played most in your youth!
Gran Turismo 2's charm was the unrivalled, and rather unhinged, car list. Where the first game had only featured ten manufacturers, GT2 boasted almost 40. Many of the cars it contained have never been seen again in Gran Turismo, or any other racing game. Take Renault's crazy Espace F1, a minivan shell over a Williams Formula One car. Or the Vector W8, a 600bhp, twin turbo V8 with a three-speed automatic gearbox that was basically a plane with wheels.
The game also introduced the world to Ruf, a manufacturer in Germany that builds incredible performance cars inside the shells of Porsche models. This was a way to feature cars that looked quite like Porsches without having to pay for the expensive Porsche licence. And who can forget the Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak, now practically synonymous with Gran Turismo?
GT2 was only let down by being almost too big for its boots, and too much of a grind to get through. Numerous short, one-make races allowed you to – and forced you to – experience a car for a short time before you had to jump back into the main career slog. It also sometimes looked worse than the first game, but with the PD team coaxing every last bit of performance out of the PS1 to accommodate all the extra cars and tracks, that wasn't much of a surprise.
3. Gran Turismo 4
GT4 was to GT3 as GT2 was to GT1: mostly the same idea, but more of everything.
The second Gran Turismo game for the PS2 showed many of the same improvements, but also many of the same flaws. This time the game looked better than its predecessor, but the jump in quality in the three years between the games was not so large compared to the jump from GT2 to GT3. GT4 also allowed local network play with standard cabling rather than the fiddly iLink system, which meant that Polyphony could put out a version of the game late in its life with actual online play over PlayStation Network.
Again, the car and track list swelled, but for many this was the start of Gran Turismo's bloat. So many of the cars were just slightly different versions of the Nissan Skyline, Honda NSX, Mitsubishi GTO and Mazda RX-7. The variety was still there – you could drive anything from miniature city cars to top tier LMP1 cars – but much of the car list felt like a cheap 'copy and paste' job.
The grind from GT2 was very much alive in GT4 too: to complete the game you would need to drive three different 24 hour endurance races - one at the Nurburgring and two at Le Mans (both circuits making their debut in this game). With just six cars on track at once, constant daytime and no way to suspend and save the races, we're not sure if many people would have even bothered.
2. Gran Turismo
The original Gran Turismo game might be the best for some, simply for what it started. With ten real life manufacturers, nearly 200 licensed vehicles and 11 circuits, Gran Turismo was not only the spark for the entire franchise but the model for all modern console racing games.
In the first game, all of the circuits were entirely fictional; real-life circuits didn't start to feature until Gran Turismo 2 and even today don't outnumber the game's own 'original circuits'. The cars were real though, and Gran Turismo has been credited with increasing awareness and popularity of cars in markets they were never originally sold in – like the Nissan Skyline in North America, and TVR in Japan.
The game had a great mixture of sprint and endurance races, while players progressed from various smaller series up to the iconic 'GT World Championship', which unlocked one of the series' famous ending movies.
1. Gran Turismo 3
Despite a more expansive sequel, Gran Turismo 3 is the series’ high watermark, at least for now.
It was a much smaller game than GT2, but it was remarkable for the extraordinary graphical step up. For a game that majored on realism, the cars finally looked as good as they felt.
The extra attention to detail meant a shrinkage of the car list by almost two thirds. However, much of the variety remained, with the series including F1 cars for the first time. The tight focus meant that little was lost, although some fan favourites didn’t make the transition from GT2. The lack of race modifications – turning your road car into a bona fide race car – was another casualty of the move to the PS2.
But, just like GT1, GT3 had just enough actual racing to keep your attention without ever feeling like a chore to work through. Without the ability to swell the car and track roster due to the space requirements of the new higher definition assets, GT3 had to focus on making the game as good as it could be, and succeeded admirably. Is it any wonder that GT3 is the best selling GT title to date?
And Gran Turismo Sport?
The latest game is still too new to really get a decent bead on it. The change of focus towards esports is intriguing, but is also at the core of a number of poor reviews. At time of writing, it's the lowest rated full GT title ever and even sits behind small interim releases like Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and GT Concept.
Polyphony Digital is changing the game all the time too. Since releasing it in October it has updated GT Sport nine times. Just this week in fact, it released an update to add a new, wider offline mode – perhaps in response to the complaints about the small campaign mode since launch – and we’re sure further updates are in the pipeline.
Kazunori Yamauchi himself rates GT Sport as his favourite, ahead of the first Gran Turismo, so perhaps we’re looking at a new number one in the making.