Why do developers keep slapping L-plates on experienced drivers?
Gran Turismo 6 wants to get you behind a wheel as quickly as possible. Once you’ve placed the disc in your PS3’s drive, all that stands between you and the open road is an intro and the name-entry fields. After this, you’ll find yourself parked in the pits at Brands Hatch, sitting in a Clio RS ’11. It’s an efficient opening, undoubtedly, and you’ll initially feel grateful to Polyphony for sparing you the ordeal of navigating another of its outdated UI designs before you’ve had a chance to sample the new driving physics.
Heartened, you squeeze the right trigger and wait for the revs to spike. Nothing happens. You try again, but the 2.0L in-line four remains stubbornly unmoved. It’s X you should be pressing. Despite Polyphony’s keenness to be on trend with Gran Turismo 6’ s menuless startup, the studio apparently remains entirely unaware of many of the other genre innovations that have become standardised since 1997.
Having located the archaic accelerator, it’s at least now possible to get out on the tarmac. But even after undoing a decade’s worth of conditioning and forcing yourself to ignore the triggers, the experience is still a neutered one. All of the driving aids are switched on and your hot hatch is inexplicably lumbered with an automatic gearbox.
Despite Polyphony’s admirable sentiment, you’re now forced to spend a lap wishing it would end so that you can remap the controls to something more befitting of the 21st century and switch off all those patronising driving aids. Much of this could have been avoided by simply asking players if they are new to Gran Turismo – or even driving games – before the game starts, then automatically customising the default settings to suit.
At least Polyphony has the decency to let you skip its intro. Turn 10’s Forza 5 forces players to sit through a Jeremy Clarkson monologue before sending you to Prague in what is presumably a customised McLaren P1, perhaps fitted with its automatic gearbox by the same aftermarket specialists that sorted out your Clio RS. After completing a dull lap, you’re handed back to the Top Gear man for more unskippable histrionics and it is only then that the option to open up Forza’s full driving model – and disappointingly scant track selection – becomes available to you.
Both series are long-running and supported by extremely passionate fanbases – two groups with more than a little overlap. So why do Polyphony and Turn 10 consistently fail to recognise that loyalty? Early on in these series’ lives, going through the motions of tutorial races and licence tests was no less enjoyable than the first time you sat through them. But decades on, it’s increasingly galling to be treated like a beginner with each new iteration. Equally frustrating is having all of your progress stripped from you and being reset to the point where you’re unable to afford anything more than a humble family saloon.
The counter-argument is that these games need a sense of progression, and that subtle changes in a new handling model are often revealed by a lap or two in a slower vehicle. And in the latter regard, Gran Turismo 6’ s suspension is particularly noticeable in the spongier, less sport-oriented stock. But giving players a broad range of driving experiences could be achieved through event structuring alone, without forcing us to buy our way back up to a Pagani. Cross-generational difficulties aside, it’s inexcusable that players who put hundreds of hours into GT5 should find their efforts entirely unrewarded on booting up GT6.
Gran Turismo highlights this more than most. Given that the series has never really succeeded in providing a satisfying racing experience, its focus remains on the simple pleasure of driving. Why isn’t the chance to try out your existing collection in sharper form considered adequate motivation to invest in another instalment? The looming shadow of microtransactions means the conventional structure is unlikely to go away any time soon. Polyphony has pitched its payments as a way for busy players (or impatient ones) to progress through the game more quickly. And to the studio’s credit, such investments are kept out of sight of the main game and new cars are handed out generously. Turn 10 was more bullish, its cars dauntingly expensive at first. No wonder the studio hastily discounted its prices soon after the game’s release.
Gran Turismo 6 adjusted its economy post-launch, too, but had less ground to make up. Even so, what motivation does any studio have to innovate the oftrepeated structure of racing games when the promise of throttling back players to yield more money clouds design meetings? Forza 5 illustrated the dangers of misjudging your audience, and studios’ desire for us to acclimatise to this new payment model will likely draw yet more attention away from the loyal players who come back for each subsequent release.
It’s understandable that developers should want to cater to new players as well as old, but few have found a satisfying middle ground – in any genre, let alone racing – that doesn’t force experienced players through unnecessary reiteration of well-honed skills. It’s an issue of customisability, which is traditionally considered an area of strength in driving games. But the continued insistence to lock advanced options behind an unskippable prologue for the sake of accessibility, and to throw the dust sheets back over loyal players’ car collections, is proving deleterious to the genre.