Top 10 “Needs Improvement” Areas for Gran Turismo 6 (part 2 of 2)

I was ready to finish this post back in September, but a lot of other things came up. Another interesting thing happened before I finished it; I decided I’m not going to get in on the Gran Turismo 6 bandwagon. Still, I feel obligated to finish this, especially since the first post did pretty well with respect to site traffic.

6. Better Driving Tutorials

Back on the PS1, the great tutorials offered in the License Exam segments really made the GT series stand out against other rivals. The License Exam segments came back in GT5, but in the context of the content as a whole, they weren’t adequate.

But for a game that really, REALLY prides itself on being such a simulator, GT5 did a very poor job at offering guidance in a lot of key areas. Major aspects of the game, like Formula One were not part of the licensing tests at all. The “NASCAR” academy was equally unsatisfying given how different and challenging the NASCAR segments of the game were.

7. Kill B-Spec

B-Spec should actually be a lot higher on this list. It’s not only that a major aspect of the game is frankly terrible, it’s that you’re positively forced to do so very much of it if you want to unlock some really important cars.

B-Spec operates essentially as a counterpart to the driving part of GT5, which is called A-Spec. You’re required to pick a rookie driver from a set of personality types, and eventually build a team of drivers who will go out and use your cars to win the A-Spec races. B-Spec seems like a simple proposition, but the execution is completely flawed. What B-Spec requires you to do is issue a very limited set of instructions to a bot that must gain experience using your cars.

There’s a whole bunch of problems with this system of playing. First, you’re required to do pretty much nothing to win races. At lower levels, drivers don’t really respond to your commands as it is, and the computer may lose even if it has a car that completely outclasses the other computer bots. This makes the actual races less like a coaching exercise, which I think is what it was supposed to be, and more like just a passive watching exercise. It’s boring. And there’s no tutorial or guidance on how to be proficient at being a racing coach. Generally you can tell your driver to speed up, or be conservative, or do a pit stop. That’s pretty much it. I can’t say skill or actively trying to manage the drivers really does much to outcome. Second, the game doesn’t offer any sort of time compression, meaning you’re watching computer race versus itself in real time. Unlike sports games which shorten the length of passive play styles, there are usually MORE laps in certain B-Spec races. I think practically speaking I used these long B-Spec binges as a great opportunity to catch up on my ironing. The AI for your race team is usually terrible; I guess this is because GT has always had pretty lousy AI anyway. But perhaps the worst requirement of B-Spec is requiring the player to build and level an entire team of racers at the same slow pace as A-Spec. Leveling the drivers usually just requires you to win the races, which isn’t especially difficult given you probably have the overpowered car you used in A-Spec to win the same series. The catch is that your race team only has a limited amount of “endurance,” meaning longer races the AI will basically just give up on driving and blow a huge lead. The endurance state builds up very slowly though, making multiple losses in endurance races necessary to get better. Remember, this is a game with the real-time endurance race “24 Hours LeMans.”

It’s not hard to see that B-Spec isn’t fun in any sort of way. It’s a driving game that requires no skill to complete, just an insane amount of time. That’s why is maddening that the game offers a gigantic number of cars that can ONLY be unlocked by winning B-Spec races.

To mitigate the insane time requirements B-Spec, a novel “Remote Play” feature was added in a subsequent patch. What did this feature add? The ability to manage B-Spec races taking place on your PS3 remotely from a PC. This feature doesn’t fix the root problem that you shouldn’t have to watch 500 hours of racing just to earn a car to do something in A-Spec mode. The B-Spec achievements shouldn’t be tied to A-Spec at all. A racing game shouldn’t put some much emphasis on waiting around. It’s anathema to the actual draw the game is supposed to offer.

8. Fix Formula One

Formula One, despite recent controversies and shaky financial support, is and likely will be the king of auto racing for the foreseeable future. Despite being the pinnacle of the A-Spec mode of play, GT5 offers little support.

One clear problem with the Formula One racing was the inability of GT5 to actually allow you to buy the car you needed. In addition to needing over $4,000,000 of race money in the game (average race payout maybe is $100,000), the Formula One car had to purchased USED for some reason. Compounding this problem at launch was that the used car inventory was populated randomly over the course of the game. Effectively, it was impossible to advance in A-Spec because you could never buy the next car. Eventually Sony corrected this problem by creating an “Online Used Car Garage,” which was prepopulated with the bottle-neck race vehicles that couldn’t be purchased new. Still, it was a sloppy execution and not necessary.

I suspect the problems with Formula One dealt with licensing issues. It’s not technically a Formula One car you’re buying anyway, it’s a “Formula GT.” Whatever. The lack of support in teaching you how to drive these cars though is perplexing. Although GT5 makes you appreciate the difference between a family sedan and a true sports car, the leap of performance the Formula cars make over even the Le Mans class racers is significant. If Sony couldn’t get the licensing issues, this feature should have been scrapped altogether. After all, would it have been so bad to just get Indy sponsorship and use similar Indy cars?

9. Create a Tutorial System For Tuning

Although most of the tuning aspects of GT5 and its predecessors is straightforward (spend as much money as possible to make your car more power and lighter), other aspects of auto-tuning were never adequately explained. In particular, the intricacies of suspension tuning are incredible. Without the exact right setup for even individual legs of racing series, it’s not possible to win at the higher levels. If this is such an important feature of the game, why not have some sort of instruction available? I’ll confess, the best way to figure out how to make a perfect tuning setup seems to be typing your car and “Gran Turismo 5” into Google.

Other aspects of the tuning system are equally perplexing. For example, in the customization section of the garage (which is NOT where you purchase upgrade parts for some reason) there is an option for something called “racing modifications.” Despite the 1000 cars in GT5, only a literal handful can receive these modifications. What do they do? Well, they make the car really good, but it’s hard to say exactly how or why. Most importantly, it’s not possible to see which of the cars in the game can be subjected to these modifications. I guess you can use Google to figure this out too.

10. Introduce Horsepower Limitations Into Single-Player Mode

The critical flaw in any game that has RPG or leveling style elements in it is that those run counter to the aspects of the game that require skill. This has always been a problem with Gran Turismo; winning races is based on having more power than the other cars on the track. But this doesn’t really let you learn how to race any better. It’s a big loophole that this game doesn’t address in single-player mode (multiplayer has such limitations though). There isn’t an obvious explanation as to why limitations on tuning aren’t implemented, especially because GT5 is usually very specific about needing a very particular car or limited set of cars for each race challenge.

Closing Thoughts

I could easily criticize the fact that Polyphony is releasing GT6 for PS3 when it arguably should be a PS4 game, but if the last console generation has taught us anything, it will be a long time before any next-gen console makes it into 100 million households. But given the phoned-in nature of GT5, and the fact that a lot of obvious improvements or design flaws weren’t addressed, I’ve lost faith that this installment will really take things to the next level. Going back to all those lost weekends where I was doing laundry and having B-Spec run in the background, I have come to realize that this franchise needs to some time in the penalty box. I expect the initial reviews for GT6 to be good, but that’s only because there’s always a release bias. I learned my lesson though. If GT5 is any indication of the way GT6 will be, I’ll be able to drive the exact same cars when they’re imported over to whatever the PS4 version will be anyway.

GTA 5: Expectations

Will Michael and Rockstar pull off the biggest gaming job ever on September 17, 2013?

Will Michael and Rockstar pull off the biggest gaming job ever on September 17, 2013?

My last post had a lot more views compared to other ones I’ve had recently, so I decided to get a poll going.  So, what does everybody think GTA5 is going to do in September?  Is this game going to be break Rockstar’s long streak of outdoing itself?

GTA 5: Returning to San Andreas With High Expectations

I’m really impressed by these three mini-trailers that were just released this past week.  No doubt that there is a strong correlation here between the impending release of GTA 5 and Rockstar parent, Take-Two Entertainment’s, stock price in the past nine months.

Majestic beauty featured likely in order to contrast inevitable GTA-style carnage

Majestic beauty featured likely in order to contrast inevitable GTA-style carnage

What’s most impressive about the three character approach is that it’s obviously meant to remedy deficiencies in the story-telling of GTA’s San Andreas.  San Andreas is a great game, but the narrative struggled with developing an identity for the main character, CJ.

This problem is partly due to the RPG and customization elements in the game that give the player the choices to make CJ look like a gang-banger, a CEO, or a construction worker (also there is that weird S&M outfit…).  San Andreas is such a big place, that after the first act, CJ just sort of feels out of place.  The entire San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas) portions of GTA: San Andreas feel aimless.  CJ’s story starts and ends in the same place, his hood.  That’s the point.  After a very long detour at the end of the first act, the final mission takes you back there to confront characters you haven’t seen 100 hours of play time.  It’s incoherent.  Fortunately, the meat and potatoes in between are a lot of fun.

If San Andreas is 3 times bigger than it needs to be, why did Rockstar bother making all that extra stuff?  The answer appears to be an obsession with attention to detail.  San Andreas is LA, San Francisco, and Las Vegas because it’s trying as hard as possible to capture and satirize the Southern California 90’s zeitgeist, even if CJ’s world is naturally a little bit smaller.

I remember seeing GTA3 and just being completely amazed by the size of the game.  In the past 10 years there have been a lot of knock-offs of the GTA style of creating huge worlds, but all seem to suffer from the same flaw of confusing physical space with scale.  What you won’t really appreciate until you’ve run down every alley looking for hidden packages is that a gigantic portion of every GTA game is hand-made.  There is not a lot of 3D modeling copying and pasting.  There are no identical city blocks.  GTA4 even features a huge fake-internet.  It’s the attention to detail that separates GTA from every other massive game world.  Other developers just don’t do this, not even Bethesda.

Venice Beach?

Venice Beach?

GTA4 marks a big evolution over San Andreas, even if it isn’t as large and vast as its predecessor.  The major difference in GTA4 is the emphasis on social perspective, and I don’t mean multiplayer or or Twitter.  GTA4 lets Liberty City be defined through the eyes of its characters.  Activities open up depending on who you’re hanging out with and what you’re planning on doing.  And engaging with the people you’re working with is part of the experience as opposed to just getting a cell phone call and showing up.

And GTA5 promises to be somehow significantly larger yet again.  The obvious approach to reconciling South Central gang warfare, with pot growing up in the red woods, and the glitz of Beverly Hills is to tell the stories of those places through the eyes of separate characters.  GTA4 maximizes the story of Liberty City the same way, through different characters, albeit only through downloadable content, but the premise is the same.  The world of Luis Lopez, and the club scene of Liberty City is very different from Niko’s darker struggle to get revenge.  To tell the story of a heavily satirized California it is necessary to have many different perspectives, in the same way the DLC tells a broader story about Liberty City through its three characters.

This obsessive attention to making everything perfect is exactly why concerns about juggling three separate characters are likely to be unfounded.  Three times the characters makes three times the amount of narrative scope, and three times the opportunity to force interaction with a gigantic world.  It’s a very deliberate choice that is clearly a response to maximizing the incredible amount of content GTA5 will offer just because, well, it’s Rockstar.  I can’t think of any other series that is virtually guaranteed to get better with each installment, other than GTA.  Given the additional PS3 and XBox console penetration compared to 2009, GTA is again going to be breaking its own sales record come later this year.

 

Ratchet & Clank; All 4 One (PS3)

Opening Thoughts

Ratchet & Clank; All 4 One

Hey I finally got around to putting a picture into a post...

Sometimes your girlfriend downloads stuff onto your hard drive and you don’t have the heart to get rid of it.  Such is the tale of how Ratchet & Clank; All 4 One, entered my game collection.  This is a colorful, zany third-person shooter which emphasizes frequent cooperative play and can support up to four players in the same room in the story mode.  Parts of A4O feel very satisfying to play, but the crate-and-barrel premise of the game feels dated.   As is the case with most cooperative games though, quality isn’t as important when you’re having fun with a friend; in this case my live-in girlfriend.

Environment/Art Design

While not necessarily a kids game, A4O clearly would have the biggest appeal to a younger audience.  The characters are cartoon characters and, with the exception of Ratchet, don’t serve much of a purpose other than to provide comic relief.  The story and plot are deliberately trite, but the elements of humor are appreciated.  Presumably one of the jokes is that ludicrous, “you need to save the day” situations seem to always suck Ratchet and his partner Clank (who’s really just a C3PO knockoff) back into trouble.  Maybe the charm is a little lost on me because I haven’t been on the Ratchet & Clank bandwagon for ten years; this is my first game.  Also along are Quark, a vainglorious, but cowardly brute, and Dr. Nefarious a cookie-cutter incompetent mad scientist.  Cut scenes are high quality and serve to develop the relationships and group dynamic between the characters.  Regardless of who you are rampaging through the levels with, all four characters come along for the ride in the cut scenes.

Graphics are good, but something about this game feels like a PS2 title.  Rendering and animations are sometimes stunning, but at other times kind of bland.  There is an orgy of colors in every level.  This makes perfect sense for a cartoon game, and although that isn’t bad, it feels like this is a distraction.  Music isn’t bad, but is definitely not memorable.  Area design has a degree of exploration elements, but not enough to foster the illusion that you have some sort of free will in the story mode or can make any choices.  The story follows a rail and only allows you to sneak just outside where the camera is trying to corral you into to hide a hidden bolt.  Again, this is a crate-and-barrel game.  The issue here is that there just isn’t anything really novel or impressive about this world, although its refreshing to see that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Get used to a lot of colorful mayhem happening on screen. See the crates on the right?

One final note is camera angles, which, in cooperative play generally worked pretty good.  One issue that frequently happened though was one player would advance ahead of the other player, which would either cause a loss of visibility or worse, an unplanned trip off the side of a bottomless pit.  The only reason this is excusable is because A4O will resurrect a dead teammate without any substantial penalty provided the other teammate stays alive (remember how I said this was a kid’s game?).

Gameplay

The overall gameplay of this game is good, but, absent the cooperative multiplayer story mode, would be a dismal failure.  Most action in the game requires you to be constantly be jumping and strafing while pumping out a barrage of whatever the crazy gadget you have equipped shoots out.  It’s formulaic and redundant.  The poor shooting dynamics are bandaged with the use of an auto-aim system which makes the whole shooting exercise seem unsatisfying.  What’s the point of a shooter when you can’t miss?  Back in the earlier days of 3D games, auto-aim was something that you needed because nobody had figured out a good way to let the player control both the XY and Z axes at the same time.  Although some hugely popular games still use this trick, it just strikes me as lame.  Moreover, the worst aspect here is that the auto-aim system is unwieldy.  I frequently found myself unable to focus and switch to the correct target; the one my partner was attacking.  Given the necessity to use combos to KO a large number of the enemies you’ll encounter effectively, you’d figure that there would be a better system to accommodate switching targets.  I get the sneaking suspicion the high degree of eye-candy, colorful explosions, and overall mayhem on screen is just a mask for basic mechanics that just aren’t there.  In between action segments there is a contest among players to grab “bolts” or currency in the game.  You come across some of this currency naturally through killing enemies, but also through breaking anything that looks breakable.  God, please, developers please take these out of your future games.  Why would there be some bolts inside a broken trash can or inside a brittle rock?  If this is currency why hasn’t anyone else grabbed it already?  Although this looks like nice way to make the running around parts seem like something more than just running from point A to B, they just serve to make something boring more tedious.

I like cooperative games that let both players play at the same time.  This is a great way to enjoy a game with your friends, and it’s the main reason the Wii was such a hit.  The sense of community breaks down with most online gaming console experiences as there are more barriers to communicating with your teammates vs. PC gaming, and because of the excessive emphasis on competition.  A4O reminds of me Contra 3 in this respect, and I say that with the highest respect possible for the latter (Stage 4, jumping missile to missile anyone???).  Moreover, you NEED your teammate to complete this game, both inside and outside battles.  Targeting the same enemy is imperative to really getting the killing-machine momentum going here.  Effective teamwork results in the occasional mini-nuclear explosion.  Outside combat there are generally easy platform jumper puzzle elements, which require you to launch your buddy onto a target or setup a reflective barrier to provide cover.  The best part about this type of embedded cooperative play is that celebrating a minor victory means sharing it with your friend, which is a lot better than one person going to bed while the other slaves away until 2am to kill some arbitrary foozle.  The only thing that runs contrary to the co-op system in place seems to be the odd emphasis on competition outside of battle to grab bolts.  Why not just share a common currency pool among players?

Lastly, a staple in this series has always been the plethora of goofy weapons, from what I’ve been told at least.  There are significant bonuses generated from using the same weapon on the same enemy here.  Comboing results in generally either some sort of area effect bonus or extra damage.  This comes in handy against the onslaught of bosses you’re confronted with.  Again, comparisons to Contra 3 are spot on.  The only issue I have seems to be that certain weapons just never seem to work very well, while others maybe work too well.  A chance to inject some logic into the battle system was passed on, and some better balancing might accommodate more weapon choices.  Why have 15 weapons in a game if only a few are useful enough to use?  False choices aren’t really choices.  But trust me, you’ll need to get a Critter Strike ASAP.

Final Thoughts

Rachet and Clank; All 4 One,  feels dated and predictable, but saves itself from being dreadful by injecting a healthy amount of forced cooperative play.  Don’t consider playing this game alone.  Do consider trying to trick your girlfriend into playing it with you, as mine pulled me into.  With some tweaking in the future this franchise could keep going for another 10 years.  I think cooperative is the way to go for it, provided the underlying game mechanics can be tightened up as well.  It’s a 6.5 out of 10 if you put stock into that sort of thing.