How best to get to grips with the new GT? A lesson from Martin Brundle and his son Alex...
It will sound ridiculous now, particularly when you see the video, but the prospect of having both Martin Brundle and his son Alex assess - and then attempt to improve - my driving on Gran Turismo was quite daunting. Not only because having people far better at something than you critique your performance makes you feel a bit pathetic, but also because I've not played any kind of Gran Turismo for a good few years now, and never on a wheel. Virtual reality as well? Oh gawd.
As it turned out, and hopefully as you'll see, it was a really entertaining and insightful afternoon. It never fails to amaze how pro drivers can make going ludicrously fast look so easy, whether in the real world or a virtual one, something which Alex proceeded to do from the off. Deft little touches on the wheel, precise pedal inputs and not a calorie of wasted energy saw him guiding an M6 GT3 around Brands Indy very, very quickly. That was still while doing a bit to camera as well, under the blazing lights of our photographic studio. Erk.
When my time came it was a bit of a horror show to be honest. While the physics of Gran Turismo are better than ever, and the recreation of Brands millimetre perfect, I was playing with a wheel and pedals using the behind-car view and, well, it didn't really work. I was braking tremendously early or unrealistically late, cutting the corners or understeering quite horrendously. This having driven Brands a fair few times before. Or so I thought.
It says a great deal about the accuracy and realism of the game that the Brundles' advice mirrored so much of what you hear from instructors in real life - brake in a straight line, don't be too greedy with the throttle, look further ahead - and worked perfectly to improve lap times. Soon I had a bit more rhythm to my laps, the times came tumbling down and, sure enough, I was going to race an LMP2 Le Mans champ in a three-lap showdown. Alright, it was Gran Turismo. But it was still a race.
There really were points we were close, honest. At least until Graham Hill on the first lap. But every time I thought my line was good, his was better. If I braked late he would eke out a few metres more and there would be another length or two at corner exit, so much quicker and smoother was his application of the throttle. Again, showing how realistic the game is: an actual racing driver is quicker than just a person who just daydreams of being one. Shock. Not as much of a shock as Alex got when I threw a mistimed lunge up the inside at Druids though...
Perhaps the biggest revelation of the day however, beyond the discovery that racers are quicker drivers than writers, is Gran Turismo's virtual reality. I'm not a gamer by any stretch, so I don't know how it compares with other offerings, but the transformation was staggering. It makes the game so much more immersive - obvious, perhaps, but the difference is huge - more exciting and, most crucially for a driving sim, more realistic too. Beyond the incredible sensation of looking around and seeing a roll cage, an extinguisher on the floor and your 'feet' on the pedals, the game now finally feels like a racing simulator. It ties in conveniently with the game's intentions, and the realism meant I actually drove better because the virtual car truly felt like a real one. And unlike the time I last drove a real car at Brands, it didn't end in the gravel - result.
As someone with limited experience of contemporary driving sims, I won't attempt to suggest that GT Sport is the best out there - we have a review for that after all. What I will say is that Gran Turismo still feels like a great experience and even more so in VR; whatever sim you buy, virtual reality is now a prerequisite to getting the most from the game.
Anyway, I'm waffling. Enjoy the vid!
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