Opening with a tour around the Istituto Ayrton Senna, a school built in honour of arguably the greatest driver who ever lived, Gran Turismo 6 starts in stark contrast to any other game on the market. Cycling through images of children learning, the intro proceeds to show the motoring creation process, from concept to manufacture, demonstrating the elegance and precision that goes into creating the world’s greatest racing machines. And that's fitting because Polyphony Digital's latest title isn't purely about driving as fast as possible, but celebrating automotive culture. In essence, it’s a game that subscribes to the same the ideals that Ayrton Senna lived by: passion, precision, and heart.

With a troubled development period — and an even more troubled release — it’s fair to say that Gran Turismo 5 didn’t quite hit the same lofty heights as its predecessors. With menu navigation harder to decipher than the Rosetta Stone and a soulless feel to the game’s structure, the end product was one that ultimately divided opinion. Releasing its successor after the PlayStation 4's launch could have proved a risky move for the Japanese studio, but it's one that has paid off handsomely, correcting the mistakes of its current generation counterpart.

And that’s something that is clear as soon as you start the game. Spread across multiple panels, the main menu gives you access to all of the career options, car dealerships, tuning features, and arcade modes from the comfort of one well presented menu. Drill down a little deeper and the menu structure continues to impress, with tracks and cars easily viewable across multiple pages, and progress in certain events all displayed in one hub. Meanwhile, in-game options and quick access buttons are tucked away in a sub-menu, which can be pulled up at any time. It's a monumental improvement.

Another immediately noticeable step forward is the sharp drop in loading times, with the game now taking it upon itself to install as you play. This means that you can jump straight into the release — admittedly, after a mandatory day one patch — and you won't be stuck staring at too many progress bars. Granted, the first run around a track will have lengthy loading times, but future visits will see this delay drop significantly.

Of course, all of this would be meaningless if the on-track action wasn't up to scratch. Impressively, considering how strong the series has always been once you're behind the actual wheel, it's amazing that things have improved yet again. The first major difference is to the suspension model, which even to the most casual player feels noticeable straight away. Cars now respond better to sharp turns, and clipping curbs gives a little kick to the rear as you stumble over them. The more responsive suspension and handling ultimately makes the cars feel more controllable, but crucially not to the point of frustration; unlike many driving games, if you make a mistake, it will be your fault.

All of this adds up to an improvement in the overall feel of the cars, and more noticeable differences between the higher-end vehicles. Weightier super cars now feel much heavier when navigating sharp corners, while karts — which make a welcome if chaotic return — have a much rawer feel. The end result is a driving model that's improved in almost every department, resulting in a far more controllable and rewarding experience.

And, unsurprisingly, you'll be doing a lot of driving here, with over 1,200 vehicles available to use. Scrapping the infuriating used car system, all motors are now available to buy through the dealerships. The big question is: which will you buy? With so many options available, it can be overwhelming, so the introduction of a 'Recommended Cars' area is particularly welcome, showcasing specific rides for each career level or discipline.

While the roster is undoubtedly impressive, however, there are still a number of hangovers from Gran Turismo 4. The now customary selection of Nissan Skyline's make their unwelcome return, and while new cars such as the KTM X-Bow and the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 represent welcome additions, the vast majority of the cars are available in Gran Turismo 5. The result is a painfully obvious dearth of favourites from the past five or six years, and a lot of unnecessary variations on low-key vehicles designed to hit the big marquee figure. And while the distinction between standard and premium models has gone, close-ups still show the very obvious differences in production quality.

Still, the somewhat disappointing car catalogue is more than made up for by the impressive track list. Featuring a remarkable roster of the world’s greatest circuits, this really feels like a definitive selection of driving experiences. From Silverstone to Spa to Le Mans, every iconic track in the world is here, and in plenty of variations. British fans will be particularly pleased with the inclusion of Brands Hatch in both Indy and GP forms, while the abovementioned Silverstone boasts numerous permutations, including the in-field Stowe circuit. Add these to some wonderful city tracks, a handful of off-road stages, and Gran Turismo’s brilliant fantasy circuits, and there is no shortage of places to race.

And all of this is presented with a lot more passion than in previous years. While there’s still a feeling of detachment to the real-world excitement of racing thanks to enforced rolling starts, the game takes great strides in making the tracks feel more alive. Three-dimensional crowds are an important new inclusion this time around, as is an improved artificial intelligence model which can actually put up a clean racing fight. The big additions, though, are the weather and time effects, with both offering real 'wow' moments, despite the limitations of the title's parent hardware.

Employing a simplistic menu, the race start time can be adjusted, allowing you to drive at dawn, dusk, or a combination of both courtesy of the time acceleration slider. With the inclusion of this feature sits the game's biggest revelation: night racing. Simply put, for automotive fans, there is no better experience than driving around Le Mans as the sun sets, putting your headlights on, and speeding into the night. It’s a beautiful transition, and one that captures the spirit of the release — it wants you to fall in love with motor racing, and the beauty of driving in the dark is a perfect example of that. It takes skill, it takes courage, and it looks incredible.

This passion for racing is something that lives through the entirety of the game, and is most obvious in the structuring of the career. While previous games tossed you into the deep end without a second thought, this iteration eases you in with tips and pointers as you progress, ensuring that you always know what to do. And you’ll be doing a lot. While Gran Turismo 5 pitted you in almost identical races throughout your career, here the game rarely asks you to do the same thing twice. Starting with standard race championships, you’ll soon be hitting the indoor karting arenas, taking part in five-minute endurance races, night racing, or any number of variations. There are also license tests to complete, which unlock new modes, and coffee break challenges, which represent fun distractions to improve your car control or fuel efficiency.

And that’s not all. Completing career events not only unlocks new cars, allowing you to quickly build up your garage, but also special events, such as the fantastic Goodwood Hill Climb, and the not-so-fantastic Lunar Missions, which ultimately see you driving very slowly on grey rock. Goodwood is a particular highlight, giving you access to cars that you normally wouldn’t get for days or perhaps weeks, which you can then take up Lord March’s famous hill climb.

Elsewhere, local multiplayer proves to be a bit of a disappointment, with a lack of customisation proving to be its undoing, especially with inexperienced players. Online, however, has more features than the colossal single player campaign, offering qualifying and grid starts, something that is sorely missing in the career, and allowing for full customisation of assists and aids.

It’s also worth noting that while many of the game’s assets are reused from previous entries, Gran Turismo 6 does look like an overall more polished game, particularly due to its use of lighting. A necessity of the aforementioned night racing, a lot of work has gone into the lighting effects, and the end result is a game that appears almost next-gen. This really is a rare case of a title looking as good as it plays, and on almost decade old hardware at that.

However, it’s not all good news, with perennial problems remaining. While the lack of damage is arguably redundant in a game that is a driving simulator and not a pure racer, the dull thud of a huge impact continues to be the series’ Achilles’ heel, as does the poor audio quality for many of the car engines. This in particular sticks out in an age where other developers are producing racing games with pitch-perfect roars, and the impacts, or lack thereof, are becoming more of a talking point than they ever should be. Having to change driving assists for each car individually also proves to be an annoyance, and one that could be easily solved by a global settings option. Ultimately, these are issues that won’t detract from the experience, but they are irritatingly present all of the same.

Conclusion

As with previous instalments, your enjoyment of Gran Turismo 6 will be defined by your fondness for the driving simulation genre as a whole. While it presents itself as a racing game, the title's real heart lies in its details. It's an entry that makes good on the promise of its PS3 predecessor, and restores a soul and energy to the series that has been missing of late. This release will make you fall in love with cars in a way that you never thought that you could, and that attribute — if nothing else — makes it the perfect celebration of an often outstanding series.