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With the next generation of consoles looming, Gran Turismo 6 feels like a title out of time for many. Launching after the PlayStation 4 hits stores worldwide, the PlayStation 3 racer will attempt to go head-to-head with Forza 5 on the Xbox One. It’s a bold move from Sony to forgo its futuristic console, as it would have been a must-have title at launch, but it’s a release that actually makes a lot of sense following Gran Turismo 5.

The aforementioned racer was undoubtedly a bit of a mixed bag; while it was a technical achievement, the lack of a sensible progression structure was ultimately its undoing. Coupled with a handful of decidedly old-school aspects – a lack of damage and barren environments – it culminated in a fantastic driving simulation, that felt a bit soulless.

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Fortunately, its successor is trying to change that. Menus are now presented in a pleasing grid format, which makes everything from hopping into a race to selecting a track a breeze. Want to scan through the circuits? Now you can with eight displayed on the screen, and likewise for the cars. It makes the whole process of actually getting onto the track so much easier, and with reduced loading times – presumably with another hefty install to boot – the whole experience feels like it's been streamlined.

The tracks themselves also feel livelier than ever, with little touches giving the circuits a life outside of the barriers. The addition of small crowds makes a huge difference to the sense of race day excitement, and even though they’ll play the same stilted animations every time that you play, it feels like more of an active environment. These little graphical tweaks encompass all aspects of the game, with the locations looking better than ever: the Alps track in particular is stunning, and rivals the beauty of Codemasters’ delightful GRID 2.

But of course, all of this pales in comparison to the on-track action, and once again, this is a case of iteration rather than rewriting the rulebook. Perennial problems such as the lack of a believable damage model, basic artificial intelligence, and a focus on the technical rather than the spectacle remain. But Gran Turismo has never been about the race: it has always been a franchise borne out of wanting to perfect the mechanical side of racing, and yet again, time trial mode is where the game excels.

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Tweaks to the handling model add a much weightier feel to the cars, and particularly when braking, vehicles now behave far more realistically. Take the new KTM X-bow for a spin, for example, and you’ll find it twitching when braking, whereas a Ferrari supercar will feel much more planted and allow you to really power out of the corners.

It’s hard to say what exactly has been tweaked to make it feel better, but whatever it is, cars are more predictable than ever, but not in a boring way. Whereas in prior games you could spin out for seemingly no reason at all, the weightier feel of the vehicles allows you to really feed the throttle in and get a predictable response out of a corner – if you spin, you’ll know why, and when you get it right, it feels great.

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Along with the technical changes, the sequel includes all of the vehicles from Gran Turismo 5, and adds to them, creating a garage of around 1,200 rides to take around a variety of tracks. New additions such as Silverstone and Bathurst are welcome inclusions to the release, while the aforementioned Alps track showcases the spectacular beauty that Polyphony Digital are capable of pulling out of the PS3.

Gran Turismo 6, then, is shaping up to be the game that its predecessor should have been at the turn of the decade. On the surface, it appears to be the very definition of an iterative title, as it appears to take what works and improve upon the rest. Look under the bonnet, though, and you'll find much more subtle tweaks. It's never going to give you the thrills of a Need for Speed, but the sequel appears to be recapturing what the series has long been missing: soul and passion over numbers and spark plugs. That's the most fitting celebration of the franchise's 15th anniversary that we could imagine.

Are you planning to pick up Gran Turismo 6? Are you comfortable with the sequel releasing on the PS3, or do you think that it should be a PS4 title? Sound your horns in the comments section below.