Just a few days ago, Polyphony Digital released a new downloadable title, called Nissan GT Academy 2013. The game is "powered by" Gran Turismo 6, meaning that the short demo is really our first look (at least outside of the E3 show floor) at the real driving simulator before the full game goes on sale this coming winter.

With a long holiday weekend on my hands, and access to the first taste of this chapter of the storied franchise just a one-gig download away, I knew I'd have to write up a quick report of GT Academy. Here goes.

Play Notes
  • As the title suggests, Nissan GT Academy is one part Gran Turismo demo, and one part Nissan promotional vehicle. The only cars involved all wear Nissan badges and there are only three of them: a Leaf, a standard 370Z and a race-tuned version of the 370Z.
  • It's that last car – also the fastest one and the trickiest to drive – that you'll pilot through the GT Academy qualifying race. Now in its third year, the Academy will chose the very fastest time-setters and give them a chance to go through a racing school at Silverstone in the UK. Based on my performance so far, I'm in no danger of being selected.
  • Two beginner events – a Sunday Cup race featuring the Leaf and a Clubman Cup with the 370Z – each offer two races and precious little competition from the AI. If you've played any GT at all you'll no doubt win out in all four without having to practice much, as the computer drivers seem to take intentionally slow lines around the course. I threw together a couple of videos of me sloppily hosing the competition, to show you what I mean. (The all-Leaf race has got to be amongst the most hilarious I've yet participated in, especially with the in-game music turned off.)
  • Conversely, the actual qualifying race is super challenging, as it should be. A much stronger representation of the GT6 physics engine seems to be on display here, with extremely realistic handling and touchy inputs on offer with the tuned 370Z. Granted, I was playing with a PS3 controller and not a wheel/pedal setup, which is less than ideal, but the learning curve here is steep and entertaining.
  • Tracks, cars and environments look really nice. I've been playing Grid 2 recently, so the sort of stark reality of the GT landscapes offered a big departure from Grid's light-filled scenes. Overall though, the graphics are really impressive. On the other hand, the score is the same weird sugar pop stuff that I've come to expect (and immediately disable) from the series, and the car audio still sounds a little wonky. The standard 370Z exhaust is hardly audible, while the tuned car roars like a NASCAR whip. Let's hope that all gets sorted before its time for me to buy myself a Christmas present.