The Gran Turismo series has always marked a staple for PlayStation generations. These exhilarating racing games merged state of the art visuals, pushing the limits of each hardware, with a serious driving experience, hence the moniker “the real driving simulator”. In the past few years though, Microsoft’s Forza series has stolen some of Gran Turismo’s thunder in the absence of a current generation entry. Gran Turismo Sport enters the circuit relatively late into the PS4’s lifecycle. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the series. The technical brilliance is evident, with lavish visuals running in smooth 60fps all-around. Still, when the initial glamour wears off, it’s clear that Gran Turismo Sport would have benefited from a less hard ground.
Why is the game called Gran Turismo Sport and not Gran Turismo 7? Sony must have thought “sport” sounds jazzy enough to a new generation of wannabe virtual drivers. Ironically, it turns out the game is more like a stripped-down sports model of luxury cars. There’s less of everything and the rest is streamlined. The true GT veterans are hurt most by the omission of an excessive career mode the previous games were known for. Driving under the new tagline “driving is for everyone”, the developer Polyphony Digital has seemingly forgotten all those hardcore players who bested the insane endurance races with blistering hands. Gone is also the B-spec, the AI driver who took the steering wheel while the player got some shut-eye.
There are only about 140 cars which is just a tad over 10% of the selection available in Gran Turismo 6. The limited collection is focused mostly on new car models with almost all of the fan-favorite classics missing. At least Porsche finally makes an entrance to the series. The driving locations are reduced to 17 and taking into account all the different layouts, there are 39 tracks to race on. Luckily the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife is still included. When it comes to tuning the cars, upgrade parts aren’t bought anymore. You just choose them from the tuning menus. Considering all these cuts to the game, Polyphony Digital must have felt necessary to ease the new players in. After all, the Gran Turismo series has had a somewhat intimidating reputation of being made for hardcore racing game fans.
Taking the place of the career is a campaign, consisting of driving school, mission challenges and circuit experiences. Driving school has 48 lessons, divided into beginner and intermediate difficulties. Missions cover 64 different driving challenges in eight stages. In circuit experience, each track is sorted into sectors and are driven throughout to hone the driving lines and braking points. Multiple F1 champion Lewis Hamilton voices the short video tutorials for each mission and track. In the end, the campaign is a small-time business at best and isn’t required to advance in the game. Then again, successfully clearing various campaign entries is rewarded with new cars.
It’s more important to race in the arcade mode in single races, time trials, drift trials and custom races. VR tour is also included within it but that’s something I couldn’t test. Arcade racing is the most rewarding aspect of GT Sport. Whatever you decide to drive and no matter how you fare, it’s all rewarded with credits, mileage points, driving distance and experience. Credits are spent in the showrooms of various manufacturers to buy cars with. Mileage points can be exchanged for some of the wheels too but mostly for decorating cars and driving helmets and suits. The distance driven is accumulated into daily challenges, which also is rewarded with experience and… yes, cars yet again. In fact, the game is so generous in handing new wheels in every corner that purchasing them is almost unnecessary. I was quite happy to receive Porsche 911 GT3 as a reward early on in a prize car roulette as it suits many racing needs.
It’s obvious that the rival Forza series has overlapped Gran Turismo when it comes to volume of content. But Gran Turismo isn’t called the real driving simulator for nothing. Forza’s driving physics are more forgiving and casual friendly. They feel good, almost too good. GT Sport’s driving physics are a bit stiff and slightly unpredictable, but in a good way. You have to learn the game’s touch, almost individually for each car in the personal garage. It may take longer but practice makes perfect. Of course, it can be helped with preset or custom driving assists. Rewinding, something that Forza popularized in racing games, is for pussies and luckily Gran Turismo still hasn’t fallen for it. If you fail and drive badly, consider that every driven mile is still counted for and eventually rewarded with. As is consistent with the series, the AI of opponent cars is weak. Their behavior is linear and the situational awareness almost non-existent. There’s some car damage modeled but it plays almost no role.
If the AI lacks brains, they’re needed in online play. Even before being eligible for it, you have to pass a racing etiquette test by watching two videos of the sportsmanship. They teach good manners on the racing track, with Lewis Hamilton reminding not to look “bad” out there. Sportsmanship points and the driving rating go hand in hand, with the game keeping tabs on clean driving. It’s good that the effort is made to maintain the online races fair and square by downgrading malicious players. Then again, I foresee the system being eventually abused.
Online sport mode has official races and championships (some of which are officially licensed by FIA) which take place in scheduled times while the lobby offers more casual racing. We game reviewers are apparently an isolated bunch because at the time of reviewing before the official launch day, there were hardly any online activity. That said, I’m of that racing game player generation who cares more for offline content anyway and luckily the emphasis is kept there.
Still, the game requires being always online to save the data to the server. If it goes offline during a race, perhaps due a maintenance or lost connection, you can kiss goodbye to the rewards you thought you had obtained. After finishing the race and leveling up, I was rewarded with a Hyundai concept car worth of million credits. Meanwhile, the servers had gone down for the maintenance. When I later got back to the game, the gained level was lost, along with the precious reward. At least I have the screenshot below as a memento… The need to be always online for saving the game must be fixed. Seriously. Arcade racing can be played offline but what's the point because the progress can't be saved. Hopefully the server-side problems will be fixed soon and left mostly as a pre-release nuisance. I doubt Sony wants to repeat Driveclub's launch issues.
Despite the cut-down on content, there’s still lots to do in GT Sport. It takes a true perfectionist to achieve all the game has to offer. Everything that is driven is counted for and handed out in bonuses, making the game constantly rewarding. In the long-term haul, come-on in the manufacturers’ showrooms are Gran Turismo vision concept cars, each costing one million credits. That alone is enough motive to keep on racing. The presentation is honed to a shining perfection and you can get lost for hours in it, taking photos of cars in the real world locations with the fancy in-game camera or browsing through manufacturers’ histories paralleled with world time events.
In its need to please as large demographic as possible, GT Sport is unmistakably deep but oddly sparse compared to its illustrious predecessors. The game feels more like a prologue to the inevitable Gran Turismo 7, hopefully including everything that was left out here. To best summarize the experience that is Gran Turismo Sport is as if Ferrari made a sport model of Ferrari 458. It would be stripped of the passenger seat, electronics and comforts like radio, heated seat and power windows, and the suspension would be harder too. It still would be Ferrari, beautiful to look at and beast to drive, but you’d wish it had more to it.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.