Gran Turismo Sport
Polyphony rolls out its most ambitious racer to date, but fails to raise the pulse
Pressed on the existence of Gran Turismo
7, and how Gran Turismo Sport fits into Polyphony’s plans for the next numbered entry in the series, studio CEO and series creator Kazunori Yamauchi mischievously avoids the question. “Thinking about it now,” he laughs, “we could have called [this one] 7!” A frustratingly vague response, certainly, but given what Sport – a project originally touted as a Prologue- esque forerunner to 7’ s headlining act – has become, Yamauchi’s change of heart feels entirely reasonable.
The finished game will include 137 “super premium” cars, rebuilt from scratch and all featuring interiors. These will be spread across four groups, which will mix real-world vehicles with Gran Turismo’s ever-growing collection of fantasy Vision concept collaborations. The contents of this expansive garage can be raced on 27 track layouts – which include the return of dirt courses to the series – spread across 19 locations. And there will be 117 events available in a suite of new modes, which includes a reworked campaign, as well as a profoundly expanded multiplayer offering. As appetisers go, it’s excessive, which suggests that if Gran Turismo 7 does emerge, it won’t be any time soon.
But while the raw numbers make for enticing reading, it’s Sport’s online offering that proves to be its most striking component. Polyphony has spent the past three years in discussions with the FIA and autosport clubs around the world, and the result is two officially sanctioned online championships (one regional and the other split by manufacturers) in which the best drivers battle in weekend events to claim the top spot. But Yamauchi stresses that Sport won’t just be trying to find the best Gran Turismo driver in the world. “In this race series our objective isn’t to find the one single fastest driver, it’s actually to create lots of winners throughout the world,” he explains. “Divided by age and the areas of residence, we would like to give out lots of trophies to different winners in different categories.”
Every driver will have two ratings attached to their profile. Driver class is a traditional metric that’s based on your placings and lap times, but you’ll also accrue Sportsmanship points for not barging into other drivers. Both of these will feed into your overall level, meaning fast, skilful and – for the most part – polite drivers will climb the leaderboards. Those drivers, selected based on their performance in daily races, will be eligible to enter Weekend Finals events, which will be broadcast worldwide. In the Nations Cup, semi-finals will be broken down by region before the global final. In the Manufacturers Cup – where players align themselves with a favourite car brand – things are similarly subdivided, with semi-finals taking place as single-manufacturer events. “That broadcast final is going to consist of players matched together who have the highest rating throughout the world,” Yamauchi explains. “Maybe like the top 20 or something players.”
Astonishingly, a good online performance (along with the successful completion of ten racing etiquette lessons) makes you eligible for a FIA Gran Turismo Digital License from your local motorsport sanctioning authority. Although it’s currently unclear what else you’ll need to do to qualify – and it’s likely that whatever that is will vary between clubs – once acquired, it will hold the same value as a real-life licence. So far, 22 countries are involved in the programme.
But securing this unprecedented relationship has not been easy. “Car clubs everywhere have [hundreds of years of] history, and those organisations don’t move at the speed that we’re used to [in the game industry],” Yamauchi says. “When you look at the history of the FIA and autosport clubs, it’s almost a miracle that we were able to make this happen. The list of participating nations doesn’t include countries such as Japan and Germany yet, but I believe that gradually we’ll have more to add to the list.”
Clearly, Polyphony is thinking big – Yamauchi describes it as the most innovative entry in the series since the first game – but the fastidious studio is predictably focused on
“In this race series our objective is to create lots of winners throughout the world”
the smaller details, too. While the jump to PS4 hasn’t resulted in a DriveClub- esque visual revolution, it’s handsome enough and the new car models are as gorgeous as you’d hope. That the game only looks slightly ahead of Gran Turismo 6 is more indicative of that game’s achievements on prior-gen hardware than any failings on Sport’s part. It’s hard not to be a little disappointed by the minimal gains, but one area in which things have improved is the lighting. Where previous games in the series have felt a little clinical, here things are warmer and softer with less of the excessive contrast that made interiors impossible to see in certain conditions.
More importantly, the game’s AI drivers have been instilled with a little more life too. While saying that they now have personality would be overstating it, Sport has dispensed with Gran Turismo’s infamously passive moving obstacles, and now cars visibly attack for positions and spin out. Unfortunately, despite Yamauchi’s insistence that all of the game’s audio has been reworked, we struggle to hear much improvement – cars drone rather than roar, and they feel less potent as a result. More worryingly, there’s a distinctly underwhelming sense of speed in the game right now, and even whipping a Veyron around tight Tokyo streets leaves us unruffled. Placed against Forza 6, Project Cars and DriveClub,
Sport feels underwhelming in this respect. Despite these issues, Sport excels when it comes to handling. Gran Turismo 6’ s mesmerising suspension physics is even more detailed here, and the nuanced way cars communicate and then break traction is a continual joy even when it feels like you’re plodding along at 30mph.
We put in laps of familiar returning tracks such as the Nordschleife, Willow Springs and Brands Hatch’s Indy and GP configurations, but also get to sample two new stretches of tarmac. The first, Northern Isle Speedway, is a 16-metre-wide, half-mile oval of the kind that only Americans can get excited about, but it does bring something new to the series. The second is a tight, winding urban course called Tokyo Expressway, which visually recalls Route 246, but feels like Special Stage Route 5 thanks to its changes in elevation and tough cornering descents into underpasses.
In an unusual example of the series reacting to its competitors, Gran Turismo
Sport features a livery editor that looks to be just as powerful and flexible as Forza’s and should bolster the sense of ownership you have for your expanding garage. We wonder whether Yamauchi is feeling greater pressure to compete in the presence of the Gran
Turismo alternatives his work inspired. “We’re not aiming to fight for a share of a limited race game market,” he tells us. “We’re working to expand that market. Before Gran Turismo 1 came out, the worldwide racing game market was about one million players, so it wasn’t that big to begin with. I’ve always made Gran
Turismo to try to expand that.” It has also always been about sharing his appreciation of cars, and in this respect Sport goes further than ever. There’s a redesigned Museum mode featuring an in-depth automotive timeline, which places landmarks in motoring history against those in the wider culture. Want to know what was happening in the evolution of cars and motorsport when Edvard Munch painted The Scream? Yamauchi has your back. The old car dealerships section has been replaced with the flatly named Brand Central, which is where you can browse and add cars to your collection, view a repository of detailed specs and facts, and flick through a channel of manufacturer-produced videos. “I redesigned this section because when I created the first Gran Turismo, I really meant the car dealerships to be a place where players would discover car brands and manufacturers,” Yamauchi explains. “So Brand Central aims to provide a new way to discover cars.”
Yamauchi’s passion for this project is obvious, and clearly Sport is a game being designed from the heart. Its ambitious scope and moreish handling just need to be matched with a little more on-track drama if it’s going to get players’ blood pumping.
Yamauchi’s passion is obvious, and clearly Sport is being designed from the heart
Sport’s focus on sportsmanship, and the fact it rewards careful drivers, should make playing online an unusually pleasant experience in a genre that often devolves into cheap tactics and aggressive shunting Developer Publisher Format Origin Release Polyphony Digital SIE PS4 Japan November 16
Gran Turismo Sport’s car models are the series’ best yet, and look astonishing both on and off the track
Polyphony CEO and GTSport producer Kazunori Yamauchi