Gran Turismo Sport
Repeatedly driving two corners for a gold trinket isn’t enjoyable, nor does it make the player a better driver
Developer Polyphony Digital Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release Out now
Gran Turismo wasn’t like other driving games. Its devotion to realism sent a shockwave across the industry in 1998, as did the unprecedented opportunity it offered to take a family saloon and replace its parts until it could smoke a TVR off the start line. Up in the rarefied air Polyphony Digital has occupied ever since, the studio has enjoyed the freedom to seemingly work at its own pace, and to take Sony’s blockbuster racing series in esoteric and, at times, frustrating directions. In that sense, GT Sport is the quintessential Gran Turismo game: a late arrival to PS4 defined by a collection of curious design decisions.
A change of direction was to be expected after Gran Turismo 6’ s puzzling appearance on PS3 in 2013. Its 1,197 cars formed a sort of motoring encyclopaedia, but one that was comprised largely of PS2 refurbishments. That disparity between car models spoke to a deeper problem with the game, which seemed in two minds about whether to continue to deliver its legacy features or offer something brave and new – ultimately doing neither with any particular flourish. Enter GT Sport, a game that protects itself from similar criticism by offering something brave and new to an almost confrontational degree. That collection of cars it had been hauling from platform to platform is gone. In its place is a fresh roster of 162 vehicles, each lovingly crafted from headlight bulb to interior stitching. As expected, handling is the strongest asset GT Sport has by a mile, enough to warrant investigation from any sim-racing afficionado, and to reward them on those fundamental terms. Still, it’s hard not to lament the loss of so many classic cars, Japanese curiosities, familiar affordable hatchbacks and licensed racing prototypes which filled the garages of previous games.
This is no longer a game about car ownership or collection, however. The singleplayer championships that previously offered the primary appeal have been usurped by a series of driving lessons and challenges, which take place in preordained vehicles on set tracks. Previously, these were components of the series’ driving-licence challenges, a means to unlock more prestigious and lucrative championships. Now they take top billing in a choice of just two solo modes, the other being quick Arcade races. This is the first fundamental misunderstanding on Polyphony’s part: repeatedly driving two corners for a gold trinket isn’t enjoyable, nor does it make the player a better driver. What this solo content is trying to do is prepare would-be racers for the demands of online racing, but in reality it was the old Gran Turismo experience of battering AI foes in a turbo-charged Mazda Demio that taught better racecraft, and imprinted racing lines more indelibly.
Where Polyphony’s unquestionable talents do still shine through, though, are in the presentation and execution of that content. It might seem like a minor point to sing the praises of menu screens, but the passion for motorsport they convey is infectious. Meanwhile, the actual on-track element is the best Gran Turismo has ever seen. Braking distances are much more realistic, and the sense of weight and torque which has always been exemplary is articulated here better than ever. Ironically, AI behaviour has turned a corner too, but there’s little chance to sample its newfound aggression. Online racing is GT Sport’s raison d’être, then. Not just that, but a particular brand of stern, competitive online racing in the iRacing mould, clearly intended as an esports platform in the fullness of time. For casual racers there’s Lobby mode, full of player-created freefor-alls, but there’s no doubt that Sport mode is where the real focus lies. Governing the entirety of this part of the game is an omniscient virtual adjudicator which decides the Driver Rating (speed) and Sportsmanship Rating (fairness) of each player based on performance, and over time matches players of similar grades. As in Project Cars 2, the idea is that unsportsmanlike players end up being matched with each other, while those who want to race fairly and cleanly are eventually separated from the bumper-botherers.
After a week of unwavering commitment to clean racing, however, we’re still tarnished with a D-grade Sportsmanship Rating. Due to the game’s understandable inability to apportion blame for racing mishaps, this rating is adversely affected if you hit someone, but also if you’re the one being hit. The same goes for time penalties. Perhaps this seemed like an elegant solution in an air-conditioned design meeting, but in actuality it empowers trolls in flame-retardant overalls to wreck not just the current race for others, but also their chances of being matched with anyone more sportsmanlike. Still more perplexing is the scarcity of available races in this mode. At the time of writing, there are only three daily events to compete in and they begin at fixed times, the upshot being you can take part in a maximum of three races per hour. Entry to one of three championships is available too, but as we send to press, they still haven’t taken place.
To nobody’s surprise, Polyphony has once again summoned an eerily realistic driving experience here, but one that struggles to wrest back the limelight with its paucity of things to do. There’s a prevailing sense that Polyphony hasn’t yet shown its hand with GT Sport; that there’s something more substantial waiting to be added to this sparse framework via post-release updates and an inevitable GT Academy competition. Perhaps this is a prologue by another name, filling in a gap before Gran Turismo 7. Whatever it becomes in time, the GT Sport of right now is defined by the features it leaves on the cutting-room floor, rather than those it adds.