Gran Turismo Sport

EDGE - - GAMES -

PS4

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.

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