GRAN TURISMO SPORT
Warning: you are not playing Gran Turismo… yet
With its online championship endorsed by the FIA, could this be the most realistic racer ever?
Veteran PlayStation racers will remember that as the tagline on billboards, placed near motorways throughout the country, to advertise the first Gran Turismo. It might have been a bit far-fetched to suggest the PS1 game was indistinguishable from reality, but it did chime with the game’s central appeal: it was closer to driving a car than we’d ever gone before in games. But in 2017, competitors across the industry have long since beaten Kazunori Yamauchi’s studio at its own game. Assetto Corsa handles more believably. Sunlight dances across bonnets more convincingly in Driveclub. Project Cars does all that while doing a handstand. The imminent Gran Turismo Sport, then, has it all to do on 18 October.
That date is more or less a full year after its original release date, true to the series’ form for glacial development schedules. Despite that extra year, in which beta phases have been conducted globally, GT Sport still has a considerable element of mystery remaining. Will it feel like a complete game, with all the encyclopaedic content and esoteric twists we’ve come to expect from numbers one to six? Or is this one of the Prelude variety, designed to sate our appetites until Gran Turismo 7?
We know this much: 177 cars and 27 layouts of 19 tracks are heading to Polyphony’s first PS4 title.
“THE FIRST LINE OF THIS NEW CHAPTER IS ABOUT ONLINE RACING.”
Some way short of Gran Turismo 5 and its 1,088 vehicles, but enough to challenge your skills across several disciplines, from off-road to GT cars to that most quintessential of Gran Turismo experiences: driving dangerously upgraded hatchbacks around Autumn Ring Mini (at least, we assume that venerable locale will be making a return). But are those numbers enough for this to be considered the next true sequel, even without a ‘7’ in the title?
Polyphony co-founder Yamauchi characterises GT Sport’s nomenclature differently. Everything up to Gran Turismo 6 is the first generation of the series. This new game, he says, represents a generational shift. A new chapter. And the first line of that new chapter is about online racing. GT Sport enlists none other than the FIA itself to lend some official clout to the Gran Turismo Online Championship, in which national and constructors’ championships will be contested, live, eSports-friendly finals will be hosted, and, perhaps most bafflingly, the top gamers will end up with actual FIA racing licenses.
It’s not just the pros who’ll feel this renewed attention to racing etiquette: GT Sport has its sights set on bringing gentlemanly conduct to every online race. Stopping just short of having Charlie Whiting watch your every overtake, the game implements a harsh but – hopefully – fair line on racing incidents. Succinctly, every contact between drivers in an online race is deemed both parties’ fault. That might seem unjust the first time someone T-bones you going round a hairpin, but over time your assailant will be punished more than you if you race cleanly and they don’t.
What if you’re not into racing other humans, though? This is where GT Sport’s generational shift is most keenly felt. Although there are three solo modes (campaign, sports, and arcade) it doesn’t appear that the old car-collecting structure has survived the jump from PS3. In its place is a long road of training minigames, broadly similar to the licenses in prior titles, designed to hone your skills ready for – you guessed it – online racing. It’s a sign of the times, really. Sim racing is all about human opposition, and GT Sport is looking like the most serious sim racing title the series has ever produced. What’s more, no one racing series has truly sealed up the eSports market in the genre, and a franchise as big as Gran Turismo could hardly be expected to stay clear of the feeding frenzy.
But look, don’t fret. It’s still recognisably Gran Turismo under that online-friendly sheen. There’s a ridiculously detailed photo mode, expanded even from the aperture-tweaking fetishism of GT6. There’s still an incongruous but somehow delightful piano soundtrack. And there’s still an atmosphere of utter devotion to its subject material everywhere you look in GT Sport. Yamauchi recently said that each of the 200 staff members at Polyphony working on the game are “doing something only they can do,” and that really sums up the studio’s wilfully unique attitude to development. There’s no questioning the studio’s passion or expertise, then, or the fundamental quality of the driving. But with such tight competition in the genre now comparable to 1997 when it debuted, one question remains: what will be written on the billboards this time?
“THE RIDICULOUSLY DETAILED PHOTO MODE EXPANDS EVEN THE APERTURE-TWEAKING FETISHISM OF GT6.”
Above New tracks seen so far include the fictional Kyoto Driving Park, Colorado Springs (an off-road course), and Fisherman’s Ranch (a dirt track).
Above As for real-world tracks, one with green, yellow, and white rumble strips suggests we’ll be driving at Interlagos.
Above The interiors are recreated in loving detail. It makes us hope more PS VR support will be added over time.