GAME REVIEW: Gran Turismo Sport

After what felt like an eternity, Gran Turismo has finally made it to the PlayStation 4 which, in theory, should mean that fans of the series can finally pack their old PS3s away. However, things are not that simple because Gran Turismo Sport offers something that’s quite a bit different to everything we’ve seen from Polyphony Digital since the release of its first game 20 years ago.

When the game was announced some two years ago, it was made clear that Sport was never going to be a direct successor to the massively successful Gran Turismo 6, but rather a sub-category of racing games that focuses heavily on competition rather than car collection. As a result, we have a game that offers a focused but limited amount of content that consists of 177 cars and 19 tracks with 40 configurations.

What to expect…

With Gran Turismo Sport there are no special championships or tournaments. All you have access to are tailored arcade events and online races. There’s also the traditional license format that provides some very useful lessons you could easily adopt in real life, such as how to approach a declining corner or how to preserve fuel while maintaining position.

The campaign continues into the Mission Challenge centre, in which you have to perform various racing events and use skills such as slip-streaming, hand-brake turns and attacking racing lines to achieve a dedicated goal in a car provided for you. While these are entertaining, they can become a bit repetitive over time and may act as a distraction to the racing aspect of the game.

Like the driving school, however they do provide some useful insights to the world of racing. It’s the same story with the section that follows; the Circuit Experience, in which you tackle various sections of various tracks as quickly as you can.

The campaign is essentially a tutorial that provides you with the necessary skills you may need to tackle the core section of the game: the online racing events. This is where you get behind the virtual wheel of the dedicated sportscars and challenge other players from around the world from race to race. This is Gran Turismo Sport in a nutshell.

There’s also the “Scapes” section where you can create impressive stills and tracking shots using a collection of real-world backdrops. It’s a pleasant addition, but not one that thoroughly enhances gameplay. Judging by the way Gran Turismo Sport has been set up, it’s clear that its main focus is on the online gaming element. The FIA-certified tournaments also strongly support this notion.

In the driver’s seat

As for the game’s driving dynamics, Gran Turismo Sport carries on its simulation-inspired platform from previous games … and builds further on it. While I wouldn’t go as far as calling it class-leading, it’s clearly a development from what was already a pleasant experience. The issue, however, is with the DualShock 4 controller, which doesn’t provide the appropriate feedback through vibration to signal whether a car is breaking traction or locking up. This means that playing with traction control and ABS is a must unless you’re using a racing wheel with force feedback (something I would recommend for this game, regardless).

A further benefit of using a racing wheel is that it makes in-race car settings easier to adjust. These include traction control, brake bias and the air-fuel ratio. You can also trigger hazards, indicators and high-beams, which makes signalling to your opponents an easy task.

That being said, it’s pretty clear that the online community of Gran Turismo Sport is a pleasant one; something that is quite rare in racing games. Thanks to the driver etiquette system that penalises players for dirty driving, issues such as ramming and bumping are almost non-existent. Because of this, players are likely to find themselves in the online championships more than any other part of the game.

The big question is whether Gran Turismo Sport is a better game than Project Cars 2 and Forza Motorsport 7. This is a difficult question to answer because Gran Turismo Sport deviates from what its competitors have set out to do. PC2 and FM7 both use the draw-cards of content to lure in potential customers (in this case, PC2‘s extensive track list and FM7‘s massive variety of cars).

If these games are to be compared, it’s easy to say that Gran Turismo Sport is the best developed game. Graphically, it’s superior to FM7, which has been the benchmark since its third instalment, The cars are are more detailed, the reflections are clearer and colours pop off the screen, giving the game a surreal feeling. Also, one has to consider that Gran Turismo Sport‘s development time was longer and the team had much less content to develop.

A few concerns…

In the sound department, however, Gran Turismo fails yet again. The cars still have a droning note that does not represent the real-life sound in the slightest. Why Polyphony Digital hasn’t been able to properly develop its sound after being 20 years in the industry is still a mystery.

Although this game never promised a lot of content, the fact that it costs the same as its competitors is a bit concerning. What Gran Turismo Sport does offer is a focused racing experience that you’re unlikely to find in any other game. But the bottom line is its content is limited; you aren’t getting much for the R899 that you have to fork out.

Gran Turismo head Kazunori Yamauchi has gone on record to say that the game will be adding 500 new vehicles to the roster free of charge, but if this is true it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. And if it does, it would mean that the new cars would likely be based on data sourced from Gran Turismo 6, which may be a mistake considering that game’s age. The fact that the game works only with an online connection is also concerning as restrictive internet can completely derail the experience.

Essentially, Gran Turismo Sport should not be seen as a direct sequel to the franchise, but rather a sub-franchise that caters to those who take simulation racing seriously. It is polished and is sure to provide an entertaining experience, but long-time fans of the series may feel that the game lacks something.

For those who yearn for the full Gran Turismo experience, I would recommend you wait a while longer until the release of Gran Turismo 7. That said, there’s no clear indication as to when this game will be released. And given Polyphony Digital’s history with taking its time to develop a game, it’s probably safe to assume that we won’t see it any time soon.