The space between releases for the Gran Turismo series has always been at the back of the minds of racing fans for many years. There’s no two ways about it, developer Polyphony Digital is a studio that strives for perfection. Especially when it comes to creating the look and feel for each vehicle that it digitises for players to race and drive around numerous scenic locales. Gran Turismo Sport, the seventh title in the series, is the first since 2013 and also the first to take advantage of the additional hardware power of the PlayStation 4. And, if you happen to have a PlayStation 4 Pro and a HDR capable TV, you also get one of the most stunningly lit racing titles ever created.
Seriously the skies and headlights look incredible.
But, all is not well in the world of Gran Turismo. Or at the very least, a little different. Gran Turismo Sport or GT Sport offers a new direction for the series, one with a focus on online racing and a promising partnership with the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile). Which results in a racing title that needs an online connection to the GT Sport servers in order to save career progress.
Or, even access a big chunk of the single-player content.
With the career mode revolving around daily online races and scheduled online tournaments, it’s an interesting approach, but as an online experience it quickly gets shaped by the other racers in play. Even though your GT Sport career profile wisely factor in sportsmanship as a key identifier, this has only just started to kick in so the races around launch were mostly a mix bag of clean racing and those filled with all manner of chaos. Not a knock against the system implemented, but it’s one that needs time to properly balance itself.
Case in point, the NASCAR-like oval shape of the Northern Isle Speedway just doesn’t work when played online with 20 people racing around a short half-mile inclined dome. And even when you’re trying to race without bumping into other cars, the sheer congestion makes it nigh on impossible to do so. Now that I think about it, that’s on the extreme end of the spectrum and is the sort of track that should be cut entirely from online racing unless you have a pristine sportsmanship rating. Or limit the number of cars to 10.
Racing against AI cars though is limited to the Arcade Mode where selecting tracks, conditions, and vehicles offers no real career incentive other than minor progression for stats like distance driven and overall fuel consumption. Two of the many stats that GT Sport tracks, offering rewards at various milestones. Which is a cool feature. But, when we say racing conditions we mean four different times of day to choose from, with no weather options or day-night cycle to be found. It’s a shame because the vehicles look and handle incredibly well, which consequently make the replays in GT Sport some of the most impressive and life-like that you’re likely to see.
So yeah, we would have loved to see all the exceptional car and track detail and HDR enhanced lighting at night whilst it was raining. Perhaps that’ll come in a future update.
Although there is a single-player career full of series staple challenges and driving lessons to master, strangely these also require a connection to the online servers to access. In terms of straight-up single-player racing, the driving lessons and stages are where you keep striving to get a gold disco ball reward or in my case a bronze cone of adequate completion to signify your averageness. Although linear and quite old-school in design these offers the sort of gameplay loop that is classic Gran Turismo. And, it’s through being taught exactly how to race and corner and brake and over-steer where Polyphony Digital’s pure love of car racing comes through. And Gran Turismo Sport shines.
They’ve not only have created a compelling game out of learning and mastering the art of driving, but through in-game museums, and more beautiful-cars-in-beautiful-locations money shots that you’d think was possible, have set the tone for a more reverent look at the world of car racing. One that sets GT Sport apart from other racing contemporaries through a presentation filtered through the guise of seriousness and the pristine beauty and celebration of a high-profile fashion shoot. And where else but a Gran Turismo game would you get a dramatic intro video that’s a cinematic mix of car footage dating back a century through to the modern era, with in-game footage also thrown in, set to the sort of classical music created to invoke a feeling of awe.
It’s a shame then that as a complete package it feels incomplete. The single-player stages, where cars are pre-determined, make the garage and act of spending credits to get more vehicles feel inessential. Which isn’t helped by limiting the online career mode to daily-races across specific tracks with certain classes of vehicles. This in turn makes it hard to get lost in Gran Turismo. And by that I mean, get fully immersed in the spectacle of racing for hours on end. Sure, initially that might be the case but GT Sport soon makes itself known as the sort of racing experience designed to be played for an hour a day. Again, it represents a new direction for the series but it would have been great to find, well, more of the class races found online.
Where GT Sport excels though is in the handling and feel of each car in the game, which in turn makes no two driving lessons or race feel the same - further amplifying the enjoyment and satisfaction of completing each new stage or mastering a technique. As a series Gran Turismo has often been the high watermark for realism and GT Sport, even though driving assists (including braking) are present for beginners, learning the ins and outs of each car’s specific feel can often be the appeal. And in a stroke of genius on Polyphony Digital’s part, getting gold is almost always limited to those that drive without assists and have a full understanding of both the vehicle and surface. It’s one part of GT Sport that saves it from being a nice try to something that fans of the series should check out.
Compared to the competition though it’s hard not feel a little let down, especially when you factor in the limited number of vehicles and tracks of offer, but that’s not to say that Gran Turismo Sport is a complete misfire. Far from it, in both execution and in the art of driving it feels different enough from the competition to stand on its own two wheels. The online career and Sport mode may signify a new direction for the series, but shows promise. With time, no doubt GT Sport will evolve with new modes, vehicles, tracks, and even additional weather effects. And when the day comes that we can witness all the wonderful detail and beauty of Polyphony Digital’s creation, via watching a replay of a crash-free online race set at night along the rain-soaked roads of Tokyo, this could become something truly special.