After many years of patient waiting, Gran Turismo has finally made its PlayStation 4 debut. The latest edition of the world-famous series sees a massive shift of focus, and the clue is in the title: Sport. Gone are the 60-hp Japanese Kei cars and traditional upgrade system, and in their place is a focus on the more serious business of motorsport. Developer Polyphony Digital is so committed to this new “sport” mantra that they have partnered with FIA: the sports federation for racing, no less.
The focus on online racing at the expense of a traditional single-player campaign angered many long-time Gran Turismo fans. This was especially baffling considering Gran Turismo Sport was a full-priced title at launch. Fortunately, Polyphony Digital listened to fans’ outcry and did a U-turn with the introduction of a single-player campaign post-launch.
Sparse in their eyes
Sadly, the single-player campaign feels tacked-on and not as comprehensive as you would hope. Split across Beginner, Amateur, Professional and Endurance tiers, it is unquestionably sparse. For example, Beginner features only six series while professional has just three.
With no classic tracks, a very limited vehicle selection (more on these two aspects later), and an unattractive and unintuitive “Quick Tune” option replacing the once wide-ranging upgrade section that involves levelling up your vehicle’s performance, the campaign feels like a pale imitation compared to previous Gran Turismo games.
Gran Turismo’s AI has always been widely criticised. Unfortunately, it hasn’t evolved significantly in Gran Turismo Sport. It’s not all bad news, though: some events provide very challenging AI, but others are plagued with very obvious rubber-banding. It’s not uncommon for you to quickly race to the front of the pack, only for the AI to remember they’re in a race, put their foot down and seemingly get an ungodly amount of power from fresh air.
Clearly, Polyphony Digital need to strike a balance here. A difficulty slider would be a welcome addition and would help provide a challenge to all players regardless of their skill level.
Practice makes progress
Besides the added single-player campaign, Gran Turismo Sport offers other events in its campaign mode that aim to improve your driving skills.
The Driving School mimics the license tests seen in previous games, which often sees you tackle a small portion of a track against the clock while teaching you basic driving techniques along the way. Mission Challenges see things get more interesting, however. Here you’ll take on challenges that involve overtaking, knocking over countless cones, targeting a specific speed before the finish line, and more. These mission challenges are a welcome addition, providing a brief respite to the more serious online competitive racing.
The final portion of GT Sport’s campaign mode is entitled “Circuit Experience”. Racing circuits are broken up into sections with video guides to help you learn each sector before putting everything you’ve learned together by taking on the full lap. These present a more accessible way to learn the tracks for the uninitiated, which breaks up the learning into bite-sized chunks.
Sport end of the stick
As the name not-so-subtly hints at, the main focus for Gran Turismo Sport is its online mode simply called “Sport,” where you compete in official races online. You are assigned a Driver Rating (DR), which indicates how fast you are. Ratings range from E to A, with top players residing in the S category. Naturally, you start at rank E and work your way up. It gives you a great incentive to play GT sport on a regular basis.
The second rating you will be granted is the Sportsmanship Rating (SR). If you can stay clear of bumps and knocks, you will find you can earn a high SR. Once again, the rankings range from E to S. It’s worth noting that your Driver Rating also has a Sportsmanship Rating limit, so you may need to raise it before you can elevate your Driver Rating.
Online racing is generally entertaining with minimal lag, making for some truly impressive online racing – particularly on a console. Matchmaking is very good indeed making for some genuinely close racing. Races typically last a few laps, but you occasionally see races with ten or more laps that introduce tyre wear and fuel consumption for you to consider. Managing fuel can be done on the fly by adjusting your fuel mix between five settings ranging from lean to rich, adding some much-needed strategy.
Your enjoyment of Gran Turismo Sport really boils down to how considerate your opponents are. Playing with fair like-minded racers is a joy, and can make playing the game an absolute pleasure to the point it’s hard to put down. Conversely, playing with players who use your car as a cheap brake can be infuriating. Frustrating experiences are not only due to reckless drivers, but rather the way they are (or not) punished.
I have been used as a means to round a corner quicker only for the offender to drive into the distance while I have to endure a time penalty. As you can imagine, this can be infuriating. You’ll also be punted in the back far too often through no fault of your own and see your Sportsmanship Rating go down as a result. Other times a car can lose control in front of you making an accident unavoidable, which can land you a hefty time penalty. These penalties are issued by a computer so there’s always going to be moments that seem unfair, but this system is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Should you cut a turn (be it accidentally or not) you’re given a time penalty. You have two choices: suffer the penalty at the end of the race, or reduce this (or remove it altogether) during the race in real time by slowing down. While removing your penalty during the race sounds great, in truth the game isn’t always sophisticated enough to detect when you are slowing down, which can be very annoying and cost you precious places, although it does work in most cases.
Inevitably in the class-based racing games, you will encounter faster and slower vehicles and this has certainly been true in Gran Turismo Sport. Fortunately Polyphony Digital has been tweaking their vehicles to help balance out any discrepancies, which will no doubt continue for months to come.
Besides the Sport mode, GT Sport’s “Championships” represents another pillar in the title’s serious online focus. These championships enable you to represent either your country in the “FIA GT Nations Cup”, or any of the available manufacturers with the “FIA GT Manufacturer Series”. Each championship consists of several races each day over a period of several days, which utilises different car categories ranging from low-powered vehicles to extremely potent machines. Points are earned depending on your finishing position and are added together to give you your final point ranking.
Once you’ve entered a championship, you can begin qualifying. This takes place with other opponents on the track, as opposed to on your own as found with the regular “Sport” races, so it’s best to find a gap in the track as it can become bumper cars at times. Before the off, the full grid of cars is shown one by one along with their qualifying time and grid position, giving the event some spectacle and building up the anticipation nicely compared to the regular online races, which is a great touch.
Of course, all this preparation and spectacle would be pointless if Gran Turismo Sport didn’t feel good to drive. Fortunately, vehicle handling feels very intuitive and satisfying, whether you opt for a controller or a racing wheel. Vehicles have a greater sense of weight than in previous games, which makes them feel more lively and authentic. Gran Turismo games may never rival the simulation levels in the most respected PC sims, but Gran Turismo Sport gets closer than ever before. If you use a racing wheel, the realistic and fun handling is complemented with decent force feedback, which elevates the driving even further.
Drifting the Mazda RX-7 around the street-lit Tokyo Expressway, wrestling the tail-happy Ferrari 512 BB against a field of Italian sports cars at the Autodrome Lago Maggiore, and taming the understeer of the Honda Civic Type R around the almost nausea-inducing Kyoto Driving Park while trying to overtake opponents also struggling to keep their powerful front-wheeled drive cars on the grey stuff are examples of some of the highlights Gran Turismo Sport offers.
If looks could kill
Whenever a new Gran Turismo title is in the works, we are always blown away by the realistic visuals and lighting. Fortunately, Gran Turismo Sport continues the tradition of dropping our jaws to the floor with gorgeous car models that are faithfully reproduced both inside and out and lighting that can fool you into believing that the replay you’re watching is actually a real-life race. It might just be the best-looking racing title of this generation, topping even the visual powerhouse that is Evolution Studios’ DriveClub.
Whether racing on an overcast afternoon at Suzuka, with the sun setting at Monza, or taking on the Alsace Village circuit at night, Gran Turismo Sport looks stunning more often than not. This sense of realism is bolstered further if you drive using the cockpit viewpoint, which offers a surprisingly good view of the track. Driver animations are beautifully smooth and the rear-view mirrors provide an adequate level of detail. All this while maintaining its 60fps target.
Understandably, the frame rate drops to 30fps during replays. It’s a shame, but all can be forgiven when the replays look as good as they do.
Gran Turismo Sport is a very polished title, as shown when navigating its slick, high-quality menus that are user-friendly and full of colour and information – you’re never too many clicks away from where you need to be.
How many Skylines?
The latest iteration of Gran Turismo offers a fraction of vehicles compared to last-generation titles. Admittedly, we don’t see countless versions of MX-5’s, Skylines and Imprezas this time around, but the selection now has the opposite problem. You can count the total of the aforementioned models on one hand if you don’t include the race variants, which is shocking, frankly.
Manufacturers are often represented by just a handful of vehicles, leaving the selection feeling woefully lacking. In fact, Gran Turismo Sport includes just over 150 vehicles – a far cry from the 1000+ selection in the previous two numbered offerings. Indeed, the polarising Vision GT cars make up a sizeable percentage of the total vehicle list. If you’re not into racing cars, you are left with an embarrassingly low number of choices.
Although Gran Turismo Sport continues its incremental improvements in audio, it’s still left in the dust of its rivals. For example, driving the Ferrari F40 felt satisfying enough, but I found myself booting up Assetto Corsa to get a better sense of what this iconic car sounds like. Polyphony Digital clearly still has a lot of ground to make up in the audio department, – the fact the vehicle audio doesn’t match the visuals in the fourth generation of Gran Turismo titles is frustrating, to say the least.
Not hard to keep track of
Another glaring weakness in Gran Turismo Sport is its track list. While 48 tracks may sound like a large amount, there are really only 19 locations, often with multiple configurations. When you consider that three of these are uninspiring rally tracks that haven’t evolved significantly since the discipline’s introduction in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec back in 2001, the numbers look even scanter.
Gran Turismo Sport may boast tracks such as the Nurburgring Nordschleife, Monza, Brands Hatch and Suzuki, but legendary circuits like Silverstone, Spa, Monaco, Laguna Seca, Circuit de la Sarthe (Le Mans) are all conspicuously absent. This is particularly hard to swallow given that these iconic tracks have featured in previous Gran Turismo titles.
To add further fuel to this disappointing fire, none of the series’ famous fictional tracks feature in Gran Turismo Sport. If you’ve enjoyed racing around High Speed Ring, Apricot Hill, Special Stage Route 5, Deep Forest Raceway and Midfield Raceway over the years, prepare to be disappointed. As a result, it lacks the magic and nostalgic element that other recent Gran Turismo titles have in spades. It’s not all bad news though, as Polyphony Digital has stated they are currently working on bringing Deep forest Raceway to GT Sport with other classic tracks likely to follow.
The standard of the tracks that Gran Turismo Sport does offer are generally good and are reasonably rich in detail as you would expect. Getting to drive around the incredibly technical Alsace Village, the high-speed Nurburgring GP, not to mention the legendary Nordschleife feel as satisfying as they should. However, Tokyo Expressway does suffer from some glaring pop-up, despite its relatively sparse nature.
Another area where Gran Turismo Sport falls behind its competitors is the lack of dynamic time of day and weather. Instead, you have the choice of several “pre-baked” lighting conditions at different times of day, ranging from sunrise to night time and from sunny to foggy and cloudy conditions. Currently, the only way to experience wet weather is by competing in a gymkhana-esque mission challenge tucked away in the campaign mode.
Gran Turismo Sport maintains the long tradition of including an arcade mode. Here you can set up single races, and time trials and there’s also an option for 2-player split-screen racing. Custom race enables you to alter a number of parameters such as the number of laps, the strength of “catchup” boost and slipstream and more, whereas Drift Trial tasks you with getting sideways at allocated zones of the track. Finally, the arcade mode is where you’ll find the VR Tour mode.
It was difficult not to get excited when it was announced that Gran Turismo Sport will support PlayStation VR. It was later revealed that the full game would not be fully playable in VR, and would instead have a separate “VR Tour Mode” so it’s best to adjust your expectations accordingly. That said, the VR Tour Mode is underwhelming.
The VR mode is best viewed as a teaser of what is to come for the future marriage of PSVR and Gran Turismo. It allows you to race at any one of the available tracks (albeit with a reduction in time of day options) in a two-lap race (or one lap for the longest tracks) against a single AI opponent. These limited races are made worse by the fact the AI opponent is laughably slow, negating any chance of actually having a competitive race. Fortunately, a VR time trial mode has since been added.
On the plus side, the VR mode looks very good considering the limited power of the PlayStation 4 when played on a standard console. Car interiors are surprisingly sharp and it was a pleasure to jump into lots of different vehicles. Another personal PSVR highlight is taking on the iconic Nurburgring Nordschleife, which feels pretty special. However, some of the fluidity of the driving is missing in VR mode. Seemingly, the first generation of PSVR simply doesn’t have enough power to do the racing genre justice.
Besides the “racing”, the VR mode also has a very welcome Showroom mode that lets you get up close and personal with your chosen vehicle. Not only can you walk around them but also play around with the headlights. Sadly, you can’t open any doors or sit in the vehicles, which is a shame. Still, it’s great to see these beautifully detailed cars up close and appreciate the finer details.
Kazunori Yamauchi’s passion for photography has become obvious over the years with ever more comprehensive photo mode features added to Gran Turismo. Gran Turismo Sport’s photo mode, known as “Scapes,” is the most advanced photo mode (or should that be photo travel mode?) yet, enabling you to place any of the game’s beautifully rendered vehicles against the backdrop of high-quality real-world photographs.
Gran Turismo Sport’s library contains a countless number of stunning photographs (even more are available on the PlayStation Store), each sorted into categories and countries – there’s even a category of personal picks from Kazunori himself. Once you’re happy with the placement of your vehicle, you can toggle your vehicle’s lights, alter focus, shutter speed, exposure, and aperture settings; and apply any of the effects available, which include vignetting, filters, chromatic aberration, and more.
Needless to say, photo travel aficionados will get a lot from the Scapes mode with a plethora of images to discover and a whole host of settings to tinker with. Some will no doubt spend dozens of hours honing their skills and producing some truly magnificent images along the way. Its appeal to a wider audience is somewhat limited, however.
GT Sport sees the long-awaited introduction of a livery editor, which enables you to alter the appearance of your cars, helmets and racing suits. There are a plethora of decals and shapes to create just about anything provided you have both the skills and the patience. Additional decals can be uploaded and unlocked too via the Mileage Exchange, which lets you exchange accumulated Mileage Points for various items.
Gran Turismo Sport is a very mixed bag overall. The vehicle handling is better than ever before, the graphics are very impressive, the presentation is top notch, and it may just be the best place to compete in online races on a console. Many players will lose themselves in the Sport mode and take advantage of the Circuit Experience modes to shave off those precious tenths-of-seconds.
However, the vehicle and track selection leave a lot to be desired, as does the lackluster audio. The single-player campaign feels like a shadow of its former self, and the inconsistent online penalty system can lead to some frustrating experiences.
Considering how late we are in the current console cycle, it wouldn’t surprise us if this is the only Gran Turismo title to grace the PlayStation 4. Sadly Gran Turismo Sport doesn’t stack up to previous offerings in this iconic series. To think we might have to wait until the next generation to finally play Gran Turismo 7 is quite distressing.
- Best handling in a GT title
- Online racing can be addictive
- Amazing visuals
- Decent track learning tools
- Limited career mode
- Vehicle and track options lacking
- Disappointing VR mode
- No dynamic weather or time of day
Gran Turismo Sport is a mixed bag. Featuring the most detailed vehicle handling in the series, supported with impressive visuals, polished presentation, and an online component which can be addictive. Players will lose themselves in the Sport and Circuit Experience modes to shave off precious tenths-of-seconds. However, vehicle and track selection leave a lot to be desired, as does the lackluster audio. The single-player campaign feels like a shadow of its former self, and the inconsistent online penalty system can lead to some frustrating moments.