It feels like it’s been forever since this was announced, doesn’t it? I’m sure the year-long delay didn’t help, either. But what is Gran Turismo Sport? It’s not the next numbered outing, nor is it another ill-advised Prologue, but you could be forgiven for wondering just what this game is about. The marketing has been light on details, as have both Sony and Polyphony, which has left most people a little confused about what to expect from Gran Turismo’s long-awaited PS4 debut.
Well, the truth is…aww, who am I kidding? I’m still not much closer to working out what this game is meant to be. It’s certainly not a full GT game, given its almost total lack of a proper single player campaign, but then the focus has always been on a more eSports-focused game. This is why most of the game’s features are unavailable if the servers are offline, which was mostly the case during the initial review period, and why this review took a while to complete. This includes the campaign challenges, livery editor and even the new Scapes photo mode were all initially offline. Weirdly, it also means that Brand Central, the place from which you buy cars, is only available online; but you do also get to view historical pieces as part of this new showroom, so you’ll soon see why it’s an online thing.
The challenges are quite interesting; given that GT Sport offers only a handful of real world circuits, most of the game’s locales are entirely fictional, and being able to learn them beforehand is a nice feature. This incorporates some of the old licence test ideas from the original games; giving you several challenges that essentially cover every part of the circuit, before giving you one final exam that tasks you with completing a full lap. Your time determines whether you receive a bronze, silver or gold reward, affecting the XP and monetary gains you win.
On top of those, there are the regular driving lessons that teach you how to drive. It’s great to see these return, especially given how much more realistic the handling is here. This is the most realistic Gran Turismo to date, so these lessons are more important than ever before. You’re free to leave these lessons if you want though, and jump straight into the Mission Challenges, which are simple racing challenges such as placing as high as you can in a two-lap race. The goal is to reach at least third, but you’ll want to win in order to grab those shiny gold rewards.
Despite the immense number of these challenges, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in the single player content. The fact that the challenge modes are grouped under ‘Campaign’ makes it all the more disappointing, as you can’t help but notice the absence of the staple Gran Turismo experience. That said, if you just fancy a good old-fashioned race, Arcade mode is where you’ll want to be when offline, or if you just fancy a break from racing against people. However, you’ll need to level up online to unlock most of the circuits, but there are several tied to each level, meaning that they come thick and fast the more you play.
On that score, Gran Turismo Sport certainly does not disappoint. As I said already, the handling is the most realistic the series has ever seen. While Forza Motorsport 7 dials back some of the realism to make it more accessible, and Project CARS 2 goes full-on simulation, GT Sport sits somewhere in the middle; the input and general smoothness of the steering is closer to Microsoft’s flagship title, but turn off the assists and it’s as much of a driver’s delight as Slightly Mad Studios’ sim. Assist levels can be tailored to suit almost anyone too, with the traction control slider allowing you to lessen the amount of assistance you receive as you begin to learn how to handle each car. Or turn it up if you’re struggling with a GT3 beast, for example. I’m normally one for switching all the assists off and fighting the car around each circuit, but this was a bit of a trial by fire even for me, as I struggled to control the shifting weight of some vehicles early on. I had to tweak the assists a little, let myself re-learn how to drive these racing machines.
Now, Polyphony’s series has never really been known for its great AI, with previous entries (even the last one on PS3) often seeing the competitors driving in a procession around the circuits. They wouldn’t make mistakes and they’d nail every apex, with difficulty settings merely slowing them down or speeding them up, depending on your choice. Well, I was delighted to see that GT Sport’s AI is some of the best in the genre. It will fight for position; pulling out to the centre of the track to defend going into a corner, or trying to break the tow going down a long straight. It makes mistakes too; braking too late and going wide, or missing the apex of a corner and leaving the door open for a lunging overtake down the inside. At one point, it even totally misjudged a chicane and I watched as it lurched from side-to-side, before failing to gain control as the car went spinning into the barrier; I barely missed being collected by the unfortunate soul. Even on intermediate difficulty, you might find yourself challenged. I certainly did, and I loved it.
Gran Turismo may not have been known for great AI, but it’s always been at the forefront of visual quality, and Sport is no different. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful games out there. Not only do the cars look about as close to reality as possible, the lighting is simply breathtaking to behold; the way the sunlight glints off the asphalt and opposing cars can make you question whether you’re really playing a game, sometimes. Okay, maybe not, but in motion it really is a stunner. When I was a teenager, my grandparents would sometimes struggle to believe that certain sports games weren’t simply TV programmes. If they were alive today, I can only imagine what they would have made of GT Sport’s replays.
Heading into the online game via Sport mode, the first thing you might notice is the lack of a simple ‘quick play’ option. It is still there, but not quite as you would expect. Finding a quick race now comes in the form of Daily Races, which come in three flavours that change periodically; there are three races to choose from, each with a different track and vehicle group, all taking place at regular intervals throughout each day. This means that you might want to choose your race carefully if you’re pushed for time, because you may have to wait an extra twenty minutes otherwise. It’s odd at first, but you get used to it. If you’re early, you’ll be able to participate in a qualifying time trial for your chosen event, which can result in you starting higher up on the starting grid come race time. This is great for those unfamiliar with the chosen track too, as well as potentially getting you closer to the front at the start, giving you a better chance of earning that first win.
If you’re like me, rarely getting the chance to win online races due to the competition simply being far too good, GT Sport’s Driver Rating has you covered. This measures your performance and places you in similarly talented groups, meaning that you’re almost always guaranteed to be racing players of the same speed and ability, which just keeps things much more competitive throughout the grid and it really does work. When I’m enjoying a race even when I’m fighting for 10th place, it’s a sign of a great game, and the rewards are still plentiful no matter where you finish up.
Now, I know you’re worried about that infamous ‘first corner’ mentality of online racing, where chaos reigns and car-casses (geddit?) litter the road; again GT Sport has another system to cover that: the Sportsmanship Rating, or SR for short. This game is all about encouraging fair play; you can’t even join the online racing until you’ve watched a couple of short etiquette videos on sportsmanship. When you do get on the track, you and everyone else will be constantly monitored by the game’s SR system. Everyone starts on the same rating and throughout the course of your racing career, the matchmaking will group you together with others of the same SR. It’s not always a guarantee of a safe race and the penalty system isn’t always fair or consistent (it actually needs a lot of work in some areas), but it’s still the best system yet in an online racer. Most of the races I’ve had have been fair and with minimal contact, in turn making me want to keep playing online. It’s not perfect however, as it currently affects your SR when other drivers hit you, which can be quite frustrating. Hopefully the system will evolve and improve over time, as Polyphony monitors player feedback.
It must be said however, that outside of Sport Mode, the standard Lobbies area of multiplayer isn’t very good. It takes far too long for anything to happen, meaning you can be sat watching the lobby list for ages just waiting for the right race for you. Creating your own is an option, and you can sit and drive in a practice while waiting for others to join and the race to start, but it just feels like it needs a simpler solution. The matchmaking works so well in the Daily Races, why not use it for a quick race option too? Still, it does allow for more customised racing and you can invite all your friends for a bit of fun, away from the rules of Sport Mode.
Finally, Sport Mode has one more trick up its sleeve: championships. While not the first racing game to include this kind of championship, it’s probably the first to integrate it into the game almost at launch. Forza Motorsport 7’s Leagues are yet to start and Project CARS 2’s competitions aren’t a direct part of the game proper, instead handled separately as you sign up online to participate. GT Sport’s championships started during the first weekend of November and are planned as a regular thing for you to enter directly through Sport mode. One is a manufacturer championship, allowing you to sign a fictional contract (which you can do at anytime leading up to the beginning of the season) that loans you two cars from your chosen manufacturer. You can’t change contract mid-season though, so choose carefully; you’ll have those loan cars for any mode until the end of the season. The other championship pits nations against one another, with earned points going into your nation’s pool; the manufacturer championship works much the same way, with a points pool for each car manufacturer.
Unlike the daily races, championship races are only available on specific dates and for a limited time during each day. Qualifying also works differently, as you’re given an eight minute slot in which everyone participates on the same track, much like a real motorsport such as the BTCC or F1. This means that you have to find yourself a window to get in a good lap, away from other drivers, always aware of others on the track. After the eight minutes are up, the race begins. There’s a sense of showmanship about the race starts, as the camera pans across every single racer, effectively announcing them on the grid before the lights go out and the race begins; it’s a nice touch that gets you revved up for the competition. Honestly, I’ve never felt compelled to play online much before, but much like Overwatch’s special events, GT Sport’s championship seasons will keep me coming back again and again.
So, Gran Turismo Sport is finally here and it’s not as much of a mystery as it has been over the past eighteen months. It’s not like my first foray into the series back in 1998, when I was buying a used Mitsubishi FTO to get me through those early races, eventually working my way up to bigger and better machines; it’s also got way more content than the glorified demos that were the Prologue games. It’s a love letter to the driving machines of the racing world, and although I had my reservations about it being an online racer, I can honestly say that I have never been happier to be proven wrong.
Constant online rewards
Daily races keep things flowing
Needs more online “quick race” options
Penalty systems are inconsistent