Well, this review is going to split the crowd. Which is kind of apt, given that Gran Turismo Sport is likely to do much the same.
In a year where we’ve seen Forza Motorsport 7, Project Cars 2, F1 2017, and DiRT 4 hit the shelves, racing gamers have been spoiled for choice. However, many have saved their money in anticipation of Polyphony Digital finally bringing the legendary Gran Turismo series to PlayStation 4 and now that it’s here, they will either be ecstatic that they did or kicking themselves for making a mistake.
It all depends on what sort of player they are and what they’re looking for from a racing game. If they’re looking for a racing simulation that will provide a stiff test as they race lap after lap just trying to shave hundredths of a second off their lap time, they’ll likely be happy. If they’re looking for something that provides the content of the other titles on the market, they probably won’t be. The reason is that a lot of the fun to be found in Gran Turismo Sport is self-generated. The lack of any traditional career mode means that once you’ve beaten the handful of driving lessons and the single-player challenge events (which range from two-corner overtake tests through to full endurance races), you more or less have to set your own goals.
Of course, Polyphony’s focus has been on the online side of things, as the eponymous Sport mode would suggest. Standard online lobby-based play is available (though there is no matchmaking to be found) for those that aren’t looking to head into any official races, but Sport mode is where the game clearly wants you to be. In this mode, races kick off at a set time and before the race begins, you can hit the track alone and run as many qualifying laps as you can fit in before the start, which helps you to settle into your car and to remember the braking points that you need to hit in the quest for the fastest time. When qualifying is over, all players are filtered into a final race based on their skill and sportsmanship ratings. When the race is over, it’s on to the next track to do it all again.
The introduction of sportsmanship ratings is a great thing, though the implementation is a little unbalanced. Once you’ve watched the (mandatory) horrendously condescending videos that tell you what sportsmanship is – they get the actual definition very, very wrong, by the way – you will have learned what the game considers to be bad behavior. Only, you’ll also get into trouble if you’re on the receiving end of some of these things. When another racer rear-ends you into a wall on an oval track, your sportsmanship rating will take a beating. Not only that, but you’ll get a five-second penalty for hitting the wall, even though it didn’t provide you any unfair advantage whatsoever and in fact, caused you to lose speed.
But with that minor grumble aside – and it is a minor grumble if you’re racing against other fair-minded players – the system does seem to work overall. During my races in Sport mode, I’ve not found myself matched up against anything like as many absolute idiots as I have been in other racing games.
In addition to the Sportsmanship Rating, dynamic ghosting has been brought into play. If a player careens across the track in an unnatural manner that suggests they’ve either lost control or are trying to put you into the wall, they’ll be instantly ghosted to prevent you colliding with them. Again, for the greater part, that works. But then there are the times when you’ve been qualifying for 20 minutes and are finally on the last lap of a race. You’ll be battling for third when the game ghosts a player who’s spun out, before un-ghosting them as you’re driving “through” them, causing a collision, a time penalty, a kick to your sportsmanship rating, and probably a dropped race position or two. Frustrating isn’t even the word.
As it stands, Sport mode only has that single race experience going for it, with the promise of Championship events kicking off in a couple of weeks time. It has to be said that as enjoyable as the mode is, it is very slim regarding the content it provides. You qualify, you race, then you do the same thing over and over again until you’re bored.
There aren’t even any of the simple things that you’d expect to find from a game that’s pitching itself as eSports-centric, such as the ability to look at past race results or see any sort of detailed career history. Even the leveling system is somewhat weak, with a numeric Driver Level being presented as an award for gaining EXP across the entire game, but your Sport mode Driver Level being a letter-based grade that you can’t see the workings of. At this early stage, longer races seem to have been forgotten about in Sport, so the impressively stylish and easy-to-use pitstops aren’t something that you’ll need to use for a while. At the time of writing, you also can’t take part in any Sport races featuring the game’s very workable physical and mechanical damage systems, or race any events that require fuel management.
The feeling of a lack of content can be felt across the rest of the Gran Turismo Sport if the truth is outed. PSVR owners can don their headsets and take to the track, but only in throwaway single events and vehicle tours. The campaign events provide you with their reward cars for beating them at the lowest possible level, so there’s no impetus to go back and try to post a faster time or better score. The decal uploader for the livery editor hasn’t been finished yet, so that isn’t available. You can’t view past Sport race results, or even see what your best times are for each track. A lot of the community features – like being able to see your driver profile online, outside of the game – aren’t complete, either. All tutorial videos are hosted on YouTube, as opposed to being part of the game itself (not that this is a problem, rather it’s just weird.) A trophy is awarded for completing “all” of the cone challenges in mission mode when there’s only one on offer, which clearly suggests that more were planned but never made the cut. Dynamic weather and time of day haven’t been implemented – as we were told they wouldn’t be – though certain arcade races at the Nurburgring feature fog and two mission challenges on a stadium infield inexplicably take part in a downpour. The selection of cars is somewhat limited, as well. 162 vehicles make the grade, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that a lot of them are more-or-less duplicates. I’m not sure who needs five versions of the 2015 Ford Mustang GT or five slightly different Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Editions in their virtual garage, but there you go. The track list is also somewhat light, with only 17 locations available. You’d think that this would have been the perfect opportunity for Polyphony to create some real showpiece tracks entirely from scratch to stamp a bit of personality on to their new eSports effort, but alas, that hasn’t happened.
However, the biggest flaw to be found has to be with the way the game saves your progress. If you’re not connected to the servers, you can’t save the game. Not only that, but you can’t actually play 90% of it, either. When your connection drops, or PSN goes down, or the servers are under maintenance, you can play arcade mode, and that’s it. If you switch your console off before the server comes back up, you lose any credits, mileage, or experience points you gained while it was down. You can’t even go into the livery editor to mess around with your paint jobs or browse through the masses of enjoyable historical info available in “Brand Central” (which in non-corporate speak, would be called a showroom.) Heck, you aren’t even able to load up the impressive “Scapes” mode, which lets you drop your cars onto stunning backdrops and tweak and twist and turn them about at will until you’re able to take the perfect photo. Until you’re reconnected, it’s arcade mode or bust.
All of these gripes mount up and are that much more difficult to swallow when the core of the game – the actual rubber on tarmac racing – is just so, so good. On a standard PS4, there are some failings with regards to the framerate and a little glitchiness here and there, but on a PS4 Pro at 4k and in HDR, Gran Turismo Sport is an intense and thrilling ride that looks spectacular in places. It has some flat spots in the texture work and detail in areas, but they can be overlooked given that they’re difficult to notice when you’re really focusing your attention on getting that lap time down. And focus you will, since the handling model is solid and requires you to learn the intricacies of each vehicle. Two similarly-powered cars will often have a similar sort of feel in general, but there’s undoubtedly a difference with regard to how far you can push things, or how much grip you’ll get on a long medium-speed corner. This is where Gran Turismo Sport shines. Even though the game itself doesn’t reward you all that much, the feeling of accomplishment still comes through when you’ve finally trimmed that extra second or learned to use manual gears without needing traction control.
Plus, there’s an overriding feeling that Gran Turismo Sport just desperately wants you to be GOOD at it. From the Driving School through to Course Mastery challenges that teach you each circuit corner-by-corner, the developers are trying to get you to the point that you’re racing just as fast as you possibly can. If you have the desire to learn, to put in hundreds of laps of the same course, and learn the various intricacies of your vehicle’s handling model, you’ll have an absolute ton of fun.
But the fact remains that the game won’t be for everyone. At launch, it’s an incredibly pretentious and bare-bones experience, but there’s a good chance that will change. Gran Turismo Sport’s overall standing in the racing pack is going to come down to exactly what Polyphony do to the Sport mode over the coming weeks and months. As of this review, there’s just over two weeks until the online championship system launches, and aside from knowing that each championship involves ten races and that you can sign up to drive for a specific manufacturer, we don’t know anything about it. Will more championships be added? We don’t know. Also, across the week or so I’ve spent playing Sport mode, the same three races have been in play, over and over again. You can race Suzuka, Brands Hatch Indy, or the Northern Isle Oval and that’s it. Is that a glitch? Is that the way it’s supposed to be? Do the tracks change out every week? Every month? Will we get full-length races to try our hand at? How about a full race experience in Sport mode where you have to manage tires, fuel, and damage? Will that ever happen? Who knows? Not me.
For that reason, it’s not really possible to give Gran Turismo Sport a final score right now, because at the time of writing, we can’t say for certain that we’re playing a game that is anything like the actual final product. In a week or a month’s time, it could be a different animal, so we’ll keep this one as a review-in-progress and update it later on. What we can say though, is that despite the lengthy delays it’s suffered, Gran Turismo Sport feels as if it’s been rushed to market. But, it at least feels like it’s a solid base from which to build.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us by Sony.