Gran Turismo Sport looks set to kickstart a new era for Polyphony Digital’s long running series. In partnership with the FIA and with an officially sanctioned esport set up within the game, the series’ self-description as a driving simulator is something of a misnomer. Now it’s really all about racing against others online.
The game looks simply incredible, it must be said, and while it still hews towards the kind of clean and clinical accuracy of the last few games on PlayStation 3, it’s transformed by the power of PlayStation 4. That extra oomph allows it to pack in more detail, an overhauled lighting system that was built from the ground up to make the most of the new high dynamic range technology, while still boasting Polyphony’s typical attention to detail. Even on a standard 1080p TV, there’s a vibrancy to the image, colours pop realistically, while the glint of sunlight off a window or bodywork dazzles. but play in 4K and with HDR turned on and all of these characteristics are amplified further with increased contrast and depth to all the colours. It’s something that dazzles, and yet plays to your subconscious. It runs very well too, and I’ve not noticed any real drops in performance, even in packed online races with 24 racers.
Those big online races are really at the heart of the game. The Sport mode is intended to be the gateway to racing and competing in Polyphony’s take on esports, and its implementation is unique. Daily races are the bread and butter of this, listing a series of upcoming events which cycle through on a particular schedule – initially, these were set to 20 minute intervals, cycling between three events, but that’s flexible and already changing. You can set a qualifying time at any point prior to the start time, and this time will stand as the event is re-run throughout the day. It’s a kind of crowd qualifying, as your time, driver rating and sportsmanship rating are then taken into account to matchmake lobbies together as a race gets under way.
It’s a fascinating system and one that works very well to bring players of roughly equivalent ability together, and then also place them near to one another on track. Over time, the overarching ratings should help bring accomplished and clean racers together more consistently, but by and large I’ve enjoyed some great, close and fair racing online. Of course, drop further back and players will be slower and scrappier, and if you head to the player-created Lobbies multiplayer area, all bets are off with the kind of racers you’ll encounter though you will see or be able to bring much more variety in the types of racing or simple social driving available.
The important thing that GT Sport does compared to its sim racing rivals, is that it actually tries to teach you how to drive and how to race. The single player Campaign isn’t even vaguely comparable to the GT Mode of the past and will provide only a fleeting appeal, but between the Beginner’s School, Mission Challenge and Circuit Experience, it steadily works through different types of corners you’ll encounter, different handling characteristics and certain scenarios like battling through from fifth to win, while also having to pit. Racing game fans will breeze through them, especially as many of them mimic license tests from previous games, but they’re important for newcomers and those wanting a refresher – you also get a good haul of randomised gift cars from all of this. It’s a shame then that the actual barrier to online play is simply watching two short videos on sportsmanship that assert that you wouldn’t want to look bad when you’re racing, would you?
While you can learn a certain degree of race craft through the challenges, you’re all too often racing against the stereotypically dimwitted and pedestrian AI that inhabit Gran Turismo games. As races and scenarios start you near the back of a grid and expect you to win, the AI aren’t really let off the leash to actually go and race you. They show flashes of feistiness and a willingness to try and pass you when given the opportunity, but they’re just as likely to bungle their way into the side of you and spin you out if you’re a bit slow through a tight corner.
There’s an almost subdued, subliminal brilliance to some of the more minor details in the game. Proximity indicators are there for left and right, but integrated into the main HUD, with the edges of the screen also darkening when someone’s in your blind spot, while the myriad of incremental options for assisting you through corners are great. You can have a racing line, a cornering line, a braking point indicator, highlights and/or cones for the apex and suggested turning points, or none of this. When a racing line is an easy crutch to fall back on and leads to early braking, the way GT Sport lets you scale this back gently and let you learn the track is a key component to teaching you to drive faster.
It should come as no surprise that behind all of this GT Sport’s handling feels like an evolution of previous games. It skews away from being an outright simulator toward a somewhat more accessible model that makes every car feel drivable from the off, but there’s also a great depth to the simulation as well. That is, in my opinion, a great thing about this game, as it balances accessibility with realism, and it allows me to feel like I’m always in control and actually push, instead of teetering on the limits of what I can wrestle the car into.
You can still head into the tuning menus to tweak ride height, toe in, downforce, and so on. Vehicle upgrades have been stripped all the way down to spending a handful of Mileage Points – earned for simply driving – to boost the upper limits of simple percentage sliders for weight and power, so you won’t find the kinds of internal component swapping for GT6, let alone the body kits and upgrade packages. They’re not particularly necessary here, as the 160-odd vehicles skew towards sports cars, both real and fictional concept cars.
There’s also a mixture of real and fictional circuits, as is customary for Gran Turismo. There’s some great new additions to the roster, such as the Interlagos GP circuit, but then there’s notable omissions for a game that wants to blend real and digital racing, with Hockenheim, Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, and many other classic circuits missing – more tracks and cars are to be coming as DLC, it has been said. Instead, we have some of the best custom circuits that Polyphony have created so far, which simply offer a fun mixture of contrasting elements, from sweeping turns to tight hairpins, fast street circuit-like sections and some awesome changes in elevation.
Yet, there’s also a ton of idiosyncrasies in the game, missed opportunities and regressions compared to Gran Turismo 6. VR mode is a brilliant example of virtual reality, but so light on actual compelling content that it might as well not exist. There’s also the disappointing step away from dynamic time and dynamic weather – the physics for rain were added in the day one patch, but wet racing isn’t yet available. Oh, and the insistence on having an online connection to save progress is anti-consumer, though thankfully we’ve only seen minimal teething issues with this requirement at the game’s launch.
You have many of the familiar Gran Turismo design choices as well, with particular omissions being the lack of launch control for race starts, as something that is often key in deciding winners and losers in real life, and a “real” setting for electronic assists that will match the traction control and ABS to whatever the cars feature in reality. However, when almost all of the cars are from the last two decades, so many of them come with ABS and TC anyway.
Gran Turismo Sport is a near essential purchase for PlayStation 4 racing fans. There might be a few disappointments in some of the limitations and regressions, but the brilliance of the game is in the small details that combine to enable willing players to become better drivers and racers and the implementation of multiplayer. Underneath it all, this is still a very familiar feeling Gran Turismo racing game, but it’s also one that’s set to grow and evolve over time and looks set to herald a new era of competitive online racing.
Version Tested: PS4, PS4 Pro