Many a PlayStation racing game fan is eagerly awaiting this week’s release of GT Sport, but between last week’s limited time demo (and gaining early access to the game for review), those eager to try it out have had plenty of time to sample the various aspects the game has to offer. While we’re waiting for the full launch and some more time racing online before our review, one particular decision with the game has really narked me. GT Sport is essentially an online only game.
Now yes, the game is geared towards online play, but there is plenty of content there to test yourself against when playing solo, and in fact you’re actively encouraged to learn your race craft and be a considerate driver with a pair of sportsmanship videos that you have to sit through. However, so much of this single player content is locked away from you if you don’t have a connection to the servers, cutting you off from the Campaign that includes the Beginner’s School driving lessons, Mission Challenges and Circuit Experience sections, and even from capturing pictures in Scapes! The photo mode in GT Sport is not for you people without an internet connection.
All that you have access to is the Arcade mode, and to be fair this can offer you access to the lion’s share of the actual core content in the game. All of the cars, all of the tracks, races and time trials, even split screen and the VR mode are shuffled into this section of the game… but you first have to unlock all of this stuff in order to access it, and while you can do so by playing in Arcade, you can’t then save your game until you’re back online.
There’s really no sound reasoning to have this kind of prohibitive lock on the game’s content and player progress, and it feels like a cynical move to stall any attempts to pirate the game, even if Kaz has previously pointed to the ties with the FIA and making this a fair online competition. Simply put that’s a nonsense excuse, but has led to GT Sport having saves held on servers and your PS4 only having a local copy as a kind of backup.
Would offline play factor into hacking and cheating in the game? Well it shouldn’t when cars are awarded randomly, conform to various classes, online races see vehicles balanced down to match a Balance of Power rating, making the game skill based both in terms of driving and vehicle set up. It’s not like this mandating people be online during the demo stopped there from being lap times logged on the leaderboards in the seconds as opposed to minutes.
On the one hand, none of this really matters when the game is so clearly directed toward online play and sporting competition, and the wide proliferation of internet access that should mean that most players can simply log in and play, but it does matter in the long run and puts an unknown expiration date on the game.
When Sony flipped the switch on Gran Turismo 5’s servers, you could still play A-Spec single player races, take on the Red Bull X2010 and challenge Sebastien Vettel, and still enjoy practically the entire game, outside of multiplayer. When the servers for GT Sport are turned off, it will lock away the vast majority of the game’s challenges and actively engaging content, leaving you with the Arcade. That’s not inherently bad, considering how broad the Arcade is, but if you don’t have a save file with all those cars and tracks unlocked, and without a way to save your progress here, you’re left with a twisted digital paperweight.
This is a similar problem that will rear its head more and more regularly over the coming years as games deal with online functionality in different ways. Obviously something like Destiny is ultimately destined to die a digital death as its servers are replaced in the years to come, but for games that are largely or partly single player experiences that don’t intrinsically need an online connection, it makes no sense and is anti-consumer.
Sony might decide to reverse this decision and make the game more fully playable offline, and we hope they do, but we’ll also be savouring the delightful irony that you’ll need to get online to download a patch in order to do so. A patch you can only download while Sony are hosting it on their servers.
Our full review of Gran Turismo Sport is a work in progress right now, and while we are enjoying it on the whole, it’s been held up partly thanks to the online restrictions and the servers having been unavailable for testing over the weekend. You can catch our thoughts on the VR Tour here, and we’ll have our review ready soon.