Our first impressions of the long-awaited return of Sony’s flagship racer.
[Editor’s Note: Sony supplied a review copy of Gran Turismo Sport over the weekend but, until today, the servers have been unavailable for most of that time. Since the game appears to require connection to the servers to use any mode except ‘Arcade Mode’ we’ve been unable to progress through the solo campaign normally (or join multiplayer races). A partially-completed save game provided by Sony allowed us to test drive most of these otherwise inaccessible single-player modes while the servers were out of action, but we still want to make more regular progress through the game under normal consumer conditions to build a more informed assessment of typical progression and the game’s economy. We also need to adequately test Sport Mode, the titular competitive online component of GT Sport. We’re aiming to have the review finalised in the next couple of days but, for those of you who want our early impressions, here’s what Luke thinks of Gran Turismo Sport so far.]
Gran Turismo Sport is a remarkable technical showcase and the most polished GT game I’ve played in over a decade, although it’s still been hamstrung by a set of strange priorities and burdened with a sprinkling of eccentric nonsense. Developer Polyphony Digital seems to have successfully brought a very robust, iRacing-inspired online racing experience to GT; it’s serious, focused, structured, and – so far – totally reliable. It’s also supremely good-looking, even on a standard PS4. However, it’s lost a hefty slab of its single-player suite and its garage and track selection is startlingly stingy for a game so many years in the making.
I started my Gran Turismo Sport journey by diving head-first into the Campaign Mode, which is basically a series of license trials, racing scenarios, endurance tests, and hot lap challenges. There are many increasingly difficult tests to master and it wasn’t long until I got the bug for compulsively restarting and retrying them, aiming for gold or bust (though I only rarely immediately stop at gold awards, because GT Sport naturally feeds you your friends’ times to beat too). Campaign Mode has its tendrils in me, no doubt.
Campaign Mode has its tendrils in me, no doubt.
Is it a replacement for a championship-based, single-player racing career mode, à la Project CARS 2? No, but it is very different to what everyone else is doing. In a year where racing gamers are more spoiled for choice than ever, different may not necessarily be a dirty word.
The eclectic nature of Campaign Mode has placed me in a variety of different cars, quickly educating me in the nuances of GT Sport’s handling model. Overall it handles very well. It probably lacks the satisfying wrestle of stuff like Project CARS 2 and Assetto Corsa, but it’s definitely a shade more severe than the likes of Forza. Weight transfer is especially pronounced in road cars and smooth steering and measured braking is rewarded. Race cars permit more aggression, being much stiffer and capable of hugging the track surface more tenaciously. The amount of grip they can muster might be a fraction high, though; they rarely seem to step out or get loose.
GT Sport relegates the bulk of player vs. AI racing to Arcade Mode, where we can either compete in a one-off race on each course as dictated by the game, or create custom events and dial in the specifics ourselves. This is also the only part of the game that appears to work offline (or when the servers are unavailable) although it won’t actually let you save your progress offline. I cleared a bunch of Arcade races on Sunday evening while offline but couldn’t force a manual save; on Monday morning the cash, levels, and completed race indicators I’d picked up were all gone.
The player vs. player Sport Mode is where Polyphony is banking we’ll all pitch our tents and, despite my initial reservations, the studio seems to have created a pretty sturdy online racing environment. Each day there are three events – one every 20 minutes. All you need to do is sign up for the race, spend the remaining time qualifying, and GT Sport will seed you into an event against a full grid of human opponents.
The studio seems to have created a pretty sturdy online racing environment.
It’s early days but, when the event is on a suitable track, I’ve had a generally good experience. Running amongst the top few positions I’ve found the racing surprisingly fair, only occasionally marred by lapped players trying to cannon into me like stroppy Sebastien Vettels.
GT Sport’s overt “Sportsmanship Rating” – which is listed beside your PSN ID for all other racers to see – should eventually begin to see me placed out of reach of these dangerous players. More or less a direct lift of iRacing’s safety rating, GT Sport’s Sportsmanship Rating rewards clean sectors, fair overtakes, and respectful racing. Crash into other players or leave the track and it will sink. A pair of earnest tutorial videos about racing etiquette that all players must watch before being allowed to race online makes it clear what behaviour won’t be tolerated.
The system is less than perfect – in the event of a collision, both drivers are penalised regardless of who was at fault – but my hope is that the regular dents to my Sportsmanship Rating I receive from being shunted in the rear by players who think brakes are an optional extra won’t do too much damage to my overall rating over a long enough timeline.
I think what I’m enjoying most about the online racing is the anticipation and excitement that comes from committing myself to a scheduled block of qualifying and racing but, other than cultivating my Sportsmanship Rating and Driver Rating (your speed and success, basically), I’m not sure what the end game is. At least, not yet. I’m not working up from karts or grassroots racing to racing’s upper ranks, here. It’s just a trio of random races rotating through a handful of car classes and a pretty narrow buffet of circuits.
It’s this lack of content that disappoints me most, particularly after so many years of development.
It’s this lack of content that disappoints me most, particularly after so many years of development. The car list is disappointing, really. All up it reaches just over 160 cars, but that number becomes much less impressive under mild scrutiny. Most of the 33 represented manufacturers have a single model included two to five times, pre-prepared for several of GT Sport’s racing classes. Sure, they’re technically different cars – with their own aero parts and performance characteristics – but they certainly don’t do much for variety. Some of them are safety car versions, and some of them are actually just pretend “road-legal” homologated versions of GT Sport’s bespoke race cars.
Then there are the Vision GT fantasy models – there are about 30 of those – which to me often feel like the automotive equivalent of those weird couture fashion shows where all the models are wearing bath mats, bin bags, and bits of fruit and straw. I know a lot of people like this sort of wild and futuristic stuff but personally I’ve got no attachment to these things, especially in lieu of real racing cars.
The retort here is usually something about quality over quantity but, even though the level of detail in GT Sport’s vehicles is admittedly astonishing, it’s not as if the cars the competition is producing are sketched in crayon. I mean, it’s been four years. Slightly Mad Studios managed to ship many, many more real race cars in Project CARS 2 as an independent studio with presumably a mere fraction of the budget of GT Sport. Vintage open-wheelers. Classic prototypes. Group A, Group C, Group 5, GT1, and more. Retro stuff.
There’s next to no retro content in GT Sport. With one exception, the oldest car in GT Sport is from 2009. That exception is a lone 1987 Audi Quattro S1, which sticks out like a polar bear at a penguin cocktail party as the single retro ride in the whole game.
The paltry track selection out of the box is the bigger problem, though. With less than a quarter of the tracks of some of its rivals, déjà vu sets in pretty fast. There are only six real-world tracks in GT Sport (although Polyphony has spread them out across the globe, so North America, South America, Germany, the UK, Japan, and Australia are each represented with one track each). The real-world tracks (Willow Springs, Interlagos, Nürburgring, Brands Hatch, Suzuka, and Bathurst) look fine – the lighting isn’t dynamic but there are several good-looking pre-baked time-of-day options to choose from. However, they don’t feel alive in the same way as the tracks do in F1 2016, or Project CARS 2, or even Forza Motorsport 7. The lack of shifting weather doesn’t help.
The remaining 11 locations vary significantly in quality. Dragon Trail has some fun sections and an amazing backdrop; it feels unrealistically wide at times but the extra space helps facilitate slightly cleaner racing. Northern Isle Speedway, on the other hand, is a disaster online; it’s a short oval that has turned into an absolute melee every time I’ve tried it. It can be lapped in around 13 seconds in a GT3 car and starting at the front of the grid I’ve found myself lapping backmarkers after the first lap. It’s just a mess of spinning, crashing, ghosted cars. It’s also hell on my Sportsmanship Rating because it’s impossible not to have multiple people hit you on such a tiny course.
The Tokyo freeway track isn’t much better; it looks very nice but it’s super narrow and not particularly conducive to clean racing either. Rally tracks feature but they feel like relics compared to the much better off road and rallycross experiences in Dirt 4 and Project CARS 2. It’s strange Polyphony didn’t tap into its past and resurrect series staples like Grand Valley, or Autumn Ring. It’s odd too that the team has prioritised a showroom for a watch manufacturer and a kooky history slideshow that allows us to sync up key moments in car culture with seismic world events, like the election of Stalin or the release of Björk’s first album.
While the content is a letdown, the most pleasant surprise for me is the much-enhanced sound. At this stage I don’t think there’s anything in GT Sport that has seen a more drastic improvement. It’s not class-leading but it’s so much more nuanced now, with exhaust crackle layered over drivetrain whine and transmission noises. It’s such a step-up.
Impressive too is the PlayStation VR functionality, despite the hit in resolution. It’s limited to one-on-one battles against the AI but it works across all tracks. With a wheel it’s a pretty terrific entry-level advertisement for just how incredibly immersive VR can be. Importantly the view is very stable and far superior to DriveClub, which simulated head tilting and seemed determined to summon up a breakfast barf.
Following GT Sport’s release today I’ll be playing much more of Sport mode over the next 24 hours. Our final verdict should be up within the next couple of days.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.