Gran Turismo has been a long staple of the racing genre. Developed solely by Sony’s in-house developer Polyphony Digital since the 90’s, there has been a Gran Turismo on every PlayStation since the original, including handhelds. Gran Turismo Sport has a bit of misfortune as last in the race of big name motorsports titles releasing before this holiday season. Being last means it is impossible not to compare it to Project Cars 2 and Forza Motorsport 7 (you can read our Project cars 2 review here and Forza Motorsport 7 review here). While comparisons are inevitable, and Project Cars and Forza took a lot of cues from each other, Polyphony Digital took Gran Turismo Sport in its own direction.
The first and most apparent thing is the love for cars that went into Gran Turismo Sport, and Polyphony Digital has taken a historic slant, showcasing origins of modern car racing to contemporary racing. The intro video is one of the best I’ve seen in a non-story driven racing game – it features clips of historic racing eras interspersed with shots of cars rendered beautifully in the game engine. The main game menus have a constant stream of historic photos and “did you know” type historic facts that are mostly about racing – but there is an odd, eclectic assortment of other historical additions.
If there was a spectrum of realism between the three big racing games recently released, I would say Forza Motorsport 7 is on the arcade side and Project Cars 2 is on the simulation side – with Gran Turismo Sport sitting right in the middle. The driving feels good and is a lot of fun, but even with all assists off it’s by far more forgiving than Project Cars 2, but just technical enough to be satisfying. Wheels grip the asphalt like you’d expect in most situations, though cars do have a tendency to feel a little overeager to drift. Off-road racing feels equally well done, and you really have to fight with some vehicles to even keep going in a straight line on dirt tracks.
While Project Cars 2 and Forza Motorsport 7 (among most other modern racing games) features a career mode – a way to work your way up as a rookie driver to bigger and better things – Gran Turismo Sport has no such mode. There are online modes, an arcade mode of single races and a “campaign” consisting of driving school, challenge missions, and race track practice called “circuit experience.” Having no career mode makes the game feel somewhat incomplete – instead of working to build up a character, there is just a series of challenges. There’s some fun in that, and completionists might enjoy it for the challenge of getting a perfect score on everything, but that all feels like side dishes to a missing main course. Also, it is severely lacking in things to drive and places to drive those things in. With only 40 different circuits from 17 different courses and an underwhelming 162 cars, Gran Turismo Sport doesn’t seem at all interested in competing with its peers.
The campaign possesses a driving school, a number of challenges, and a mode that helps you get familiarized with the tracks in Gran Turismo Sport. The driving school is very comprehensive, but it starts a little too basic and tedious for those with even a little bit of experience racing. Most of the first sections of the driving school will have you driving down a short path, stopping, and then facing several loading screens before moving onto the next activity. It is a bit tedious, but extremely informative. While I feel they could have lumped a few of the earlier lessons together to make a quicker experience, if you’re an absolute beginner, or want to try driving with a number of the assist settings turned off, this will definitely (and a little painfully) ease you into it. While the load times can be annoying, most lessons, tracks, etc. have a video you can watch while the course is being loaded. While this is good to distract from the load times, the videos themselves come off of YouTube, so it can be temperamental.
In all of the campaign, from the driver’s school to circuit experience, a tenth of a second could mean failure or success, and there are often extremely strict conditions for disqualification versus an actual race. The margin of error is always small in racing games, but the campaign often requires near-perfect precision to achieve a gold rank. This incentivizes multiple playthroughs to perfect these scenarios – and in turn, will probably serve as great practice for those who want to push their virtual cars to the limit.
The graphics are great, and if you own a PlayStation 4 Pro there are some performance and graphics differences over the original PlayStation 4. The PS 4 Pro can output at 4K HDR with all of the visual bells and whistles, or you can choose to output at a 2K resolution to prioritize framerate over graphics – great if you don’t have a 4K TV and want to utilize your PS4 Pro’s extra power. The graphics veer towards realism, and while they generally look better than Project Cars 2’s take, the tracks and the general goings-on during races are less interesting. Gone are the dynamic weather effects of previous Gran Turismo titles – in fact, I can’t even seem to find a way to drive in any sort of inclement weather – which seems like a huge oversight.
There is PSVR support, but it is limited. While you can participate in some races, and there is a VR showroom so you can look at your cars up close and personal – not all functionality exists, and you cannot play the game solely in VR if that is your prerogative. That’s too bad since Gran Turismo Sport was a beacon of hope for those seeking out more VR car racing options.
Gran Turismo Sport is fun and feels great to drive. Despite the amount of content it has it feels incomplete due to a lack of career mode. PSVR support makes it an alluring racer for those who have the VR headset (and fortitude necessary to overcome motion sickness), but the limited functionality makes it less of a selling point. With such fierce competition in the racing genre, it feels like Gran Turismo Sport comes up a little short – but it still manages to be a fun racer. Gran Turismo Sport is available now on PlayStation 4.