This year has been exceptional for console racing simulators, and Sony’s Gran Turismo Sport continues to be the graceful pièce de résistance among its peers. This marks a new era in a series known for meticulous craft and esteemed appreciation of the automobile, and not a moment too soon as the competition is filling a void left by the sleeping giants of Polyphony Digital.
Those may sound like fighting words, but the likes of Forza Motorsport 7 and Project CARS 2 felt like they left Gran Turismo in the dust. But thanks to a revamped focus on the eloquence of competitiveness, the twenty-year-old franchise seems eager to forge new ground and generally succeeds, if only to break out of its offline comfort zone.
A general theme usually associated with Gran Turismo Sport (referred to as GTS in this review) is “quality versus quantity”. Many of the obsessive fundamentals are now concentrated into tutorial challenges; the selection of vehicles are chopped in favor of formula-oriented supercars to a sum of 177. Track selection is limited to 19 well-known racing circuits. Moreover, the interaction of tuning your ride is significantly cut and taking part in activities like basic oil change intervals and car washing is gone.
If you are looking for a long and elaborate single-player experience, GTS does not make a strong case for itself. With a basic campaign mode that only features driving school, mission challenges, and the circuit experience that acts as an advanced rundown for learning the track layout. This roughly makes up a quarter of the entire package. Even the rudimentary slog of earning credits is more a courtesy than objective now that purchasing better cars is associated with your current driver level. Another distraction is the opportunity to learn the history of certain car brands and sophisticated culture in the museum section.
GTS trades an in-depth solo career for a heavily integrated online experience, to the mixed extent of being obligatory. This is a trend becoming the backbone of other multiplayer titles, bringing the unfortunate consequence of putting the essential parts of the game in limbo when the servers go down for maintenance. So annoying in fact that you get kicked straight to Arcade mode and lose the ability to save your progress without internet, they don’t even offer a temporary quick save/memo file on the PS4 HDD for reassurance. This is my biggest complaint of GTS despite all the technical improvements and loading that plagued recent Gran Turismo predecessors.
Online play has typically been adequate for the franchise starting with the PlayStation 3 and christened the now-famous GT Academy, which used the games to scout talent and mold them into real-life racing drivers. Of course, this also had the effect of legitimizing eSports and professional ties with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) on an international level, to the point that if you are skilled enough on GTS you could obtain a certified digital license for use outside of the game. An unprecedented approach that fosters the passion of the sport itself.
In the meantime, we only have matchups in the Sport mode (online) where you can compete in Daily Races. The lobbies are handled with procedure where races are held every 15-20 minutes, with up to 24 players competing in relatively minimal lag to distract from the swarm of cars aiming for pole position.
Another trait is the responsibility that GTS expects from all its players — so much that you must sit through some videos outlining the importance of etiquette. You’ll have to unlearn any bad habits you picked up as your rank and sportsmanship are determined by how reckless (weaving) or overtly aggressive (deliberate collisions, blocking) you are to others. Similar to how penalties and suspensions are doled in a sanctioned race, repeated flags can get you booted out of certain championships. It becomes pivotal to keep you status clean because you may end up not being at play GTS at all with too many strikes.
The presentation elsewhere is exactly what many would hope for in terms of graphics and controls. Polyphony Digital usually manages to push the PlayStation hardware to its theoretical limits and it’s no different with the gain of 4K-like enhancement on the PS4 Pro (3200×1800 resolution with checkerboard rendering), native support of HDR color (HDR10/bt.2020), and virtual reality with PSVR. If you’re well-invested in the PlayStation Dream, Sony’s got you covered.
All of these perks are great but the visuals even in 1080p/SDR still look very good, though the general appearance of cars have a fabricated showroom aura. This is definitely the best-looking Gran Turismo title yet with Polyphony finally adding full interior cockpits to all cars, at least the overall quality is ready-made for ‘Scapes’ photography mode and beautiful for setting up backdrops.
The exhaust notes of cars no longer sound like vacuum cleaners and more like their mechanical counterparts if you are fortunate enough to pilot a Lexus LC500 or Mercedes-AMG GT S. The majority of my gameplay was using a Logitech G29 and it’s superb, but the steering feel with a DualShock 4 controller is incrementally more forgiving under hard braking and emergency maneuvers. However, I fully recommend opting for the button layout utilizing the L2/R2 triggers for better throttle sensitivity.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer to recommend Gran Turismo Sport to race-sim enthusiasts with a PS4. Despite the reduced amount of content and anorexic single-player campaign, and is the most polished GT experience yet. Nevertheless, the always-on Internet component is a turn-off if you are not committed to playing online, and could be near unfavorable if you are already playing Forza Motorsport. When everything works though (which is 85-90% of the time), there is an involved and competent game with a few flaws.