It's hard to believe that Gran Turismo Sport is the thirdteenth entry in the legendary racing franchise, bringing the beloved series to PS4 with fantastic style in 2017. Once again developed by Polyphony Digital, Sport is taking an unorthodox approach to the tried-and-true racing sim, ushering in what game director Kazunori Yamauchi describes as a "new generation" for Gran Turismo. No pressure, then?
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GT Sport will include three unique game modes: Campaign, Sports and Arcade. Each of these modes will feature unique cars, events and online features that will place a deliberate focus on dynamic player competition. Speaking of dynamic, Gran Turismo Sport will abandon the weather and day-night cycle found in previous games, only giving you the option to change visuals before a race begins.
While the graphical side of things may be a little less impressive, Polyphony Digital is raising the bar in plenty of other ways. Gran Turismo Sport will fully support PlayStation VR upon its release, giving owners of Sony's headset a fully-fledged racer to immerse themselves in.
You have to admire Polyphony supremo Kazunori Yamauchi. The man makes Jeremy Clarkson look like a part-time petrolhead. Yamauchi’s unflinching vision and unrivalled passion for anything on four wheels has powered the Gran Turismo series for almost two decades. As I drive around the iconic Nurburgring in the latest entry to the series, Gran Turismo Sport, it’s clear that his passion burns brighter than ever. However, it is this one man’s rigid philosophy that means GT Sport can’t shake an overwhelming feeling of familiarity.
Yamauchi unveils GT Sport with the promise that it will deliver a level of innovation unseen since the series' debut. There will be 137 “super premium” cars, though what this term means is unclear. Previous entries categorised cars by level of detail and if they had an interior view, but all motors here have been rebuilt from the ground up with cockpit views. In addition there will be 19 locations and 37 track variants. Not numbers that’ll make your head spin, but solid figures nonetheless.
Cars will be categorised into four groups, with a blend of real world and concept motors included in the mix. There will also be some new fictional and real-world circuits added to the roster – Northern Isle Speedway and two dirt track layouts among them.
Jumping into a race around Brands Hatch, the first welcome surprise is that AI drivers have much more personality. Many mocked Forza’s ‘drivatar’ buzzword, but the idea that you could come off an apex and see a 10-car pile-up at any time meant that series quickly became one of the most entertaining racing experiences on the market, and Gran Turismo seems to have taken some inspiration.
Watch the latest GT Sport gameplay footage
While most of the time you’ll see cars sticking rigorously to the race line – meaning overtakes have to be done with either pinpoint precision or bullish aggression – there will be times when cars collide and crashes occur, forcing you to adapt and react to difficult situations.
The lighting effects are far better than previous entries, with the glare of the sun beautifully reflecting off the track and these gorgeous mounds of metal. However, the sun shone on every track, all the time. The continued lack of dynamic weather in a world where Driveclub delights us with glorious weather effects is a noticeable archaism.
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While the lighting effects look great, overall Gran Turismo Sport doesn’t look as impressive as you might expect for the series’ PS4 debut. When in situ, cars are stunning, photorealistic and something any car aficionado can gawk at for hours on end. Sport’s new ‘Scapes’ mode – where you can place any number of cars in a series of over 1,000 photographs and manipulate lighting, focus and other effects being the best place for this – is the perfect example of how amazing the game can look, but in motion the game fails to wow.
The fact that performance issues persisted throughout the experience didn’t help, either. There was noticeable screen-tearing, pop-in and framerate dips when the action got a bit much for the game to handle. But with six months left in development, you can forgive the lack of optimisation.
While visually it doesn’t impress, in your hands this is still a premier racing game. Each car has its own unique behaviours and quirks. Taking on the Nurburgring in a modest Mazda is certainly a different experience compared to a Ferrari 458. Learning to tame each car is part of the brilliance of Gran Turismo, and it was certainly enjoyable in my brief time with Sport.
I found myself completely captivated by how satisfying the game felt to drive. When on long straights or having to nail a tight corner, the room disappeared and nothing existed but the road. The cars had a real sense of weight on the road and were all fun to master. It’s just a shame that there are little things that snap you out of that engrossing experience.
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One thing that’s held the Gran Turismo series back has consistently been an apparent desire from Polyphony to only show off these cars only at their very best. Like a parent making sure a child looks its very best for a christening, Yamauchi seems unwilling to let any blemishes touch these feats of engineering.
GT6 disappointed every time your car collided with anything, a deeply unsatisfying (and uniform) clunk that sounded like two Tesco trolleys bumping, and the complete lack of car damage took away the thrills of high-speed racing. The same issue presents itself in Sport, with cars not having so much as a scratch on them, no matter how hard I drove them into other cars or head first into barricades.
But it’s hard to criticise Gran Turismo when these omissions feel deliberate. This is a racing game that isn’t to be played, it’s to be driven. Real-world race drivers began their careers in Gran Turismo, and this level of professionalism and insane dedication to the craft continues in Sport with the inclusions of deep tutorials and training in the career mode, so much so tthat here are even 10 ‘Racing Etiquette’ lessons.
One space where Gran Turismo has looked to adapt is in its online space, which looks much more like a Facebook page than the previous horrid layout. It’s a really cool-looking mode that allows you to create a profile and participate in races to level up and make a name for yourself. So realistic is Gran Turismo that the FIA will even issue you a digital licence should you progress far enough, another example of this being more than a game for Yamauchi – this is a bridge into the world of motorsport for those who don’t have the wealth and privilege of elite drivers.
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To love Gran Turismo you have to love cars. Gran Turismo feels like the gentrified businessman to Forza’s younger, wilder sibling. While GT is sipping wine and knowing exactly which cutlery to use for every course, Forza is too busy sliding on its knees on the dancefloor because its favourite song just came on.
Yamauchi may talk of all the innovation going into this game, and that it “could be called Gran Turismo 7”, but you’ll have to be an expert to notice it. I’m certainly not, and this still feels very much like the Gran Turismo of old, just with a new – though not as new as I was expecting – coat of paint.