The Gran Turismo series of racing games first arrived on the Sony Playstation in 1997, and have sold over 50 million copies over the last 12 years. The games focus on stunning graphics, tons of licensed vehicles, richness of driving simulation and ability to tune the vehicles. For PSP owners it feels like this new version has been in development for nearly that long! In reality the game has been in development since before the launch of the original PSP, leaving gamers to wonder – was it worth the wait? Read on and find out!
Gran Turismo makes its highly anticipated debut exclusively on the PSP system, introducing the most ultra-realistic racing experience ever on a handheld. Buckle up as you prove your driving skills on 35 tracks and trade and share over 800 cars. Slick Visuals –Runs on a new graphics engine designed for the PSP system that delivers visuals at a crisp 60 frames per second. Depth and Variety — Collect over 800 licensed vehicles from international automakers. Expand Your Collection — Trade and share cars with friends to expand your collection via Ad Hoc wireless. Hit the Road — Race on 35 licensed and fictional tracks, with 60 track layouts total. Compete in time trials, races, or drift mode challenges. Test Your Driving Skills — Complete over 100 challenges to hone your driving skills and learn new cornering, braking and other driving techniques. Bragging Rights — Prove your driving skills in four-player races using Ad Hoc mode. [SCEA]
This is my first time around the Gran Turismo circuit! Indeed my racing experience is fairly thin – while it is an oversimplification, when I look back I feel like I jumped from Spy Hunter to Carmageddon to Outrun Coast to Coast. But in recent years I have enjoyed a good amount of racers – and mostly on the PSP.
I had three immediate reactions when playing Gran Turismo: what a great looking game, amazing how different each car feels, and where the heck is the career mode?
Perhaps my expectations were off-base, but although I know this game has been in development for ages I’ve never really read much about the game. Therefore my expectations were based off of what I have seen in other games: you run through a series of tutorial stages, then you launch into the main career mode in order to build up cash or points or whatever allows you to unlock courses and cars and so on to turn around and progress further. Single-race mode is generally an add-on that allows you to jump quickly into a fun and quick tour of the track.
Gran Turismo does have a ‘tutorial’, but it is so much more: it is called ‘Driver Challenge’, and it is a branching series of stages that will help you learn and fine-tune your abilities to handle just about everything possible on the raceway. You complete a series of challenges in one area, which unlocks another area, or sometimes two along different branches. Completing these also earn you loads of cash, with Gold getting much more than Silver, which in turn gets you considerably more than Bronze. This way you are encouraged to keep at the challenges until you reach Gold level.
I feel like I have seen enough to say that this is the best looking racing game I’ve ever seen on the PSP – so I was also surprised that it performed phenomenally! It really didn’t matter whether you were driving fast or slow, on dirt or open road or tight city – things always were perfectly smooth. The level of details on the cars was obviously the most important thing to the developers, but that doesn’t mean the tracks or backgrounds looked lousy: the entire visual experience was impressive, and I was amazed at how they made you feel the speed of these cars without losing any detail.
I am always concerned about load times, and so I was happy when Sony added a ‘data install option’ to UMD games to help with loading. The funny thing I noticed was that even my PSN version offered to do a ‘Data Install’ … but I chose not to try that out for fear of corrupting something if it actually did try to do something! As for load times, my general threshold is that once I start to notice them, I’m annoyed. That might seem like a sort of ADD statement, but it doesn’t mean I’m completely intolerant of loading screens – heck, I’ve dealt with them on the PC for decades! It is when they are long enough to seriously interrupt the flow of the game, or represent a disproportionate amount of time relative to what is being loaded. In other words, I’ll wait a minute to load a level without issue, but waiting as long to load a vendor store inventory as to load an entire zone in a game is something that raises a flag with me.
Why mention that? Well, there are times when the pretty ‘GT’ loading screen seems to hang around too long. But for me it wasn’t when entering a race, but rather when I was going to the options menu or returning to the main menu area. The problem was that it seemed to make me wait about the same amount of time regardless of what I was doing. And while I was certainly willing to allow extra time to load given the excellent visuals and performance, I was less forgiving of waiting 20 seconds to load up an options menu! The problem for me is that when I start seeing things like this it changes the way I play the game, and ultimately stops me bothering to play. Fortunately, the load-times were never so long that they really got annoying enough to stop me from playing – we really are no longer in the 1 minute load-time era (thank goodness), but I had expected a game in development for so long and being used as a centerpiece of the PSP Go hardware release to have optimized performance and quick-loads, which apparently isn’t the case. So I’d put the loads as a minor criticism, but not a show-stopper.
As for Career Mode, it has been mentioned that you can look at the entire game as an overarching career mode of sorts, especially in the context of everything in the game feeding into your individual progression. It does make sense – as you improve your skills you can gain better and better cars, race on tougher tracks, gain higher racer skill levels, and so on. All of that brings me back to something I alluded to earlier: that each car feels different, as does each track. I worked as far as I could with my little standard-issue Honda Fit, but then bought an NSX – and the difference was staggering. The speed was thrilling, control through drifts was much better, and the ability to brake and accelerate out of curves was astonishing. So naturally I progressed from skill level ‘D’ to ‘C’ after finishing in first place for both races in my first try.
Then, as I gained ranks I found that the other drivers improved considerably – yet they were no less beatable so long as I made fewer mistakes. That is because while I consider myself a mediocre driver in these games, I really try to learn as I progress and work with the strengths and weaknesses of my car and not just stick to the driving line and run the track identically each time. In fact, since there is no damage modeling and no penalty for driving aggressively, it is simple enough to race for second place and then bump the driver in front of you at the last opportune moment and then head on in for the win. As a result, I found the races to be much more a measure of my abilities than a challenge between my ability and that of the computer AI.
Well, I guess I have moved on to criticisms, so why not just keep going? If this game is all about the ‘personal challenge’, why is there so little customization? I was impressed by the ability to tweak some settings, but this is much less than I was led to believe was characteristic in a GT game, where you can often make serious upgrades to your vehicle. I was hoping that through the ‘auto-tune’ there would be options to spend money to trick out my car, but that just helps you pick tires and gear ratios and other settings appropriate for the course. Another area I was hoping for more options was in the Single Race mode. For me this was the center of the game, and I really wanted to use it to the fullest. I wanted to take my NSX on to dirt, I wanted to take my Impreza onto an oval speed chase, I wanted to use my Fit against a bunch of Lamborghinis and so on.
And yet … I still found the lack of a career mode disappointing. I wanted to move through a long series of races against a bunch of others (i.e. not just four) and work towards some greater goal. To me, the progression of ‘buy car, try new loop at lowest level against 3 similar cars, grind through ranks, rinse & repeat …’ is no substitute for some central structure – even something like Test Drive Unlimited where it is about you on the Hawaiian Islands buying cars and houses and so on I found much more satisfying.
I also have a complaint about the lacking multiplayer options. For a short time after the PSP launch I was fortunate to have someone I worked with who was also a PSP owner and so I got a bit of ad-hoc multiplayer action in on a few games. Other than that, it has depended on me getting second copies of games so I can play with my kids, which means waiting until the price comes down considerably. So as far as I’m concerned – games without Infrastructure mode have very limited multiplayer. I know that ad-hoc mode is very popular in Japan, and while that makes sense for games like Monster Hunter that sell 90% of their copies in Japan, but the Gran Turismo games have sold the majority of their copies in the US and Europe where internet multiplayer is a regular expectation for games.
However, I understand that few other racing games support Infrastructure, but just looking at early games and seeing Ridge Racer and Twisted Metal feature online racing of 8 and 6 cars respectively, and also Test Drive Unlimited featuring up to 4 players online while also rendering a view of the Hawaiian islands nicer than any background in Gran Turismo … well, I guess I agree with you: after all these years it seems like they should have done better.
And while it seems like I’m just complaining here, I’m tired of PSP games that look like shills for the PS3! Specifically I’m referring to what you mentioned about transferring cars from the PSP to the PS3. This is nice if you are a dual owner … and really even then just for the PS3 side. I understand that since Sony wants everyone to won both systems they put in linkages, but as a PSP-only owner it has felt from the moment the PS3 was announced like we were made second class citizens. And so here we are with another PSP game that is lacking certain features that many gamers will call ‘core’, but not lacking in a significant set of link-up features for the PS3.
Since I started playing Gran Turismo I pulled out copies of older race games for the PSP such as Burnout and Ridge Racer and Test Drive Unlimited, and both positive and negative thoughts came to mind: the positive was that those games reinforced the feelings I had that the game looks great and has wonderful handling physics. But they also reinforced other things – that the AI of the other cars barely keeps pace with games that are more than four years old; that the lack of Infrastructure mode is something we shouldn’t necessarily forgive so easily; and finally that having a race-centric game with only four cars in such a high-profile game in late 2009 is amazing to me.
Maybe it seems like I am being really hard on this game, and perhaps you are right in saying that eventually it comes time to push aside the hype and just look at the game. Admittedly that is hard – because back in early 2005 there were two games being talked about that would be ‘system sellers’ when they came out some months after the PSP launch: Crisis Core and Gran Turismo. My opinion is that Crisis Core was a solid but unremarkable game that ends up being somewhat disappointing based solely on the unrealistic expectations … and that pretty well describes Gran Turismo for me. It is also difficult not to compare Gran Turismo to the other top games in its genre. Most of the best PSP race games have up to 8 cars at once and look very nice and perform very well and even have crazy stuff like career modes and online multiplayer, so it is hard not to have expected Gran Turismo to deliver those sorts of things.
Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed Gran Turismo. I think that genre fans and fans of the series will likely be disappointed by the lacking of certain features, but should realize that there is actually a lot of game there: tons of cars, loads of tracks, multiple driver levels and so on. Cars feel different, tracks offer amazing variety, the handling is excellent, and the car details are nicely done. But today someone who saw me playing at lunch asked me that simple question: is it worth $40? And I had to honestly say “I wouldn’t put it in my top 5 PSP racing games, if that helps.’ I hope that they offer a demo, since this sort of game seems like an easy target to lock-out certain functionality and give a good taste. That will let people make their own decision – but as for me, unless you consider yourself ‘pre-sold’, I suggest waiting for a lower price or really good sale, or renting the UMD version before buying. For anyone getting the PSP Go, however, there is only one route – the PSN version … and like the little porcelain figurines in the curio shop, once you touch it, you own it!
Where to Buy: Amazon.com, digital version available on the PSP from the PSN Store for the same price.
What I Like:
- Gorgeous graphics
- Wonderful handling physics
- Different cars feel different!
- Expansive ‘Driver Challenge’ mode
- Loads of cars and tracks to explore
What Needs Improvement:
- No career mode
- Limited multiplayer
- Only four cars in a race
- AI is weak and predictable
Originally reviewed for VGBlogger.com