There was a time, not too long ago, when Gran Turismo was the undisputed king of the racing game. A Playstation exclusive, this was a game that captured an audience much broader than the traditional petrol head crowd, becoming a phenomenon in its own right that other platform holders could only look upon with envy. So popular it was, a company even released an emulation disc to allow you to play Gran Turismo 2 on your Dreamcast, as nothing else on the console really came close.
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Of course, those days are now long gone, with a bevy of racing games currently flooding the market. From Microsoft's Forza 7, and Sony's own Driveclub, to multiplatform outings like Project Cars 2 and Assetto Corsa, there's never been more choice for those looking for the "most realistic" racing game out there. So, with competitors breathing down its neck, and a fairly crowded marketplace, you'd imagine Gran Turismo Sport would be the biggest, and best ever entry yet, right? Well, you'd be wrong.
Instead of going all out to create an experience to remember, GT Sport is instead a heavily stripped down version of the Gran Turismo games you've come to know and love. Still a realistic racer (with a number of accessibility options to help ease new players in), what you have here is essentially a much more limited list of cars, and an online mode, with very, very little for those looking to play on their own to get stuck into. In fact, if you don't fancy taking on the best in the world online, then the game's Arcade mode, and its "Campaign" (shudder), which is 1/3 tutorial, 1/3 driving challenges, and 1/3 practice races (to prepare you for online), is literally all the game has to offer you. And that's not much, even for a game that comes sporting a slightly budget £35 price tag.
So, let's take a look at what we actually get here. With a not-all-that-shabby sounding 162 cars included, the whole idea behind GT Sport is to get rid of what developers Polyphony Digital clearly considers to be "the fluff", letting you skip over the Yaris', Minis and Corsas, in favour of what the boy racers really dream they're driving - the Bugattis, the Aston Martins, and the Lamborghinis.
The only issue there is that, much like Mrs Doyle, we actually quite like the slower, more "normal" cars as opposed to the "sportier", racing focused types that can only be described as fugly. Compared to the 700+ strong list in Forza 7, or the 1,100+ cars that came in Gran Turismo 6 (even if a number of those were models that had been simply carried over from the PS2 era) Gran Turismo Sport is already starting to look a little bit on the skinny side, with a line up that offers nowhere near the variety of what's come before.
In terms of single player modes, things are even more sparse, with the aforementioned Arcade and Campaign modes not really offering all that much in the way of replay value. While Arcade mode offers you the chance to play against AI opponents on all of the game's courses in standard races, or set out on your own in drift challenges and time trials, it's the misleadingly named Campaign mode that offers the most substantial package. While arguably a third of this is a long winded tutorial, which introduces you to a wide range of racing concepts, from the very basics, to more advanced issues you may face out on the track, it's the Challenges mode that offers most of the fun. With some 64 challenges on offer, and a wide variety of event types to try your hand at, you'll be knocking over cones, having to overtake a number of vehicles in a certain time limit, or trying to hit a certain top speed within a limited section of a race. Divided up into eight tiers, finishing all eight events in each category will earn you a "gift car" to add to your garage.
Underlying almost everything you do in GT Sport is a progression system - and in a nice touch, this works offline as well as online. Whether you're racing against the computer, or taking on the finest online, everything you do in GT Sport will earn you experience points, mileage points, or money. Experience goes to your overall driver level, where levelling up will unlock additional tracks to play in Arcade mode, while mileage points can be spent on assorted extras, from decals and paint colours, to alloy wheels and special cars. Giving the game at least some sort of replay value, even for those who don't want to venture online, this is a really nice system, that gives everything you do in the game at least a little bit of meaning.
As we mentioned earlier though, it's the online play that GT Sport's really pushing, and... well, it's a bit of an odd job, to be honest. Before you even get to play online, you have to watch two 2 minute and 30 second videos that attempt to teach you the basics of sportsmanship, and what is and isn't allowed online. This all ties into an online sportsmanship rating system, that judges you depending on how cleanly you race - if you constantly crash into your opponents, you'll drop down the sportsmanship rankings, and will eventually only be matched with players who are equally nefarious online.
The online mode here is split into two different chunks - the unranked Lobby mode, and the ranked/matchmade Sport mode - although oddly, you'll need to enter your email address before you can access Sport mode. Clicking on Lobby lets you either set up a private lobby for just you and your friends, or join another public game that someone else has created - although even now, most of the lobbies you'll see are completely empty. In lobby games, rankings of any kind aren't taken into account, so you could be racing against players of a real mix of abilities.
The other (and more unusual mode), is Sport mode, which lets you take part in a number of pre-scheduled events each day. On accessing Sport mode, you'll be presented with a list of the events that are set to be happening that day - and at what time they're due to commence. It's a bit of an odd idea, as although there are several regular events happening each day, you can sometimes be a good ten or fifteen minutes away from the next race, leaving you to mostly twiddle your fingers until the event starts. While you do have the option of doing a practice "qualifying" lap before each race begins, once you've set your best time, it's a case of just having to wait for the timer to tick down - a timer which, as mentioned, can sometimes be over fifteen minutes.
When you do eventually get into a race, you'll find yourself paired against players that the game considers to be of a similar skill level (and sportsmanship rating) to yourself, which is great. Our number one issue with online games is that they so rarely make the effort to attempt to group by ability, yet GT Sport at least attempts to put together a game that's fair - even if we aren't quite convinced of how accurate GT Sport's ratings are in practice. When you end up having a neck and neck race with another player, but the positions you're jostling for are last and one-but-last, with you both being some 50 seconds behind the guy in the first place, you do have to wonder quite how evenly matched the racers are. If the waiting timer wasn't enough to put you off, though, we should note that it's rare an event lasts less than fifteen minutes, with most races being around ten laps long - something that makes for a lengthy, and often dull race.
Beyond the odd event schedule and excessive amounts of waiting, though, there's a few more general issues here too. The first is that bad drivers (who are bad through no fault of their own) may find themselves quickly shedding sportsmanship points, and ending up grouped with people who deliberately play rough. That's probably not the best of starts for a new player to the game, who's just trying to learn the ropes of both the online mode, and driving games in general. Second, the events in Sport mode are usually limited to a certain class of car - but the game doesn't bother to tell you if you have any cars that match until you actually go to enter the race. If you don't have a car of the right class, there also doesn't appear to be an easy way to find one either - while you can browse cars by manufacturer, you don't appear to be able to browse by class. At least, not that we've found.
Of course, that in itself could be because GT Sport's interface seems to hugely focus on style over substance. With miniscule fonts, awkwardly labelled hidden menus, and a car shop that spends longer telling you about the history of the brand than it does what you can actually buy, it's all a bit higgledly piggledy, to say the least. The loading times here are also rather lengthy, too, with the game often leaving you sat for a good thirty seconds while the track loads in, with very little to do. In another of our pet hates, the game also features an odd HDR lighting system, which attempts to mimic the eye's reaction to bright light - by dimming everything else out. The only problem is, my eye can already do that, and having the game essentially make the track and background merge into one amorphous grey blob isn't the most helpful of things it can do as you're approaching a hairpin bend. Nor would it happen in real life, as you'd shift in your seat, squint, or wear your flipping sun glasses.
What's perhaps one of the biggest issues, though, is that GT Sport actually requires an online connection at all times, even if you're going to be playing on your own. While the game will technically load up without an online connection, it won't actually save your game while you're playing offline. You can play in Arcade mode, or take on a friend in split-screen, but absolutely none of your progress will be recorded, with the game actually recommending that if you lose your internet connection, you should put your PS4 into rest mode without quitting GT Sport until the connection comes back, or else you'll lose everything you've done. If that sounds utterly insane to you, then you're not alone - but what makes it all the crazier is that there doesn't actually seem to be any real reason for it. GT Sport creates 330mb+ of saves on your hard drive from the moment you load it - and yet seemingly this is 330mb of a man with pants on his head saying "wibble" for all the game's concerned, as it needs an online connection in order for that save to actually count for anything. And it's not lying either - we've tested it, and it really does ignore any progress you've made if it's not connected to the internet. So if you don't have an internet connection on your PS4, have a connection that drops out, or just don't want to risk being left with a totally useless game when the servers one day get switched off, you may want to think twice about buying GT Sport.
If anything, it's this fixation on online play over everything else that's one of the biggest issues with GT Sport, as it's really let the game down. What was intended to be a repositioning of sorts has ended up being one heck of a misfire, as the most popular driving game in the world turns into a game that's almost entirely based around online play - with that same online play only appealing to a small chunk of the market. While there is some fun to be had with the game's challenge based "campaign" mode, and the Arcade mode may keep you busy for at least a little bit, GT Sport is sadly half a game at best.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4