It would be fair to say that the Gran Turismo series has lost some of its magic over the years. It has just not moved with the times and improvements the racing genre has seen over the last decade or so. It was none more so evident than in the PS3 era. Gran Turismo 5 never lived up to expectations, though you could argue that GT6 improved on it drastically. Still, it was met with lukewarm reception when you compare it to any game in the series before the PS3. Can Gran Turismo Sport finally return some faith to the series? I have a feeling it just might.
Since the glory days of Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (which I consider to be the best in the series) I had lost any belief that Polyphony Digital could bring some life back to the series. I remember the overall handling of the cars feeling very outdated in GT5/6. I also recall the sound being well below par with each engine not sounding anywhere near as good as it should, and when bumping into other cars it would sound like hollow metal frames bouncing off each other. The AI was as predictable as ever and could still be used as barriers to slip by the leader on the last chicane on Trial Mountain. Yes, I really went into this bit of hands-on time of the beta with dread and negative thoughts. Thankfully that’s mostly been put to rest.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue… ish
As soon as you start up Gran Turismo Sport you get a feeling of a familiar setting. In the background you still have subtle piano notes soothing you into the menu. There’s not much to tamper with as most the areas are greyed out for when the full game releases… sometime in the future. You can check out the digital manual and jump into the options area to change up your control scheme (and you can fiddle with your steering wheel setting, which I unfortunately don’t have). Change up ‘miles’ to ‘kilometers’ and you’re just about set. The ‘Sport’ tab at the top will take you to the available races, which are set to pre-determined times for the beta. You’re also granted three cars at random for the three tiers you’re allowed to try out. Sadly this is a bit of a hit and miss scenario as I ended up with a fantastic Hyundai Genesis GR.3 and Ford Mustang GR.4 for the higher tiers, but also received the really crap Lotus Evora ’09. The good news came in the form of unlocking new cars. One new car per day is all you can get via completing a Daily Workout. In the beta the workout required you to reach 42 kilometers to achieve your goal in a driving marathon, which lasted two races – something tells me that’ll increase once we have the final game.
In the beta each track provided you with 20 minutes of playing time online against other competitors, thereafter moving on to the next race. This however doesn’t mean you have to compete in that particular race. In the ‘Sport’ menu you get access to three various events and you can decide which of the three you’d like to set a qualifying time. You can drive around any of the prescribed tracks until your heart is content, but you’ll only be racing yourself and your ghost. It’s with in this self-improvement mode that Gran Turismo Sport shows off just how much it’s improved over its predecessors.
The controls in GT Sport feel tight and the developers put major emphasis on the road itself. As with any other simulation racing game you can feel the road as your Dualshock 4 rumbles away in your hand, but this felt different. It’s as if each wheel responds to the controller. You really feel like you’re getting all the feedback you require to setup your car perfectly. I would advise any righteous petrolhead to turn off the various driving assists right away, but you also get to tamper with other things such as your transmission, aerodynamics, suspension and drivetrain. The biggest improvement on the hud comes in the form of adjusting settings on-the-fly. Press right or left on your D-Pad and instead of getting a look at the default mini map (I mean come on, if you love racing you don’t need that in your life – you know the track) you’ll jump between various important car settings. This ranges from just seeing the G-force meter through to adjusting front and rear brake balance, torque distribution and more. Perfect those settings and suddenly the game feels even better. There is no better place to test this than on the Nürburgring.
It is more of a ‘Grand’ Turismo
Overall there were six tracks to race on including Brands Hatch, Dragon Tail – Seaside, Willow Springs International Raceway, Nürburgring, Northern Isle Speedway and Blue Moon Bay Speedway. Each track brought something unique to the closed beta, but I found that I’d always return to the Nürburgring. It easily the best track to show off GT Sport’s new fancy rims and polished shine. It should be said that the cars in Gran Turismo Sport are nothing short of jaw-droppingly beautiful. The detail that went into each car is out of this world, and surely (at the time of writing) are the best car models I’ve ever seen in a game. Keep in mind that I was playing this on the PS4 Pro and on a 4K TV with HDR turned on. This is not to say everything was perfect.
It might sound petty, but it’s a pet hate I’ve had with the series since the very first Gran Turismo game on the PS1, and that’s the lack of skidmarks. Slide into a corner or just randomly pull up the handbrake and you won’t see any skidmarks etched on the road behind you in your rear view mirror. Hopefully it’s something that makes it into the final game. Another problem comes in the form of the ambient background details – it’s so bare and basic. When comparing it to other racers in the series it looks a little prehistoric. Trees still look like cardboard cutouts, but it is really cool to now see marshals fly a yellow flag if there’s an accident. At least it’s improved enough to not worry about it too much. On the other hand the camera angles really bugged me. I generally love playing driving games from either the bumper or bonnet view, with the latter being my favourite. In GT Sport the camera sits so high up on the bonnet that it feels like I’m driving a truck. I wish these angles could be adjusted, but for now bumper cam will have to do. There was also no damage of any kind to the vehicles, which might be something we see in the version you buy at retail come launch time.
Overall I had fun in the closed beta and it ran at a silky smooth frame rate. I was always thinking about the new ratings you’re judged by in the game – Driver Rating (DR) and Sportmanship Rating (SR). DR indicates how fast you are, while SR ensures you don’t get teamed up with people who drive recklessly and bashes into you for no reason – it’s a good initiative to avoid online trolls. Get a ranking of S and you’re in the top tier, but fall to E and you’ll be frowned upon. Now, if only Polyphony Digital would get their troll levels out of the E tier and announce a launch date they can meet.
Below are extra screenshots for you to drool over: