Review: Gran Turismo (Sony PSP)

Gran Turismo
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Realistic Driving Simulation
Release Date: 10/01/2009

In a podcast I recently did for SFX 360, there was discussion about Gran Turismo 5. I joked that I’d have to see it to believe it, and compared it to Duke Nukem Forever due to the amount of delays the game has seen over the years (Author’s Note: After writing this line, it was announced at the Tokyo Game Show that GT5 would be delayed until March 31st in Japan). Little did I remember at that time that Gran Turismo was announced for the PSP when the system was announced back in 2004. Of course, as Sony and Polyphony are known to do with their flagship series, delay after delay pushed the game back and almost out of our consciousness. Finally, with the release of Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3 at least on the horizon, Gran Turismo for the PSP is ready to drop, five and a half years and four PSP Models later, as a launch title for the PSP Go. Better late than never, I guess.

So, the obvious question: after five and a half years of development… is it worth the wait, and $40 of a gamer’s budget?

One of the first things I noticed when I booted up was the simplicity of the front menu. There’s only a few options of relevance when it comes to the game, with the first one being the simply titled “Single Player”. Unlike past Gran Turismo games, you don’t have to screw around with licenses; you can just jump into the game, something the developers have helped you with by giving you a default car and 100,000 credits. A voice over when you first load the game recommends going to the training course before going into racing, and it’s definitely recommended if only because the monetary benefits to getting gold in the driving challenges are very nice to have when you’re trying to build your car arsenal. It’s possible, if you go through some of the challenges early, to have a few very nice cars before you even do your first race. Furthermore, the demonstrations on how to do the challenges are very well made; they have multiple camera angles, and a voice over explaining what needs to be done when. Just the fact that licenses are no longer compulsory is enough to make me happy with this mode, but the fact that it gives a good amount of money is enough for me.

That money can be used to buy cars, which is easier than it was in GT3 or 4 just because of how much money you get. However, buying cars is not as easy as just going into the dealership section and buying a car you want. The game has a day system, and when the game changes days, it also changes what’s available in the dealership, not only based on car manufacturer, but also based on specific car; in other words, just because Ford is available doesn’t mean every single Ford car is available. I found this out the hard way as I wanted a particular kind of car, but was just short of money. Not a problem; one training event and a race and I had enough money with some spare change to boot, but then I found out that the car I wanted was gone. What’s frustrating about this is that nothing in my play experience showed any kind of coherent schedule; instead of saving up for a car and getting it, the safer bet is just to compile a lot of money and hope for the best when you decide to go into the dealership, which dents the positives that come from an extensive (800+) car line-up, and the addition of Lamborghini and Buggati. Another glaring omission is that there’s no way to build your cars up at all; once you buy a car, that’s exactly what you get, forever. This is glaring, and not only affects replayability, it affects in-game racing as tuning options are now decreased for most cars.

One benefit to buying cars is that you can either share or trade cars, but most cars allow one or the other; you can either trade them or share them, not both. I don’t know what logic is used to determine which is which, or why they bothered with this in the first place. One thing I was unable to verify was the ability to send cars to Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3 due to that not being out yet; this does seem like a great idea to get someone going in that game, and is the only thing that makes sense in my head as to why Sony put restrictions on sharing and trading. One problem I have with trading – and the game, in general – is that there’s no internet option; you can use ad-hoc to trade with other PSPs, but they have to be local. Considering how little there is to do within this game, that’s almost a deal-breaker.

There are thirty-five different racetracks, and since most of those are reversed, that leads to a lot of racing combinations for different race tracks. Tracks can be raced either in regular race format against three other cars, in time trials, or drift trials, where you’re graded on drifting techniques and ability. Time trial is exactly what it sounds like, but regular races work uniquely to this series; you pick a race track, and beat it on D rank, after which you can beat it on C rank, moving up to harder races with higher purses. At this point, a fan of the series is probably expecting me to talk about career mode, which presents a problem: there isn’t one. There’s no career mode whatsoever, no tournaments to enter, no endurance races, nothing. The entirety of single-player racing mode is based around racing on all of the tracks and increasing your rank on them. Unless you’re a huge fan of the tracks and the racing, this gets old extremely fast, and feels like the developers either ran out of space or got lazy. Considering how long this game has been in development for, it’s unfathomable to think this is a case of laziness so I’ll give Polyphony the benefit of the doubt, but the lack of any coherent goals in career mode – or even a career mode, period – seriously hurts the long-term replayability of this game. There’s a leaderboard option for people that like time trials, but you’re racing solely against yourself; they’re all empty when you start, and since there’s no online mode at all, it’s you against you; you have nothing to compare yourself to. It’s like there’s a really good game waiting to come out, but it’s shy and doesn’t want to show itself.

Fortunately, fans of the racing aspect of Gran Turismo and it’s driving mechanics can take heart in the fact that the racing from past Gran Turismo games has not changed. The bad news for either fans of other realistic driving simulators or people that don’t like Gran Turismo games is that the racing from past Gran Turismo games has not changed. There’s only three on-screen opponents, and while that feels empty, the driving itself is smooth and never chops; if the number of on-screen cars was the sacrifice that had to be made to keep the gameplay flawless (and the file size at 937MB, smaller than I thought would be necessary), then that’s a fair cop to me. The controls are tight, and moved over to the PSP control scheme well, though obviously fans of racing wheels will find a hard time adjusting to the PSP’s tiny analogue nub. However, there is still no damage mechanic, there is still no tire wear mechanic, and there is still no drafting mechanic. The racing in this game is almost exactly like it was in Gran Turismo 2 – I’d test against the first game, but I haven’t owned it for years – which is unfortunate considering that’s a ten year old Playstation One game. The industry has evolved past this kind of racing; just take one look at Need for Speed: Shift.

The good news is that Gran Turismo is aesthetically pleasing. Graphics look as good as one could expect on the PSP; cars look realistic, courses look scenic, scaling is smooth, and the action runs at a consistent 60FPS. There’s a camera mode that lets you see what it’s like from inside the car, but it doesn’t look very good due to the fact that in reality it just obscures a lot of the screen due to the dashboard and rear view mirror; this is a novelty that looks worse when put on the PSP’s small screen. When it comes to sound, there’s generic music that plays while you race that is what one would expect from this series, and it doesn’t get in the way. Cars sound the way they should, with tires, engines and impacts all sounding like they should.

This leaves a game with an shallow single player experience, a questionable multiplayer experience and an antiquated gameplay style. Knowing all of this, is there anyone I can recommend Gran Turismo to, and the answer is that I’m honestly not sure. The only group I can really recommend this game to are hardcore Gran Turismo fans that must have a portable version of this game, can’t wait until Sony is finally ready to release Gran Turismo 5 and want to go into that game loaded for bear. A person like this is definitely a dedicated gamer, but also one that had better have a lot of disposable income; this is a $40 game with about $20 worth of gameplay, and when you consider Gran Turismo 5‘s $60 price point and the potential for additional costs via DLC, that’s a lot to spend, especially with this game not having gameplay elements that have been a series staple since day one. People who like racing arcade racing games won’t want anything to do with this when Midnight Run and Wipeout are readily available, and even simulator fans would honestly do better with NFS: Shift. Meanwhile, Gran Turismo fans will be disappointed at the lack of a career mode, schizophrenic dealership options, and lack of any sort of ability to improve purchased cars.

The Scores
Modes: Bad
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

Gran Turismo for the PSP is a hard game to recommend to anyone. Fans will enjoy it, but they will be disappointed at the things that were left out. Non-fans will move onto other titles. Anyone that spends the money will feel that $40 was way too much for the amount of actual content they’re getting.

I would recommend for anyone that still has a PS2 or the ability to play PS2 games to just go out and hit the used bins at Gamestop if they don’t have the old games already; for the purposes of comparing older titles, I was able to re-purchase Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for a whopping $2, and did a price check that showed GT4 was only $10. For $12 combined, you can get two games that individually have more gameplay value than this iteration of Gran Turismo.

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