The rules are real, the racing is not.
Gran Turismo Sport is the thirteenth game in the Gran Turismo series, one that has been forever exclusive to the Playstation platform. Props for loyalty, eh? It was developed by Polyphony Digital and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Now, I’m going to be up front here, I’ve never been a big fan of Gran Turismo and have always leaned more to the side of Forza and being an Xbox fanboi. But considering that the most recent entry in the Forza series was the lackluster but well-made Forza Motorsport 7, I was hoping that some good, sturdy competition from a rival series would bolster some friendly competition between the two. The last Gran Turismo came out in 2013 and that’s quite the gap. Can the new game pull it off?
It’s becoming increasingly hard NOT to find a racing game that looks stellar in the visuals department. Gran Turismo Sport is no different. Every car has been built with careful and loving detail from top to bottom. The fictitious race tracks also lend some credence to creativity when it comes to the design, as many other racing sims rely purely on real world tracks, so this game was a breath of fresh air in that regard. Sadly, unlike the new Forza game, this game does not feature realistic weather and every track and race are all situated in a clean and clear race day. That said, to make up for this, the game features the tracks at many different times of the day, so you get many variations of lighting. You can race at dusk, dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, morning, night, and everything in between. If you’re keeping your eye out for flaws, you will notice that some buildings in and around the circuits could use some love but that’s some sheer nitpicking. One particularly great looking course is a dirt rally track based around a wind farm and the aesthetics of that track are gorgeous no matter what time your race.
As stated before, in games that don’t particularly qualify or have a story, you have to observe what sort of progression the game gives you and what incentives are in place to keep you going. GTS sadly has none. For starters, it has three very sad campaigns you can take part in. The first is literally driving school, in which you watch YouTube videos on what you’re supposed to do (no really, it has YouTube videos embedded in the loading screen) and then drive for usually seconds at a time. Not only is it boring, but it also gets incredibly hard as it tasks to perfectly recreate a corner it wants you take to learn about turning. That would have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that it drops you into the heat of things too quickly and makes a lot of the intermediate driving courses unreasonably challenging in a vacuum. If the driving school isn’t your bag, the second campaign is a series of challenges that start off interesting but quickly become annoying or unreasonable by the time you reach the second or third series. Then if that’s not enough, the third campaign is track mastery in which you just do specific sections of the tracks in the game, which isn’t very fun either.
All of this leads to me giving up and just playing the “arcade mode,” which is far more fun and just lets you race with whichever car is available. But, while the fun can be dug from there, the progress you make is far from engaging. It has four sections for leveling: you have your currency, mileage points, actual miles, and your experience. Leveling up your EXP unlocks tracks in arcade mode and nothing else (for the most part). The mileage is a daily challenge that gives you a free car if you do a sort of daily mileage workout. The mileage points are used to unlock cosmetics that are laughably minimal. The credits you get aren’t quite enough to buy some cars, but buying cars is a moot point when most of the races supply you with the car you need to race with for free, and the car selection is absolutely abysmal. This game really doesn’t hold your attention or do much to keep you going.
The sound is in good form here. Like many other racing games, the realism takes precedence over everything and most cars sound exactly like how they are supposed to sound in real life. I think the real problem comes with a few nagging points that stick and never go away. For one, it has a combo soundtrack of licensed songs and originals for the menu. The menu music is sadly generic and feels like it was done at the last minute. It also sounds like it belongs in a decades-old game featuring big beat and IDM. The licensed soundtrack is a joke, with uninteresting songs that get drowned out by the racing sounds to the point where they are completely unnecessary. There’s that and then there’s the screeching. The screeching sounds you hear when you make any turns or slam the breaks are deafening and unrealistic; taking a hard turn while jamming down the throttle sounds like you’re in some sort of drifting competition, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are going, you are going to hear a solid “SCREEEEEEEEEEE” whether you’re driving a Ferrari or a Ford. It’s so homogenous and grating that it really detracts from the experience. I had to stop playing and load a couple other games to see if it was present in other sims, and it just wasn’t. Or at least, not to the degree that this game emanates.
For a game with a subtitle under it that reads “The Real Driving Simulator” it sure as heck feels pretty unrealistic. Besides the aforementioned screeching, the brakes don’t feel like they work properly. Maybe it is the realism just getting to me, but it feels a lot like the cars are very very lightweight. This doesn’t apply to just braking. Collide with another car, be it a high-speed impact or a ding, and you send the NPC car flying off the track. It also feels like your car is made of elastic with the bounciness of slamming into the guard rails on the track. You don’t get stopped dead, you just BOING right off a guard rail and continue racing. I’m thankful for this mechanic, considering it doesn’t have Forza’s legendary “rewind” mechanic, but it also feels cheap at the same time too. If you’re going to call it a real racing sim, then make it so. This feels a lot more like you’re driving a go-kart at times. This was especially so when I tried out various racing assistance settings.
This game allows novice, intermediate, and expert presets for how much assistance the game gives you with driving physics. I immediately started with expert and was pretty satisfied with the realism it offered at the time, except for my aforementioned issues. Then I tried “intermediate” mode and suddenly the car was practically driving itself. No joke, I kept forgetting to steer the car I was driving because I fell into a trance as the game practically takes over the controls for you when you get to any of the corners. This “autodrive” feature took me completely out of the experience and sent me right back to expert mode. But the problems don’t end there. At the start of many races you are in “autodrive” mode while the race counter counts down from 3. More often than not the game relinquishes control to you in the middle of a corner. It’s absurd.
As said before, the game puts a lot of focus into some realistic driving expectations. Once you get used to the physics engine, the game is rather enjoyable to play for a quick race or two in arcade mode. Unfortunately, you will often find yourself bored as the game makes you try driving around the same corner for the thirteenth time in driving school, doing the same challenge over and over because the difficulty spiked tremendously, or you simply run out of things to do. This game has a lot of merits that save it from being bad, mark my words. For one, restarting a race is instantaneous. If you are unhappy with your drive, you can start over at the press of a button and boom, the race is ready to go. For what it’s worth as well, despite the driving school being unfun for the most part, it DOES make you a better driver. The use of cones to signal braking and turning points are new and interesting. But none of this is enough to keep you going. You have to watch two racing etiquette videos just to join multiplayer. Not only that, but they seem to be fixated on making the races official, so instead of any form of matchmaking, the game just has scheduled races you have to sign up for. I had to borrow a PS4 for this review and didn’t feel like this was worth my time, so I avoided it.
I was really hoping that Gran Turismo Sport would be a triumphant return to form for the series, but sadly this is not the case. GTS feels like another prologue game at best. With its extreme focus on rules and regulations while not being quite a good driving simulator in and of itself, it falls short of being the true racing experience it wants to be. There is a VR mode available for it, but I don’t have 400 dollars to spare so that was ignored, unfortunately. Could that increase the quality of experience? It’s entirely possible. But for now, it seems that Forza will keeps its racing game crown until it gets more complacent, but hopefully that doesn’t happen. With these two racing sims tried out, the way is paved for me to try more racing sims. Project Cars 2 came out earlier in September and is now at the top of my priority list to try before the end of the year. Nintendo is also going to throw its hat into the ring with the upcoming Gear.Club Unlimited in December. Can they best the almighty Forza? This reviewer wants to find out.
Also, WTF was up with that always online crap? I need to be online even in the ‘campaign’? Total bullsh*t.