Pick up and Play: Gran Turismo Sport
The long awaited Gran Turismo Sport. Long story short, it’s what the fans were expecting, but not what the fans actually wanted. In a year packed with two heavy hitters, the established Forza Series, and the new kid on the block Project Cars, competition for the sim-cade racer of choice is going to be a difficult battle. Gone is the huge amount of variety presented by Gran Turismo(s) of last generation, in favor of a focused, online competition driven experience, compliant with FIA rules, regulations, and vehicles. It’s even officially sanctioned as the official esport of FIA, I suppose they’ll even pull a F1 2018 and have your neighbor's kid competing for cash prizes on Twitch. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s break it down.
The visual fidelity of this game is breathtaking. I have never seen headlights so exquisitely modeled, it blows my mind. What are graphics going to look like 20 years? Every single vehicle in this game is incredibly detailed, both inside and out. Something as simple as the texture of leather in a BMW M4 is perfect to the pixel, you can drool over it for hours. And if you think the cars were the star of the show, the tracks flex a greater level of fidelity most games could ever dream to match. I’m looking at you Project Cars. Night racing in particular, is gorgeous. It’s a testament to how much an HDR display can really showcase the depth in color this game presents. I’m at a loss for words.
The handling is very accessible. For context, I’m a pad player. So I drive most cars with level 2 to 3 traction control, and low level ABS enabled. The race cars, Group 4 and up, feel incredibly planted. The street cars require a more progressive steering input, as the weight transfer when braking and turning, can strip control of the car away from you if you aren’t careful. It’s not quite as insane as Project Cars 2, but some discretion is advised. Using driver assists helps a ton with making the cars much easier to drive, but you lose out on that wonderful adjustability they offer, such as using aggressive braking with a bit of steering input for the slick entry oversteer. Manage your tires and brakes well, and you’ll get good results.
However, part of me feels it’s almost too accessible. The motto, Driving is for Everyone, really shows up in spades when you have control of the car finally in your hands. Cars are remarkably easier to catch on loose oversteer than Project Cars 2 (because that game demands full precision). This leaves the hardcore audience yearning for something realistic to look elsewhere. Whereas Project Cars 2 delivers a sharp, instinctive driving experience the cultured can appreciate, Gran Turismo Sport is as comforting to drive as a bowl of ramen.
The car list is another point of contention. It’s small, a lot smaller than games of past generations. Gone is breadth of cars old and new, and in it’s replacement is a very curated selection of cars designed to compete. How the BMW i3 got into GT Sport is beyond me, but I guess the FIA knows something I don’t. This is an FIA sanction game, designed to transition drivers from the virtual scene to the real world races of Le Mans. They aren’t the only one to do this: F1 2018 is the official esport of Formula 1, and Mclaren recently held a world’s fastest gamer competition to also scout out drivers.
It’s mainly modern machinery involved, littered by some vision concepts, and full fledged race cars. From Group B rally kings, to the GT1 titans of Le Mans, the game pretty much covers all the major racing vehicles. Almost every car is competitive in their respective category. For example, the Porsche Cayman Group 4 Clubsport holds the highest number of lap records in it’s class, but cars such as Corvette Gr. 4 or the Huracan Gr. 4 offer their respective strengths, and most importantly, I still feel competitive with them. I can still win. Even in Group 3, the dominance of the mighty Nissan GT4 is wholly challenged by the incredible balance the BMW M6 GT3. There is a choice out there, just for you.
Progressing with this theme of “quality over quantity”, the track list is also very small. Some favorites are here, such as Brands Hatch and the Green Hell (what’s an esport racing game without the green hell?). However, they personally pale in comparison to the Gran Turismo original track set. They’re way more fun to drive. Honestly, once you’ve driven Brands Hatch Indy once, you’ve done it a million times. But learning how to get through Kyoto Driving Park’s chicane, or shaving seconds off Dragon Bay’s final hairpin, is fun because it’s a new track. One we haven’t seen before.
I do wish there were more circuits to drive on, but I’m not disappointed. The level of detail, polish, and realism each circuit goes through to reach it’s retail form is nutty. It’s beautiful to stop and stare, as well as rip through at over a 100 MPH. The campaign mode offers a section for circuit mastery, which I fully appreciate. We’ll dive deeper into progression later, but breaking down the circuit into small repeatable chunks to nail down that crucial sector, adds to the sense of training the single player section sells you on. Using your ghost and replays to find mistakes, determine better points for braking and power, and nail the approach of that one turn that’s been tripping you up all day. Taking all that knowledge and turning it into a competitive qualifying time for online play, reinforces the idea that this game is meant for sport.
To go back to progression, it’s quite non-intrusive, and naturally opens up to better cars and tracks for you to master. You easily collect a nice amount of cars just by playing the game through Sport and Campaign. Mileage points are the alternate currency done right. They can be used to upgrade existing vehicles (in a fairly limiting fashion), or to buy new cars, wheels, paint jobs, and accesories from the mileage store. For example, I was able to retrieve the road version of the Group 3 Corvette, a car with much better stats the base model, and can not be obtained from Brand Central. The achievements are cool too, ranging from signing daily, creating and supporting content from the community, and logging miles, to more difficult stuff such as podium finishes, credits milestones, and more. It sits the background, and rewards mileage points when you complete their respective objective. The trophy list is cute, in a word. From basic milestone achievements such as finishing the driving school, to more nuanced goals such as getting a picture of the winning R18 at Le Mans.
But you’re not here for that. You’re here for Sport mode. This is the main draw of the game. Requiring the player watch two different videos of race etiquette, Sport mode is the competitive draw of the game, and the main reason you buy Gran Turismo Sport. I honestly can’t stress this enough. This game is built, from the ground up, for Sport mode. Everything you do, will culminate in your overall performance when you get paired racing against other players.
Sport mode has two modes, the season mode: consisting of nations, manufacturer cups, and daily mode: which gives us a weekly rotation of tracks for 3 different groups of cars to race. The Daily races operate on a timer. You submit an entry, select an eligible vehicle, and proceed to set a qualifying time. From there, you’re match made into a lobby with 23 other drivers to battle it out it a multi-lap race. As you drive, you’re incentivized to drive clean and fair. This raises your sportsmanship ranking, pairing you with cleaner drivers. As you place, you raise or lower your driving rating, which puts you against faster drivers.
The goal of course, is to be the best. The road to get there, is long, hard, and riddled with all types of players. In first week for example, the Group 4 Class at Suzuka offered the best blend of competition, chaos, and fun racing. Even though the mighty Cayman Gr. 4 clubsport was the real king, I still felt very competitive in my weapon of choice, the Lamborghini Huracan Group 4. N300 at Brands Hatch was a bit more chaotic. Dominated by the BMW M4, Polyphony Digital ended up refitting the event to have everyone run the same car, the FWD Honda Civic Type R. Racing became much more technical and focused on driver skill, but it lost some of the innate chaos that ran rampant during launch. But don’t get me started on the Group 3 competition on the oval circuit. It’s a recipe for disaster, and the only place where your qualifying time guarantees you safety from the chaos behind you. 24 racers on a short oval track is bound to have people lapped, inducing more traffic and chaos, and serious tanks in sportsmanship rating. Let’s hope the GT3 events get better as time goes on.
So, 12 hours into Gran Turismo Sport. There is still a lot to unpack. I’m almost done with the driving school, the mission mode and circuit challenges offer plenty of interesting ways to improve my skills, and I’m overall enjoying my time playing online. I still wish the single player component was available offline, so that my progress would still continue in the event of server maintenance or a bad connection, but life still goes on I guess. Gran Turismo Sport is a great racing game overall. Incredibly gorgeous, yet hyper focused. For better or worse.