I never grew up in possession of a Sony console, but I’ve always taken a keen interest in those who cite previous iterations of the Gran Turismo franchise as a primary driving force behind their passion for virtual automobiles. Even today, Gran Turismo 4 is regarded by sim racers as one of the greatest driving games of all time, and merely switching to different tire compounds allows Gran Turismo 6 on the PlayStation 3 to display an additional level of competence to the driving model. Yet after playing Gran Turismo Sport for the better part of a day, I’m certainly left wondering how this same team that once stood atop the genre nearly uncontested could ever be responsible for such a shockingly bad product.
Kazunori Yamauchi and the staff at Polyphony Digital have released a simulator I would ultimately describe as utterly suicidal; Gran Turismo Sport is not by any means an entertaining video game, but rather a step by step instruction manual on how to kill a beloved franchise via self inflicted wounds. This game is the reason I bought a Logitech G29 along a PlayStation 4 – I really wanted to see what would happen when a massive entity such as Gran Turismo entered the eSports kingdom, because you’d think they’d be able to get it right – but instead my $99 admission fee went to a game lacking any sort of cohesive direction. Gran Turismo Sport isn’t a buggy game or an unfinished game, Polyphony Digital just built something that’s quite frankly really boring.
And then they filled it with useless shit, when the few elements that did show promise could have been greatly expanded upon instead.
So there are two distinct intro movies; one which covers the history of sports car & rally racing with a montage consisting strictly of real-world footage, a more traditional opening sequence featuring scripted footage and scenarios not actually available for the user to partake in being displayed afterwards. It’s oddly pretentious for a title that has since been knocked from its’ perch by Forza Motorsport several years prior, and this level of upside-down narcissism carries over into Gran Turismo Sport’s supplementary list of bells and whistles to explore.
The game features two distinct photo modes when most would agree one is enough, though the new off-shoot “scapes” is pushed heavily on the user throughout the in-game interface to the point where it actually becomes annoying. Look, I really enjoy taking screenshots of races I’ve participated in – my mother was a drag racing photographer for the better part of two decades – but giving people an entirely separate mode in which to pose your car in fake photo-realistic backgrounds is just so odd in the context of what Gran Turismo is trying to be this iteration.
As alluded to in other articles covering the two beta periods we’ve had with this game prior to release, Gran Turismo also features extensive power point presentations and video profiles on each of the game’s various automakers – though this will occasionally deviate to include random world events Polyphony deemed to be important. I appreciate the subtle nod to the “showcase” feature seen in the 90’s classic Need for Speed II – as this is essentially what Gran Turismo Sport is trying to do here – but the inclusion of such an attraction is irrelevant in 2017. If I want to read about Dodge or Chevrolet, I’ll boot up Wikipedia while taking a shit and have twenty minutes’ worth of reading material at my disposal, or watch some of their YouTube videos on my phone prior to falling asleep. The extra stuff on display in “Brand Central” is fifteen years too late.
It just feels like Polyphony Digital were at a crossroads in determining the atmosphere of Gran Turismo Sport; this is a game intended primarily as a competitive online platform, but there’s a bunch of shit crammed into the game that’s almost anti-racing.
Lewis Hamilton was advertised as holding a prominent role in Gran Turismo Sport prior to the game’s launch, described as a “mentor” figure and “maestro” that would guide the player through the game. I’ve completed 50% of campaign mode, entered ten or so online races, and generally seen enough of the game where I feel comfortable talking about it on PRC in a review-like format. Lewis Hamilton appears once, for about two minutes, and it’s in the aforementioned showcase mode dubbed “Brand Central.” There are no tutorials or lessons to speak of which involve Lewis Hamilton. There’s a video of him saying he likes the pretty graphics – the same promotional video you’ve probably seen already – and that’s it. I imagine the Lewis Hamilton tutorial mode will eventually be added via post-release content updates, but this is something that really needed to be there on day one, hour zero.
This is because there’s fuck all to do in Gran Turismo Sport, and those words weren’t chosen to be hyperbolic. The single player campaign mode, if you could call it that, is divided into three parts that are all more or less varying types of driving tutorials. The classic Gran Turismo school section returns alongside hot lap challenges at every circuit, and finally there’s a “mission” mode which are really just just one-off themed races. Neither sub-section stands above the rest and offers something that the other doesn’t; they are all cut from the same branch, challenges over-lapping twice or even three times with little regard for variety.
The driving school can be blown through in about thirty minutes, forcing infantile users to complete remedial tasks such as accelerating, braking, and navigating a single corner several times in a row, albeit with faster cars as you blaze through each tier. For anyone with even a passing interest in racing games, the driving school is absurdly painful to complete. The game assumes you are an absolute retard who has never driven a car before, with questionable English unnecessarily complicating even the most basic set of instructions. You often wish you could just blast around the Nordschleife once under a set amount of time and the game would figure out that maybe you don’t need beginner driving lessons, but this is where the problem with Gran Turismo Sport lies – abolishing the school would remove 30% of the single player experience.
You’d think the driving missions would offer an increase in challenge from the vanilla school tasks and maybe inject some life into Gran Turismo Sports’ offline campaign, though upon completing tier four of the eight available at launch, I have to say things are certainly progressing at a very leisurely pace. You’re told to pit for fuel and win the race as if it’s some high-tension predicament, but the AI cruise around the circuit at Sunday driving speeds allowing you to one-shot the challenge with ease. You’re handed a rally car and sent to a makeshift infield rally course at the game’s equivalent to Bristol Motor Speedway – which sounds really cool on paper – though the track ends up being a mere sixteen seconds long and only features one corner. I think you could make the argument that these challenges are fun when your bros own GT Sport as well and you’re all competing for leaderboard times among each other, but the abbreviated length of these events – some lasting less than ten seconds – make that fairly difficult to do. I’m aware that there are sketchier events in higher tiers, don’t get me wrong, but they needed to be revealed to the user much quicker than they currently are.
The hot lap events are self-explanatory, though you cannot immediately blast around for a full lap, obliterate the gold medal time, and instantly be deemed a “master” of that track. To artificially lengthen the game, you’re forced to also complete the preliminary sector training segments in order to be awarded a prize for your efforts.
In any case, Gran Turismo then showers you with credits and prize cars for completing what most racing game enthusiasts would deem to be remedial tasks at best. That’s the offline campaign mode.
The offline campaign mode in GT Sport provides a car for you to use approximately 95% of the time while simultaneously not allowing you to select from your own collection, whereas the ranked online races – you know, the whole draw of the game – more often than not force you to pick from the fleet of vanilla cars in a given class, rather than your personal ride that you sat down and made a livery for. This really fucks with the ecosystem of Gran Turismo Sport, as you’re completing challenges to earn credits to buy cars that you won’t need because the game often prohibits you from using them and just gives you a mandatory loaner car instead.
In the ultimate lack of self-awareness, the game will then liberally gift you prize cars for completing these challenges that once again, you don’t need because the game rarely lets you hit the track with them in the first place. I ran a hot lap at one of the oval courses, and was given a free GT4 car for just fourteen seconds of driving. I then drove twenty six kilometers and was given a street legal car as a prize for my “daily workout.” Completing a few driving school missions such as driving in a straight line and here are some cones, don’t hit them? Yep, that too earned a car.
It’s just weird.
But not as weird as how Polyphony have handled the competitive elements of Gran Turismo Sport. These guys royally fucked up on this aspect. In fact I’m genuinely impressed that a major developer sat down with the intentions of making an eSports platform, only to spectacularly miss the mark. Actually, it’s more like they didn’t even try, only spoke of outright bullshit until “oh fuck, our game launches in six months, what do we do?”
So for starters, we were told that this game would require people to go through extensive sportsmanship training before they were allowed to race online in the competitive ranked rooms. I remember reading things that implied you’d have to go through driving lessons that taught you how to pass cars cleanly, and even had to worry about bumping into AI cars in offline races before the game would deem you to be a sportsman-like driver. This never materialized. You are shown two videos totaling five minutes in length, and then given a fake seal of approval to race online. That is Polyphony’s idea of “training” for online racing. You’re never told how the ranking system works or how to progress your driver/safety level. It’s literally an indoor karting safety video that an intern put together in five minutes using a few different in-game replays, and then… that’s it.
This could have been done on the original Xbox. In fact it was; ToCA Race Driver 3 and Project Gotham Racing 2 both seeded people by ELO rank. Add an unskippable FMV movie that plays when you first click the “race online” button telling you not to wreck people, and you have Gran Turismo Sport. I wish I was kidding, but I’ve inserted the video above to prove that no, this is what we waited four years for.
Like the beta, you are then given three daily races to partake in that go off every hour. These are short, five-minute affairs that feature no damage, no tire wear, and no pit stop strategies.
You can run a couple of qualifying laps whenever you feel like it, and actively check the leaderboards to see where you stand in comparison to the top ten, which is arguably the most enjoyable element of the whole experience. But once you’ve posted a time you’re comfortable with, you sit around and wait for an hour, wait a bit more for the matchmaking to seed you into a room, then wait out the two minutes for warm-up to end, and before the solo even kicks in for Metallica’s “..And Justice for All”, the race itself is over.
No tire compound strategies. No equipment management. No point to changing your fuel mapping. No tire preservation. There are races in DriveClub that last longer. This is what people paid $90 for. A “hardcore” online racing simulator in which all of the simulation elements have conveniently been disabled in favor of five minute sprint races catering to the lowest common denominator – hyperactive children who probably won’t even consider buying a Gran Turismo game in the first place.
There are no 40-minute endurance races going off every two hours. Rarely can you use cars you either bought or painted liveries for. GT3 entries are still sent to claustrophobic ovals, breeding chaos that even the most respectful of drivers will be unable to avoid, damaging their rankings unnecessarily as a result. Daily races are said to change on a weekly basis, meaning that if Polyphony woefully fuck up and give three atrocious combinations – as they’ve already done so – you’re stuck with those races for an entire week. People will intentionally not play a game they just bought and are actively wanting to play, just to avoid shitty races. Good job Polyphony, well done!
There are just three “Sport” races to enter, all of them last five minutes, none of them have damage, fuel consumption, or tire wear enabled, in two of the three you can’t use any cars you’ve earned through various means, and all of which feature car/track combinations that either breed chaos or don’t make for natural passing opportunities.
I must reiterate, this is the main mode of play that was supposed to lure people by the thousands into Gran Turismo. Yes, there are custom lobbies. But we didn’t buy Gran Turismo Sport for custom lobbies; we bought it for what Polyphony implied it would be able to do without us having to lift a finger. We got some shitty pickup races out of it that can be found in basically every other racing game with a semi-competent online mode; DiRT 3 calls it “Pro Tour.”
Great. Four years and a hundred dollars for this.
So with the race formats completely shitting the bed due to Polyphony’s poor foresight, what a lot of people still want to know regardless is if the almighty ranking system works. I’m not a fan of sprint races, but a lot of people are, and a functional safety system is essentially what separates Gran Turismo Sport from other racing games on the market.
No, it actually doesn’t work. Safety Rating is seemingly calculated via individual sectors. Those with more clean sectors than dirty sectors at the end of a race will see their safety rating increase. So yes, it weeds out intentional wreckers who can’t drive for shit and want to fuck with the field, but that’s about all it does. Slightly bump a guy out of the way in a skillful manner so as not to incur a time penalty, but finish out the final two sectors of the lap clean, and your safety rating will still go up even if the guy is raging in your PSN message inbox.
The system is easily exploitable for drivers like myself, who understand how to put the bumper to someone, but can also drive off as if nothing happened and maintain their composure over a period of several laps. My current safety rating is “S”, the highest you can possibly have on this game, so obviously something is wrong. As you can see from some of the screenshots laced throughout this article, I have a reputation for moving people, or at least making use of my vehicle’s fenders. GT Sport’s safety system is unable to detect my unsportsmanlike conduct because once I move the guy, I can amass enough good boy points to offset the bad boy points. I don’t suggest outright wrecking people because you’ll trip the time penalty sensor, but the stock car guys have the upper hand here.
Does that sound like a safety system that works? No, it sounds more like Polyphony rushed something together without testing shit to see if it actually made sense in the context of a competitive environment.
iRacing at least acknowledged when you made contact with another car and dinged you accordingly, handing out severe punishments for prolonged offensive driving maneuvers throughout the duration of a single race – what a lot of people know as the incident point system. GT Sport calculates incidents in a yes/no per sector per race format, and as long as you keep a clean to dirty sector ratio of 2:1, you can drive like a total cunt and have the game keep increasing your safety level regardless.
The game seeds races by qualifying time, which while in theory contributes to a cleaner racing environment, often breeds situations in which there is no passing whatsoever. You really start to understand why a lot of touring car fields make use of inverted grids while playing GT Sport; wins are handed to you on a silver platter, especially if you qualify well and none of the guys around you on the leaderboards signed up for the particular race. In my opinion, there should be a random lottery at the start of the race that inverts anywhere from the top four qualifiers, to the top eight.
Again, the fact Polyphony pushed out a competitive online platform yet never thought of this, is quite sad.
But for a rundown, the same problems present in both the closed beta and pre-release demo still remain. Cars are woefully unbalanced, and the force feedback mimics power steering failure – if your steering wheel is ever that heavy in a real car, pull into the fucking pits or call AAA in a panic, because I assure you there is a substantial problem with your vehicle. All wheel drive cars have been neutered, slightly, but this is due to tires generally receiving a boost in longitudinal grip which allows for RWD cars to get the power to the ground more effectively. There’s significantly less throttle management required than any previous build in the game’s lifespan, and nicking either the grass, sand, or astroturf will instantly kill you. I’ve used the grass to dodge wrecks in reality, I promise it’s not this scary.
Driving-wise, anyone who praise this game’s handling as an alleged “simulation” is retarded, and this makes me quite sad as I felt Gran Turismo 6 could be turned into an okay simulator just by slapping on different compounds, which unfortunately doesn’t happen here. Gran Turismo Sport is like going over to a friends house who also owns Assetto Corsa on the PC, but he’s loaded his game with awful Russian mods that have too much grip everywhere and insists on jacking the force feedback up a bunch because “realism” or some shit. Proper lines, braking points, and wheel inputs kind of work, but it all feels so comically simplified.
Two foot magic braking works far too well, rapid fire downshifting can be abused, and the draft is absurdly over-powered to the point where people will snake like IndyCars in online sessions for the speed boost. Over-driving the car is rewarded, rumble strips provide extra grip, and contact physics can be exploited in your favor. Street cars known for their nimble characteristics in reality feel like boats in GT Sport. Race cars known for their pinpoint precision are instead lifeless hovercrafts, but you knew that already, because I bitched about it last week. Do me a favor and spend as little time as possible driving the rally cars. It’s like you’re given a UPS van full of packages, and the road has been coated in molasses.
It’s just a very horrible game to drive; something I don’t understand given Polyphony’s connections with car manufacturers. Gran Turismo of all games shouldn’t feel like this.
There are some objectively cool things that the game does well. I like the ability to transfer custom decals in SVG format to your PlayStation 4, import said decals into the livery editor, and then upload your complete custom liveries for others to use, meaning this will be the first Gran Turismo game to have a Forza-like community element. It’s awesome to check out the storefront and see a bunch of real-world VLN liveries for cars that otherwise came stock with a generic design. I also enjoy how pit stops are structured; partially reliant upon quick button presses, but never turning into an outright Mario Party mini-game. In the context of Gran Turismo, which tries to straddle the line between hardcore and casual with mixed results, the pit stop sequence is something Polyphony have actually gotten right.
But these few positive moments are obviously not even close to saving Gran Turismo Sport from eternal damnation.
We were promised a robust online racing platform – that much is for certain. Polyphony instead annihilated any semblance of an offline career mode, and in return gave us a driving school, go kart safety video, and a few sprint races that quite frankly, any developer could have put together, and Polyphony especially could have included as just one of many features in an all encompassing package entitled “Gran Turismo 7.” Supposedly, this is the “new direction” of Gran Turismo, but at launch it feels more like a Prologue game with some ranked online racing that was hyped far beyond what it ended up consisting of.
And truthfully, if this game was sold for $29, I think people would have been okay with it. But then you see the two photo modes, the power point presentations, the showcase videos, the extensive social options, and realize that nope, Polyphony and Kaz were actually serious about this one, and this is Gran Turismo as it exists on the PlayStation 4.