The world now knows a little more about Gran Turismo Sport for the PlayStation 4, and not everyone will be satisfied by the change in direction made by Polyphony Digital. A steady stream of preview footage and press events have given way to a lengthy Motorsport.com article detailing the first steps of Gran Turismo into the current console generation – steps which may possibly alienate a major portion of the series’ core audience. A hardcore auto racing franchise with humble beginnings dating back to the mid 1990’s, rising to prominence not once, but twice, and eventually falling to Forza Motorsport’s daring attempts at innovation, Kazunori Yamauchi will now be attempting to drastically re-invent the series through the use of heavy online racing functionality. For a franchise known best for providing an offline automotive sandbox to the average car enthusiast, it’s going to be a challenging road ahead for the folks at Polyphony Digital. Not everyone will like this game.
The Motorsport.com article, provided you haven’t taken the time to skim through the piece linked in the above paragraph, paints a tremendously different picture of Gran Turismo Sport than the half-finished beta builds revealed to the public over the past month or so depicted. Gran Turismo Sport will not be a traditional Gran Turismo title with a reduced car count akin to 2001’s Gran Turismo 3; Kaz has decided that eSports are the future of gaming, and will be more or less abandoning the traditional Gran Turismo offline progression in favor of an iRacing-like virtual motorsports structure. From what I’ve been able to extrapolate from the preview piece, GT Sport will blend a soft and generic platter of traditional offline single player gameplay with a heavily organized online racing environment. Yes, you’ll still have to earn credits to buy cars, there will still be a fancy photo mode for the artistically inclined sim racers, and the series’ notoriously bland artificial intelligence is set to make a return, but they are no longer the core focus of the Franchise.
There will be weekly, broadcasted online races, featuring the top racers around the world. In fact, online events will be the main way to progress through the game, operating like an endless virtual racing league rather than a linear campaign to be completed and discarded once the end credits roll. There will be both a safety rating and skill rating system equivalent to what PC sim racers are familiar with in iRacing – judging not only your finishing position, but how often you’re involved in on-track incidents. The traditional mammoth car roster seen in past Gran Turismo titles has been chopped up and split into just four distinct classes, reflecting what’s currently popular in modern auto racing while still offering a vast array of brands and models in each discipline: Prototypes, GT3 entries, WRC-spec Rally Cars, and Exotic Supercars. If this sounds like Polyphony’s take on iRacing for the PlayStation 4, that’s because it is.
And like iRacing – but taking things a step further – Polyphony Digital have partnered with the FIA to somehow make your own personal progress in Gran Turismo Sport count towards a real-world racing license. No, you will not be whisked away from your job cleaning Wal-Mart toilets and thrown into a GT3-spec Nissan GTR plastered in Polyphony Digital stickers upon completing a notoriously difficult Gran Turismo license test, but for those aspiring to attain some sort of local SCCA or lower level FIA racing certification, achievements in Gran Turismo Sport are said to be of relevance. This is something I’m not too clear on how Polyphony is going to implement, and not sure why specific Gran Turismo experience would be all that necessary.
For lower level racing licenses, provided you’ve got a car on the trailer prepared to go through tech inspection, you can pretty much head to the racer’s entry gate and buy yourself a competition license. The track ownership will obviously be skeptical of you, would have preferred if you’d gone through a proper training course, and promptly tell you not to come back if you stuff it into the barrier during your first practice session, but Polyphony makes this process seem totally out of reach for all but the few resident millionaires among us. And provided you’re interested in acquiring any sort of racing license, your local track will most likely have one, two, or three day school programs for the price of picking up a PlayStation 4, Gran Turismo Sport, and any one of several PS4-compatible racing wheels. I get that Polyphony is trying to “bridge the gap” between sim racing and real life, but as someone who’s actually gone out and found a ride at his local short track, you need one thing: money. Even if this whole Gran Turismo Sport/FIA deal nets you some sort of proper racing certification, you’re still going to need money to find your ass a car to race. GT Sport won’t do that, making the whole partnership a bit of a moot point.
And if you’ve got the money for a car, most racing schools allow you to take your own car, again making this all pointless. If you’ve got some kind of Spec Miata sitting in the garage, your three or four buddies helping your ass out would probably like you to get seat time in the real thing they helped build, rather than be told “it’s cool man, I was on Gran Turismo all night!”
However, aside from that little blip, I think it’s not a bad idea to get excited for Gran Turismo Sport. This is a franchise that, aside from a very competent driving model under the hood, was dying a very slow and painful death due to Yamauchi’s inability to innovate past game progression mechanics of the late 1990’s. Gran Turismo fans may loathe me for saying this, but once Polyphony Digital shocked the world on the original PlayStation with GT2, Kaz and his team of developers essentially kept milking the same basic game across three console generations. Gran Turismo 2 may have been a landmark automotive simulation, Gran Turismo 4 was undeniably the best driving game on the PlayStation 2, but the worldwide success of Forza Motorsport called for Polyphony to release more than just two high resolution texture updates for the PlayStation 3.
Kaz needed to innovate in a big way, and given how many hardcore sim racers have flocked to iRacing on Windows operating systems, outright refusing to try anything else thanks to how incredible the online structure of iRacing can be – even on it’s worst days – Kaz was right to try and bring a similar experience to the PlayStation 4.
But will Gran Turismo fans enjoy this?
I don’t claim to be this huge Gran Turismo aficionado, nor have I spent any serious time with the first four titles – often regarded to be the best of the bunch – but I’m aware of how people are playing Gran Turismo. There’s a damn good physics engine under the hood, but sim racers aren’t flocking to this title for a very specific reason: Gran Turismo has never been a hardcore racing simulator; it’s an automotive sandbox with realistic physics. Not every Gran Turismo fan rushes out to acquire the latest and greatest Logitech wheel associated with it nor do all of them have the patience for the game’s extremely demanding endurance races.
Your average Gran Turismo fan will grind through the single player component of the game enough to the point where they can by a few cars of their choice, experiment for a bit, return to Career Mode in pursuit of more credits, visit the virtual car dealership again, and mess around with the various gameplay modes until they’ve felt they’ve seen enough of what Gran Turismo has to offer. And it’s cool, because Gran Turismo is built in such a way where this kind of play style doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment of the title.
But a lot of the longtime fans are expecting a similar experience out of a next-generation Gran Turismo release – maybe with a few bells and whistles to bring it on-par with Forza – and they’re not going to get it. They’re going to receive a racing sim which punishes them and impedes their progress for not adhering to a strict style of play and on-track respect. Some may find the increased emphasis on competitive online racing just what they were looking for, but judging by the driving talent displayed in your average YouTube Gran Turismo upload, most are going to be left utterly frustrated at what Gran Turismo has turned into.
That’s an approach by Polyphony Digital that I personally don’t mind, and a lot of sim racers will see GT Sport as a great reason to dust off their PlayStation 4, but it may leave a lot of Gran Turismo fans – individuals who have stuck with the series since its inception – firmly out in the cold. My crystal ball presents a future where Gran Turismo Sport is praised by the people who once rejected the series, and loathed by the fans who once adored it.