It gets some elements right, but not quite enough to convince longtime fans that eSports are the future. A total flub on my part, I discovered the Gran Turismo Sport beta code sitting in my PlayStation 4 account inbox – two weeks after it had been delivered. Missing out on the first wave of online shenanigans, I immediately downloaded the 17 gigabyte install – listed as Version 1.04 – to get myself up to speed as quickly as possible. While several longtime Gran Turismo fans have blasted the series’ drastic change from automotive Japanese RPG to online racing platform, I was quite optimistic about what was in store for this brief portion of the upcoming racing simulator; it’s essentially iRacing for the PlayStation 4, capitalizing on the worldwide recognition of the Gran Turismo brand to reel in an exponentially larger userbase under what’s largely the same premise – clean, organized online racing.
Yet four to six hours later, after exhausting all of the current in-game options, I can’t say I’m all that excited to see what the complete package has in store. The parts of it that I personally enjoyed, I’m not under the impression will captivate the mass-market audience typically reached by the Gran Turismo franchise. It’s too hardcore-oriented for a series that has done an alright job of giving everybody something to do, including the gamers who just want to dick around in an automotive sandbox. And on the negative end of the spectrum, what Gran Turismo Sport doesn’t do well, serve to be reasons why the experiment just won’t work in the way Polyphony Digital are planning. It’s shaping up to be a game that IGN or Gamespot will give a 6 or 7 out of 10 because they just didn’t have fun with it at the end of the day, and fans of Gran Turismo will question what Polyphony were thinking.Let’s talk about how it drives, because being a hardcore-oriented sim blog, this is what a lot of you want to know first and foremost about the PlayStation 4’s flagship racing franchise. Based on the car you select, it can range from impressive to awful – directly in line with past Gran Turismo titles.
The beta includes three classes of cars, the slowest being Group N300 entries, the middle identifying as Group 4 – what we all recognize in the real world as the clubman GT4 class – whereas the quickest vehicles in the beta fall under the GT3 category, otherwise known as Group 3. Upon loading the game for the first time, Gran Turismo Sport hands you a random car in each of the classes as a “starter car”, with the game rewarding you with a fourth for putting in X amount of practice laps. I was handed the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X street car, a Hyundai GT4 entry, and a GT3-variant Jaguar, winning a Renault for the Group 3 class within about twenty minutes.
The street cars are nothing short of amazing and I was genuinely impressed once I dialed in the setup and began hot-lapping the Nordschliefe. Lap after lap of wheeling the Lancer Evo X, I noticed I was rolling onto the throttle with the same foot positioning and rhythm as I had been doing in my shitbox last year; powering through the understeer in a manner that felt extremely natural for a series that is often perceived to be unrealistic by PC sim racing elitists. Coupled with force feedback effects that were quite frankly incredible, I basically didn’t want to stop driving the Lancer at the Nordschleife. With setup values that were realistic for a street car – that’s right, the camber exploit from GT6 appears to have been fixed to the best of my knowledge – I eventually managed to attain seventh in the world on the currently listed Group N combination – which every user of GT Sport is funneled into, so there are a lot of people on that leaderboard.
You had to really work to keep the car balanced; braking early, letting forces transfer through the car, and plant in the center before powering off. With all assists disabled, you were punished if you got it wrong. Slow in, fast out was not a lame mantra repeated in an old performance driving book; it actually worked here. I wouldn’t go out and call GT Sport perfect in this regard, but it was pretty damn close. I was pissed I had been given an all-wheel drive car by the game, because I’d gotten excited to see how the game would handle something that sent all the power to the rear tires. I’ve gotta reiterate before we move on to the next topic, the street cars… Goddamn, they’re incredible.
My only complaint isn’t even related to the driving itself; the cockpit view is useless, with interior details taking up too much of the screen, no field of view or seat position adjustments are available, and I’m forced to make use of GT’s roof cam because so little of the monitor is actually dedicated to showing the road ahead.
Yet handed the keys to a GT4-spec Hyundai Genesis, this is where Gran Turismo Sport dropped the ball in a big way. Whereas the street cars are full of personality and beg to be driven to the limit, the race cars are embarrassingly bad. Devoid of feeling or even basic handling characteristics such as oversteer or understeer, the Hyundai Genesis was a lifeless hovercraft, with the Renault RS01 behaving in largely the same fashion aside from climbing the speed charts much quicker. With the Tokyo Expressway layout serving as a test facility for the Hyundai Genesis, I couldn’t believe how the same piece of software that genuinely impressed me at the Nordschleife only minutes earlier could do a complete 180-degree turn and provide such a horrible driving experience, just by switching the car.
There is no edge to the tire or suspension to lean on whatsoever; it’s a fucking hovercraft with wings that you brake, turn, point, and shoot. The most exciting, elaborate, radical cars in the game that every Gran Turismo Sport owner will aspire to acquire and drive after slugging it out in the lower classes are boring, bland, and uninspiring once you’re actually behind the wheel. It’s not just poor game design, it’s poor work on the part of Polyphony, who have in this instance been outclassed by amateur rFactor modders hastily throwing ripped GT3 car models and placeholder physics into one mega-mod for shits and giggles. The Ultimate GT3 Compilation 2.0 package on XtremeFactor is ten times the driving experience that Gran Turismo Sport is when it comes to GT3 cars. That’s how brutally pathetic GT Sport’s most prolific cars are to drive.
Yes, I mad. I don’t understand how one set of cars in the game are amazing, and the others are complete crap.
So the way the Gran Turismo Sport beta works is pretty simple; you can run qualifying laps at your leisure for any of the three listed races, and in a manner identical to iRacing, you register for one of these races during the registration window, and the session begins at a very specific time – usually about five minutes after registration closes. From a functionality point of view, it’s very easy to understand, especially if you’re familiar with iRacing as it’s literally the exact same process.
But here’s where Gran Turismo Sport fails as a concept. iRacing works, and has worked well for almost a decade, because almost every single person on the service lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, GT3, V8 Supercars, or any of the other minor series featured on the service. The userbase on iRacing aren’t just adults with a Jeff Gordon t-shirt buried somewhere in their closet; they’re the kinds of people who can tell you what year certain lines around the track worked based on the quality of the racing surface, or give you a brief rundown on aerodynamic changes from season to season. The Gran Turismo audience, for the most part, does not take their racing as seriously as the iRacing crowd, and when you provide them with their own version of iRacing, the results are pretty disastrous.
In my first event, I had qualified twenty two whole seconds ahead of the Audi TT in second place, and I’m sure the picture above displays how competent the rest of the grid was. I spent eight or nine minutes lapping the Nordschleife by myself, with the nearest opponent anywhere from seven to ten seconds behind, effortlessly reeling in safety points that would undoubtedly go a long way towards leveling up. I really wish the game would have recognized I was a lot faster than an “E-class driver” given my pace, because stomping a field in this fashion wasn’t fun for anybody involved.
Now sure, I fit right in with the concept of checking out from the pack and making sure to stay on the track after being an iRacing member for several years, knowing that even if I was all alone, there was still some point in maintaining my composure and treating it like a real car, but warmup for the second race really drilled home how not many people are going to enjoy this to the extent I did.
The progression/safety system in Gran Turismo Sport requires you to be a competent sim racer and know what you’re doing behind the wheel to actually have fun with the game. That description does not fit the average Gran Turismo player, who could be seen helplessly skidding into the sand alongside their competitors. Yes, rookie races in iRacing are a shitshow in absolute bottom splits, but usually the top two or three guys are pretty decent and put on a good battle. This just didn’t happen here. I’ve never seen an entire field of cars struggle with the subject matter as badly as I have in GT Sport.
This problem was made worse today by Polyphony’s bizarre track selection. The GT4 cars today were sent to the Tokyo Expressway, a two-land highway with concrete barriers on either side of the road, meaning any mistakes made would send you ping-ponging through the field and force other drivers to plow straight into you, causing a never-ending crash. Polyphony have went through all this trouble of designing a racing game that awards points for not crashing into people, but then hold the races on tracks that are claustrophobic nightmares. I used this video in a previous article, but the same remains true; it’s a disaster. I was lucky to qualify on pole for all the races in Tokyo, but by the time we were on lap two of five, once again I couldn’t see anybody, and it wasn’t hard to guess what had happened. This is poor game design – make the game all about driving clean, and design layouts where track-blocking wrecks can happen after making slight contact with another car. This is just stupid.
But nothing rustled my jimmies more than the game’s fictional rendition of Bristol Motor Speedway, which served as the home for GT3 sports cars this evening. Events here were an absolute wreckfest, magnified by the game’s wonky trolling detection. Basically, if GT Sport assumes you’re going to absolutely plow into a guy, it will temporarily ghost your car so you don’t fuck his race up. It’s not a bad idea in theory, but the amount in which wrecks would happen at the pseudo-Bristol would fuck with the anti-shithead detection and create apocalyptic chaos – opponents would ghost and re-appear with every bit of on-track contact, meaning in some situations you could drive straight through other cars spinning in front of you, whereas in other instances you’d plow into the side of somebody. It was impossible to figure out how the algorithm worked, meaning races here were a total crap shoot. The ghosting would also kick in after minor door-to-door contact, so in some cases you could merely rub someone on a straightaway, ghost inside their car, and turn entire laps while inside their car.
This track straight up needs to be removed from the game. It is simply not fun in the slightest to dodge spinning cars and retarded online drivers who appear and disappear at complete random. You cannot avoid wrecks with any sort of consistency, you cannot drive in a pack with other cars because you’ll never know if the guy beside you is solid or transparent, and on top of it all, the racing isn’t fun. It’s high downforce cars on a short oval where the fastest line is right at the top. Even in a room with sixteen talented sim racers, what are you going to do, move someone up the race track into the wall to pass them? That doesn’t work.
It’s a beta, and everything will be subject to change, but at the moment, I feel Gran Turismo Sport just isn’t working in the way it’s supposed to. The street cars are unreal, and the visual quality needs to be seen in motion to be believed. The version of the Nordschleife in Gran Turismo Sport is insane, with the track surface texture exhibiting the best looking racing line in any video game ever. The force feedback is great, and though the GT fans will be taken for a ride with the massive emphasis towards competitive, clean, fair online racing, I dig it.
But dear God, the race cars suck, and it’s important to get those right when you put them on a pedestal and say “these are your ultimate goal when playing our game.” Uh, no thanks, they drive like ass. And while the overall race format and ranking system appears to work as it should – with all the sessions going off without a hitch and being extremely easy to understand how the process of joining an event works – it doesn’t mean a whole lot if everybody sucks and you’re at the front of the pack by yourself, while your opponents go screaming into sand traps and ping-pong off concrete walls back into traffic.
Yes, the higher ranks might provide better racing, but the same can be said about rounding your friends up for a private lobby session in DiRT 3 – any game can be good among the right people. The key thing is that Gran Turismo Sport is trying to introduce their own audience to a drastically different way to play the game, and it’s something I don’t see working out in the end. Everybody who wants something like Gran Turismo Sport, already own an iRacing membership that they enjoy very much, which means Polyphony are left with the mainstream audience, who will quite frankly be intimidated by what Gran Turismo Sport is and not be too keen on returning judging by the time I’ve put into the beta. GT Sport is only fun when you’re a competent driver competing against other competent drivers, and a vast majority of people who will buy GT Sport aren’t competent drivers, but rather guys who just had fun amassing a collection of cars and screwing around with all of the features. They aren’t going to like this.
It’ll be interesting to see what Polyphony does from here. I personally like the change in direction and just want more reasonable tracks thrown into the rotation, with the tires on the race cars completely re-done as well, but this is just really, really different compared to what GT fans are used to, and I don’t expect many to adapt in the way Polyphony have envisioned.