A few more days, a few more laps, and a few more sessions of play have pretty much cemented how I feel about Gran Turismo Sport – or at least the beta, if I’m to add that important disclosure to the beginning of the article. Jumping into the closed trial period relatively late in the ballgame compared to most PlayStation 4 owners who signed up for beta codes, I was excited to see Polyphony’s take on iRacing’s established variant of online racing, one which brought structured competition and scheduled event start times to a franchise that has traditionally been all about just sort of firing up the software and fucking around for a few hours within a giant automotive sandbox. There were no lunar rovers, no coffee breaks, nor classic Gran Turismo locales such as Trial Mountain or the High Speed Ring to be found in the closed beta for Gran Turismo Sport, only nine short sprint races per evening spread evenly across three classes.
As I wrote in my original post on Gran Turismo Sport, I liked the premise of what Polyphony were doing from a design standpoint. The franchise desperately needed to evolve in a way that was fresh and exciting, as the series had been eclipsed by everything from Forza Motorsport to select Need for Speed titles in recent years, becoming a shadow of its former self by regurgitating old PlayStation 2-era car models and uninspiring events against dim-witted artificial intelligence. Moving into iRacing’s territory seemed like the right call on paper, as the market has been desperate for a competitor to what the hardcore PC sim offers for a number of years now, but my first night with the game – as Shaun Cole from The SimPit would say – just wasn’t a great shared experience.
While I had fun turning clean laps and acquiring sportsmanship points to progress quickly through the ranks, brushing aside the very GT-like oddities such as the inability to adjust the cockpit camera’s field of view, my competitors struggled to keep their vehicles pointed in the right direction, the software doing little to retain their interest. For every sim racer like me who was stoked to have a rival to iRacing on the market, fully buying into the experience Polyphony had crafted, there were twenty Gran Turismo fans throwing their DualShocks in agony as they blasted into a sand trap. GT Sport is only fun if you’re good at Gran Turismo, and not many people are what you’d call good at Gran Turismo. For them, it is a sandbox, not a worldwide competition, and no longer does the game allow them to play it like one.
But the point of this follow-up article isn’t to merely re-review the closed beta of Gran Turismo Sport, because that would be extremely boring for our readers to have what’s basically the same discussion all over again. Instead, I come to you guys as a warning of sorts. As a simulator, at least in its current state, Gran Turismo Sport is embarrassingly bad, and is actually eclipsed by an arcade racer when it comes to vehicle dynamics. Obviously they still have a fair bit of time to get it right – I believe the April 20th release date rumor is a hoax – but for how big both Gran Turismo and Polyphony are, and how much notoriety the franchise has earned over the past decade and a half, not to mention the near-limitless resources fueling the project which the dev team have access to, Gran Turismo Sport drives like absolute shit. In about three days of casual play I was able to climb the ranks from entry-level racer to competing in top split events, the game’s highest seeded online lobbies for each scheduled race session, and the way you need to drive the cars at the limit is nonsensical.
In fact, Driveclub does it better. Yes, a racing game that was originally intended to be a launch title for the PlayStation 4 before being subjected to numerous delays and eventually released unfinished and supported by an entire second game’s worth of downloadable content, drives much more predictably than The Real Driving Simulator.
Above is a clip taken from my own personal YouTube account of what at the time was a world record run for the Mercedes AMG GT3 at Salar De Surire in Driveclub. Though the force feedback in Driveclub is horrendous, and there’s actually a glitch of sorts in which the game doesn’t properly save your FFB percentage as configured in the options menu – meaning you have to flick the toggle back and forth to the desired level every time you start the application for it to register – what Driveclub gets right is in how it handles a rough approximation of basic race car physics. On corner entry, you can see me flaring the rear end to get the car to rotate a bit better, whereas other corners I merely power through the understeer, and at the twenty second mark, I lean on the sidewall quite hard for the treacherous hairpin that defines the first half of the track, still accelerating in third gear while maintaining a bit of slip angle at corner exit. I’m almost full throttle, but you can tell there’s a bit of hesitation, and see the nose wiggle a few times while I’m counter steering – that’s because for being an arcade game, Driveclub’s tires still feel like they’re made of rubber, and you have to drive in a manner that’s somewhat realistic.
Another clip from my account, this time at the Port of Vancouver circuit that was added as downloadable content, displays that while Driveclub clearly has some sort of semi-canned drift effect built into the software that allows you to execute long slides for skill points, keeping the car below that canned drift effect still generates pretty reasonable behavior. In the tracks’ final hairpin which begins at thirty two seconds into the clip, you can see the car wiggle a whole bunch on corner exit – again exhibiting a bit of slip while I counter steer and put the power down. It’s a handful to deal with and a bit tricky to figure out at first without the car launching into a full-on slide, but as a driver you can feel Evolution Studios built some kind of half-competent tire model into Driveclub that lets you free the car up in a corner and get up on the sidewalls, or at least hold a slip angle on corner exit.
The point I’m trying to make, is that Driveclub, while an arcade game from start to finish, has some semblance of a simulator. You can actually rotate the rear end as you would in a simulator for better turn-in, and power through with the ass end of the car wiggling about. Not only is it great fun to have real world driving skills apply in what’s supposed to be a lighthearted romp in exotic locations, this is how you set world records and other miscellaneous top times in Driveclub. Who would have thought that driving in a realistic fashion, in an arcade game, would be the fastest way around the track? Sure, you can hammer the downshift paddle and camp out on the sidewalls for massive bends, but when you’re doing it, the inputs required, and how the car reacts to corrections, makes sense.
On the flip side, Gran Turismo Sport does not exhibit any of this behavior. The Group N300 street cars offered in the game, which as of this writing are mostly AWD or FWD sedans judging by the lineups I’ve competed against, all exhibit varying levels of understeer because that’s what all AWD or FWD cars do by nature in real life, so the problems of the tire model Gran Turismo Sport relies upon don’t really come to light. However, as you progress up the ladder, the cars everyone will be striving to purchase and compete in once the game hits store shelves, are basically nonsensical.
I’ve been driving the GT4 Hyundai Genesis for all of my time in GT Sport’s Group 4 class, and posted a top ten qualifying time at the Nordschleife – though I was admittedly dusted by guys using the all-wheel drive Nissan’s (Earth to Polyphony, you have balance issues). I found it impossible to free the car up; you were either neutral or suffered from varying levels of understeer, and the car felt as if it had the weight of a fullsize truck. GT4 cars in real life are somewhat nimble, but for the life of me I just couldn’t get the car to rotate properly around corners. There was no sidewall, no rubber flex, or anything that felt like weight was shifting to the outside portion of the car as I’d go around a corner. You drove in a way that was very much like a hovercraft; you’d slow to a rate of speed that would not generate any type of understeer, and retained that speed until the corner opened up. It made hitting lines very easy, but also caused the driving experience to feel stiff and lifeless. I didn’t know how to beat people off corners or ask for that extra 10% from the car.
When I did try to stretch the rear tires to their limit of adhesion, the car would literally snap in a debilitating death slide that would instantly cause me to lose all of my forward progress, therefore rendering that driving style useless. Whereas I could get up on the sidewall in Driveclub and power off of a corner in pursuit of a tenth or another car, Gran Turismo Sport flicked a switch and sent the car dead sideways. It is impossible to hold a slip angle, impossible to power out of a corner, impossible to lean on the sidewalls, and in general asking far too much from the tire model to drive Gran Turismo Sport as you would any other simulator, or a real car.
Transitioning to the GT3 class at Willow Springs magnified this problem exponentially, with the race above highlighting just how prominent the tire model woes are among the best drivers the game has to offer. The second sector at Willow Springs sees you race to the top of the hill before embarking on a journey to the lowest point of the property, and in other simulators this track is genuinely a lot of fun because it’s basically a roller coaster where you gain tons of speed from the elevation changes. Yet in GT Sport, merely breathing on the throttle at 100 km/h in third gear would send your car into a death slide, and as you explore the three heat videos I’ve uploaded from Willow Springs, my front windshield is full of guys jumping sideways either at the center of the corner, or at corner exit. This is not what GT3 cars do by any stretch of the imagination.
There is no sidewall flex, no lateral grip, and no slip angles to be held whatsoever; you’re basically driving on plastic Hot Wheels tires. Hell, this one guy in front of me is fucking sideways at 180 km/h over a gentle crest, and if you look closely at my steering inputs (the white dot is the center point, the red dot is steering), I’m sideways too. These cars generate almost three thousand pounds of downforce and are designed with rich amateur drivers in mind, yet Gran Turismo believes that they will try to kill you at 180 km/h in a wide open corner.
The biggest problem for Polyphony to sort out prior to the launch of Gran Turismo Sport, is implementing a tire model that actually makes sense to drive. Yes, while many Gran Turismo fans will be put off by the sudden change in priorities that force them to become amateur eSports competitors whether they like it or not, people will stick around if the driving experience is fun, intuitive, and something they can master with practice. Currently, it is not – the most prolific name in the history of sim racing have a physics team who currently believe sticky rubber slicks generate the same handling characteristics as a children’s die-cast car.
As a result, Gran Turismo Sport is absolutely brutal to drive, and has been out-done by an arcade game that almost didn’t come out at all. Polyphony need to get their shit together if they want Gran Turismo Sport to succeed, or even partially live up to the tagline of the franchise as the real driving simulator. Last time I checked, Vadim Kogay embarrassed himself at Monza because he had poor racecraft, not because his Ferrari 458 Italia jumped sideways when he did so much as breathe on the throttle pedal at 180 clicks.