There will undoubtedly be cries from avid Gran Turismo supporters claiming that I’m either paid directly or subtly pushed to rip on the competition in this manner, but truth be told Polyphony have dug this increasingly bizarre grave all on their own and no outside forces are needed to report on the truth – this is simply not “The Real Driving Simulator” that’s been advertised. A rather hefty nine gigabyte update dropped for the closed Gran Turismo Sport beta earlier this morning, promising physics improvements and general accessibility refinements that saw races take place across all hours, meaning those who willingly wanted to subject themselves to a full twenty four hours of online racing in this elaborate testing phase were now free to do so. Unfortunately, all this update has done is solidify the fact that Polyphony Digital are simply not the team they used to be, and no longer capable of building any sort of racing simulator that can hold a candle to Gran Turismo 4’s legacy – a game that while nearly perfect in it’s own right, still had some significant flaws.
Is the trial version of Gran Turismo Sport a beautiful game? Yes, in fact it’s objectively the best looking driving game of this console generation. But no matter how smooth the framerate or how advanced the lighting engine is, graphics alone don’t complete the experience, they merely enhance it. I find it comical that many major outlets are praising the visual qualities of the title, because once you’ve gotten past the element of photorealism, there’s still not much here to convince me that Gran Turismo Sport will part the red sea and unleash sim racing’s potential as a major eSports genre.
When I last covered Gran Turismo Sport, my key observations were pretty simple to comprehend: most GT fans I raced against struggled to remain on the track, the tire model was woefully simplistic (and often unrealistic), sim-style configuration settings such as cockpit seat adjustments and field of view were nowhere to be found, the races were too short, and vehicles were absurdly unbalanced. This created an overall experience that was boring, bland, and repetitive; the Gran Turismo Sport that existed in peoples’ heads, as well as in press material released by Polyphony themselves, is far more interesting than booting up and playing Gran Turismo Sport in the flesh.
Sadly, there are even more problems to report with the newest update, and it’s why I continue to be abrasive towards what Polyphony have built, rather than understanding and patient.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, and the GT4-spec Nissan GTR, are still leaps and bounds ahead of any other car on the grid, to the point where you are guaranteed to lose a race unless you select the leaderboard car just like everybody else. I’m fully aware that real life GT4 and GT3 sports car racing each make use of an extremely intricate performance balancing system regulated by the FIA because each vehicle is constructed in such a vastly different fashion, but given that in the virtual world we’re merely working with 3D models and numbers, you’d think Polyphony would have taken some precautions to ensure a level playing field prior to unleashing this stuff on the general public. This does not appear to be the case, as unless you’ve been lucky enough to unlock one of the leaderboard cars manually through the game’s random reward system, you’re not going to contend for a win.
As you can see in the above image, over half of the grid showed up to the Nordschleife with a Nissan GTR, and the guys on the front row stomped us, even though for the first sector I could see them constantly putting tires in the grass, blowing their racing lines, and making contact with each other. This was a problem for several weeks in the last build, and the problem has obviously not been fixed, even though Polyphony claim to have been obsessing over online race results. Every N300 event I have participated in, a Lancer Evo X has won, and every GT4 event I’ve raced, a GTR has taken the top spot. The insult to injury is how menus claim some sort of BOP formula has been applied to your car, only for each race to play out in such a lopsided fashion regardless. If Gran Turismo Sport ships with these same balance problems, especially if there are any micro-transactions that allow you to obtain the top cars early, there will be substantial outrage. Showing up with an inferior car isn’t the same as in PC sim racing, where a good driver sporting a competent setup can out-wheel his opponents. Here, people basically walk by you, slide all over the place, and within a minute they’re over the horizon. It’s silly.
I don’t think the garage menu is terrible, in fact I like how there’s been a slight reduction in options to just the main suspension, downforce, and gearing elements, but what really blows my mind is the spring rate slider. Unlike modern PC racing sims, which give you about eight different types of springs to select from, GT Sport provides you with an analog slider down to one decimal place, meaning it’s a genuine pain in the ass just to tweak your springs. Whereas in rFactor, it’s a few clicks to go from 650 to 800, Gran Turismo Sport makes you sit there and manually click from 1231.9, to 1232.0, to 1232.3.
Of course, you can hold the D-Pad to scoot ahead, but it just feels clunky when compared to how the rest of the available options work. Give us like, eight or ten springs per car, in 50 lbf increments, and we’ll be good. I don’t know why this was completely ignored. These guys have had a solid decade of modern simulators to examine, and yet this is probably the most counter-intuitive menu slider I’ve seen.
As I’ve mentioned above, races now rotate entirely throughout the day. The previous beta of GT Sport always held the Group N races at 5PM local time, before moving on to GT4 at 6PM, and finally, the big cars at 7PM. This has been changed so the three-class format is on a constant cycle. I was able to find a decent-sized GT4 race at three in the morning, so there’s certainly no issue when it comes to the number of people playing this – especially considering it’s a closed beta you had to apply for – but I would have liked to see a finite number of users registered for each race. As Gran Turismo Sport experiences a natural drop-off in the number of users post-launch, it would be nice to have a way – like iRacing – that lists the exact amount of people signed up prior to each event so those putting aside an hour or two for online racing didn’t end up wasting their time.
But because this is a hardcore sim blog, what you’re all here for is to learn about the driving physics. Previously, I complained that the race cars felt like vague, understeering, lifeless hovercrafts that lost rear end grip at 180 km/h in fourth gear, requiring you to completely lift off the pedal and gently re-apply power, losing several precious seconds of on-track real estate in the process. It was an absolute joke to drive, and I could not fathom how a team with such exclusive access to real world race teams was able to compose a virtual car so inaccurate, after basically bragging non-stop for the past decade about how Gran Turismo was a worldwide phenomenon and it’s transcended mere racing simulators into a car culture thing or whatever OUTRIGHT FUCKING BULLSHIT they tried to feed people.
As you can see in the above video, things have now swung in the complete opposite direction. They’re still lifeless hovercrafts, but you can now flat-foot these massive lazy slides with reckless abandon. There is no art or talent to driving the top level cars as there should be; you merely steer in the direction you want to go, and if the back end breaks loose, you wiggle the wheel once while keeping the throttle pinned to your floor. I am up-shifting into third gear at full power while in a thirty degree slide, and Gran Turismo’s physics couldn’t care less about a situation that in any other simulator – or real life – would spell total disaster.
Usually I go out of my way to defend games like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, deeming their critics to be elitist PC sim pigs who dickwave about playing “superior” games before running in rFactor leagues with 5% damage and no required pit stops, but this shit right here justifies the years they’ve spent ripping on the console crowd. These driving physics, these tire physics, this experience, is totally unacceptable for what’s being advertised by Polyphony. I am drifting a purpose-built, ultra stiff, high downforce race car for multiple laps, and it’s as if there’s a hand of god gluing my car to the racing surface.
I would love to come out and say my console has been hacked, and that international spies have given me a corrupted beta of Gran Turismo Sport to falsely smear another sim developer, but what has been unfolding on my computer monitor is absolutely horrifying. Polyphony are trying to convince Gran Turismo fans that hanging a GT3 car out at full throttle like it’s a D1GP entry constitutes as “updated driving physics,” while running around to major gaming news outlets acting as if this is the rebirth of Gran Turismo, and the game is so accurate you’ll be able to use your pretend race car license obtained in-game as proof that you’re qualified to pilot a real one, not to mention participate in officially sanctioned FIA tournaments.
It’s… perplexing. Gran Turismo Sport has been eagerly anticipated by a lot of people, and the beta – and it’s subsequent updates – only continue to disappoint. I purchased a PlayStation 4 and Logitech G29 primarily for this game, as I knew it would be some sort of major online racing platform that would attract far more racers than any game before it, but instead I’ve only been left questioning what in the hell has happened. I personally don’t believe Gran Turismo 4 was over-rated and the company has been merely riding that success for over a decade, so after playing GT Sport I’m basically left confused as to how such a prolific studio – and franchise – could fall this far.