Say Goodbye to Classic Gran Turismo

Though I’m not much of a PlayStation fanboy by any means, I certainly respect what the Gran Turismo series has done for our favorite hobby. Whereas hardcore PC simulators were always sort of obscure pieces of software, destined for consumption primarily by elitist nerds always pursuing a more difficult and demanding experience at the command of a toy steering wheel, we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without Gran Turismo. Introducing the gaming masses to the idea that driving games could be much more than just firing red shells at guests on the other end of the sofa, Polyphony Digital managed to blend semi-authentic vehicle dynamics with a ridiculously bland yet strangely compelling single player campaign mode in such a way that captivated the normies and generated millions upon millions of sales with each passing rendition of the series, eventually turning more and more console gamers onto the hobby of PC sim racing once they were ready for the next frontier. And sure, while Gran Turismo 5 & 6 were certainly nothing to write home about – genuine improvements and physics refinements offset by bizarre, useless shit like the ability to drive the lunar rover or legacy car models that stuck out like sore thumbs –  Gran Turismo 1 through 4 are the reasons many of us are here today; still patiently awaiting one final hurrah from Polyphony Digital which captures the magic of older titles.

Unfortunately, I’m here to reveal that those days are officially over. The awkward eSports endeavor known as Gran Turismo Sport has been officially confirmed by studio head Kaz himself as the future of the franchise, with a more traditional Gran Turismo 7 experience not even on the drawing board according to a recent article posted over at the series’ unofficial home, GTPlanet. Sport will not be a prologue-like release to preview what’s next for the franchise while acting as it’s own separeate game, nor will it be a spin-off to capitalize on the eSports fad while the fire is burning at maximum intensity within the gaming community – Sport is the new direction of Gran Turismo.

In short, the Gran Turismo a large majority of you grew up with is now a relic of the past. Gone are the days of smooth jazz accompanying your travels through the game’s extensive car roster, objectively slick user interface, and lengthy campaign mode. I’m not going to sit here and claim the series was perfect by any means, but they were extremely quirky, unique driving simulators with enough widespread appeal to suck people in for weeks upon weeks of playtime, and it is certainly sad knowing that Polyphony won’t be sitting down to build another one with modern technology anytime soon. Yes, Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport franchise has more or less picked up where Gran Turismo left off, but even with the enormous budget behind them, Turn 10 will never quite be able to capture the atmosphere seen in the OG Gran Turismo titles – especially with perks and penis liveries dominating the experience. Sure, there were tire model issues and driving elements that could be abused – even in the heyday of the almighty Gran Turismo 4 – but for a period of time, there was absolutely no shame in admitting the best-selling PS2 simulator was your preferred stomping grounds.

And while maybe it’s a good thing that the classic Gran Turismo gameplay will now be a thing of the past – excessive grinding, rudimentary AI, a lopsided selection of vehicles, and uninspiring event types having no place in a modern racing game – Kaz placing all of his eggs in the eSports basket isn’t exactly a reasonable alternative, either. To ensure long-term survival, the evolution of Gran Turismo needed to be a carefully crafted balance between what worked with the old games in order to retain the loyal group of followers the series has generated over the years, and what players are responding to in a positive manner today within today’s gaming climate in an effort to reel in a flock of new individuals who will play the game to death, and subsequently buy all of the DLC.

The eSports approach doesn’t fit that description at all.

I’ve written about the Gran Turismo Sport closed beta several times over the past few months here at PRC, so to save time and get right to the point, I’ll just confront the issue head on: I was left unimpressed, and Gran Turismo Sport is one of the primary reasons I purchased a PlayStation 4 to begin with. I found each build update to be bundled with exponentially more questionable driving physics and force feedback effects than the last, with the cars in each class woefully unbalanced. The racing sessions were lopsided, the force feedback featured too many canned effects that made driving the car on the edge of adhesion significantly more difficult than it should have been – as the wheel was producing false behavior that made the car feel unstable when it really wasn’t – and the cars exhibited universal understeer characteristics unless you physically deviated from the preferred line and intentionally attempted to wreck your car. I did not enjoy hotlapping Gran Turismo Sport, nor did I enjoy partaking in online race sessions.

And this was because, aside from the atrocious physics and unbalanced cars, the majority of players I ran into across a variety of rooms – from bottom split (low skill level) to top split (high skill level) – just weren’t very good. I am certainly an elitist prick when it comes to what I consider a compelling online race, but many sessions I found myself all alone at the front of the pack, or just out of reach of the leaders as they shot away in AWD Nissan GT-R’s while I was stuck with a lowly RWD Hyundai Genesis. In a sixteen car field, on average I’d say only four drivers knew what they were doing – even in the highest skill level split – with the other twelve either completely clueless, or just not fast enough to be competitive. The problem that arises from this scenario, is that unlike traditional Gran Turismo games, where the game world is treated as an automotive sandbox, Sport will see drivers progress only if they finish well and drive a clean race.

If seventy percent of Gran Turismo Sport owners can barely keep the car on the track long enough to generate rewards and progress through the game, a lot of people are going to drop that shit and find something else to play. Gran Turismo as a series worked because even if you weren’t the best virtual race car driver, there were still ways to enjoy yourself within the sandbox. However, in this situation, Sport only works if you’re a good driver. And there are exponentially more bad drivers than good drivers out there, which obviously complicates things. Sport has been built for people like myself, who can jump in and instantly turn competitive laps at the Nordschleife. Those who can’t, are going to be frustrated mighty quickly, which will lead to a mass exodus of Gran Turismo fans left bitter at what the series has become.

And with this mass exodus, leads to another problem: the eSports push. If Gran Turismo fans rush to pick up GT Sport on launch day, only to be unanimously turned off by the title – save for a few sim racers and outliers who were just diving into the competitive scene at the right time – this means there aren’t enough people to support a large eSports community like Polyphony have planned.

Here’s why this is a problem: with a robust eSports scene, comes lucrative advertisement deals and guaranteed DLC sales figures. A non-robust eSports scene, at least what’s looking like a realistic outcome in the case of Gran Turismo Sport, will result in a situation where the game is little more than a footnote on the eSports world stage. That means next to no useful advertisement revenue, smaller than expected sales figures, and considering Polyphony have shifted the whole direction of this franchise compared to previous entries in the series, a whole bunch of pissed off fans who either won’t buy the game, or ignore any post-release consumables you push out for one of several reasons – they either returned the game outright, or just aren’t engaged enough to justify the purchase.

Remember, while Gran Turismo is a monolithic entity in it’s own right, a name multiple generations of gamers have experience with, they are effective starting from scratch here. The perennial power-house in this realm is not themselves, but instead iRacing, and if this piece of software – harboring the greatest sim racers in the world and eight years’ worth of prior simulated championships to build off of – can only reel in a fraction of the crowd that actual, legitimate eSports can, Polyphony will be faced with a tremendous mountain to climb. If the sim racing eSports leader, a game which people purchase knowing full well what they’re getting into, can only reel in four thousand viewers for a world championship event compared to almost one hundred thousand sets of eyes for Rocket League, and hundreds of thousands for either FIFA or League of Legends, what chance does an awkward change in direction for Gran Turismo stand? You’ve already lost a part of your potential audience because you’ve alienated core fans who have stuck around from iteration to iteration, and you’re getting into a sub-genre that amounts basically nothing on the eSports totem pole when you start looking at the publicly accessible data.

I’d love to be proven wrong and see sim racing as an eSport take off with the release of Gran Turismo Sport, as these customers will inevitably become curious and explore the PC side of sim racing – inevitably leading to more cars across all multiplayer grids – but a realistic prediction is that this is actually going to kill the franchise, with Kaz already taking the steps to build the coffin by ruling out a traditional Gran Turismo release; placing the series’ existence on the success of a title that’s built around something that numerical data shows is simply not working.

If you loved Gran Turismo at any point in your life, now is the time to say goodbye, because it’s probably not coming back in a manner you enjoyed.

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Final Impressions from the Gran Turismo Sport Beta

With a mid-October release date for the full package now officially confirmed by Polyphony Digital, and the beta period reaching a definitive end after months of trial races, we’re rapidly approaching a time in which we discuss Gran Turismo Sport’s closed testing process solely in the past tense. A game that was intended to thrust sim racing into the eSports spotlight, eschewing longstanding, brutally dull single-player progression mechanics the franchise has been known for in favor of a more modern approach to virtual motorsports, Gran Turismo Sport was constructed not to appeal to longtime fans, but to give the series a proverbial kick in the ass it so desperately needed – especially with titles such as iRacing and Forza Motorsport stealing its status as the ultimate car guy playground over the past several years.

However, after reflecting upon my time spent with the closed beta, I can’t help but feel exponentially underwhelmed by what Polyphony had put together for us to mess around with, and it certainly won’t entice people to grab the premium product on launch day – though I’ll probably do so anyways because that’s how sim racers are when it comes to new automotive titles. Rather than being left excited for the flurry of new car games that await us at the end of our real life racing season – highlighted by Gran Turismo Sport itself – I’m instead perplexed at how a team who rose to popularity many years ago by pushing out a critically acclaimed hardcore “driving simulator”, could come back to the scene with everything they’ve learned and instead crafted something as misguided and uninspired as Gran Turismo Sport.

Granted, the game as I’ve been playing it was a closed beta with minimal features, but I’m not criticizing the game from a feature-complete standpoint. The reality of the Gran Turismo Sport beta was that the two key areas Polyphony had focused on for this game in particular – the driving physics, as well as the online racing experience – were nowhere close to being what’s required for this title to succeed in the manner which they’ve intended. The Gran Turismo Sport beta was boring, bland, counter-intuitive, and above all, a regression compared to other racing simulators on the market.

For Gran Turismo Sport to work, someone like myself needed to be left in awe at what we could play, yet I was instead completely apathetic to what had been presented to me with each passing build. Beyond the gorgeous visuals and pretty main menu screens – depicting my vehicle of choice in a photo-realistic environment – the game feels as if it hasn’t progressed past what many of us can play through a PlayStation 2 emulator. That’s an experience that would have been fine in 2009 or 2010 – right around the release of Gran Turismo 5 – but in July of 2017, the whole thing just feels extremely dated. A couple guys on 4Chan used to joke that series creator Kazunori “Kaz” Yamauchi has spent the past handful of years using the Gran Turismo brand as a stepping stone for his own personal interests – primarily an auto racing career – placing the video game franchise itself on the back burner, but with Gran Turismo Sport, I’m actually inclined to jump on the bandwagon in regards to that particular speculation.

I didn’t have fun with the Gran Turismo Sport beta, and I don’t expect many others to, either. Like many, I have been left wondering what the hell Kaz has been up to, because I certainly don’t see any widespread improvements or innovation in Gran Turismo Sport compared to past iterations of the franchise.

Part of this problem, as I’ve discussed in previous articles breaking down GT Sport throughout this spring, boils down to the lack of talent in online races. The hardcore sim racers that would benefit from a structured, organized title such as Gran Turismo Sport, they’re not playing on the PlayStation 4; they’ve already built a dedicated gaming PC, signed up for iRacing, and are perfectly happy with it. What this means is that the remaining virtual auto racing fans on the PlayStation 4 are not diehard sim nerds who want to dickwave over online rankings, but rather dedicated Gran Turismo fans, and this is a crowd that are typically more interested in the grinding, progression, and free-form elements of the Gran Turismo franchise, versus the door-to-door racing aspect of elite sim racing.

So you can probably imagine what happens when you herd semi-casual Gran Turismo fans into a hyper-competitive, ultra-restrictive environment that forces them to focus on driving a clean race. It’s a bit of a mess.

Though my own skill set saw me rocket up the charts and quickly earn a place in the top split of most nightly race sessions, one aspect that never changed throughout my time with Gran Turismo Sport was the overall quality of drivers in each lobby. A lot of guys struggled to go more than a few corners without hopelessly careening off the circuit, with only the top three or four cars in a sixteen-man race being within the leader’s zip code. The highest level of online racing in Gran Turismo Sport was comparable to a 2am weeknight race in iRacing, where there are a couple of guys running a reasonable pace and level of consistency; the others establishing themselves as non-drivers only seconds into the event. The tangible increase in the field’s overall skill that you’re used to seeing in iRacing just didn’t exist in the GT Sport beta; I was at the top and people for the most part still sucked. In terms of growing an eSports community surrounding the title, right now it’s just not possible – there aren’t enough good, active drivers online at any given time for the highest split of each event to produce a compelling on-track product.

For many races, I was extremely bored. There was a night not too long ago where we went to Willow Springs in the street cars, and I think I was passed once in three races, with the guy choking the lead away after clipping the dirt. Part of the fun in iRacing is that you can run nose to tail with somebody, lap after lap, for eighth place. In GT Sport, you can tell most people on the grid are casual GT players, forced to partake in these online events due to the new direction of the game. And let me tell you, forcing non-drivers to get their shit stomped in an online match against literal aliens is a quick way to demoralize these players into never touching the game again, especially considering this isn’t what GT fans particularly wanted out of a Gran Turismo game.

This is compounded by the downright brutal track design regarding some of the fictional circuits available in GT Sport. Though the re-creations of Brands Hatch, Willow Springs, and the Nordschleife are fantastic, Polyphony have insisted on including bizarre fantasy circuits into the mix, I guess to give their fictional Gran Turismo world championship its own unique flair. The problem comes in just what kinds of circuits are available; the claustrophobic oval tracks breed disaster among even the most talented of iRacing restrictor plate drivers, meaning any journey to the two super ovals available in the game is an exercise in frustration; cars careening wildly off the concrete walls, and back into traffic for massive pileups that are basically unavoidable. On the road course side, atrocious layouts, such as the Tokyo Expressway, lead to prolonged chain reaction collisions which are virtually impossible to recover from.

How a team that has spent their entire professional existence studying auto racing and created layouts such as Midfield Raceway and the High Speed Ring, were able to go out and produce such horrific abominations that detract from the hyper-competitive eSports environment the game has been centered around, is pretty mind-blowing. The GeneRally World Forums boast significantly more driver-friendly track layouts, and in many cases they’re created by dudes with little more than Microsoft Paint and the standard track editor at their disposal.

Straight up, these tracks need to be removed from the final product. Maps like Killhouse and Shipment are fun in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, not the latest iteration of Gran Turismo.

Yet it’s in the driving physics where Gran Turismo Sport drops the ball in an enormous way. Though I did not personally grow up playing the classic known as Gran Turismo 4, I’ve at least done my homework and turned some laps at speed on an Emulator, as well as spent a decent chunk of time on Gran Turismo 6, making use of a custom save to unlock all the cars and try exactly what I’ve wanted to try. By comparison, Gran Turismo Sport is perplexing in that these prior games on inferior hardware actually handle a bit better than what Sport is trying to convey a race car drives like. I still have to reiterate that the street cars aren’t terrible – passable, even – but it seems anything that sends power to the rear wheels is pretty nonsensical to drive.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact tire model issue, primarily because Polyphony kept changing tire behavior in pretty fundamental ways from build to build. There were some updates where rear wheel drive cars had to be kept well below the limit, as any slip angle would cause a spin, only for the next update to introduce absolutely insane slip angles allowing you to carry downright ridiculous drifts, transforming GT3 machinery into D1GP participants. Polyphony’s inability to retain a consistent, somewhat realistic tire model is a huge cause for concern; the fact that the team was constantly pushing out drastic changes from build to build, all of which required completely different driving styles, is downright bizarre for a veteran team who should supposedly have their shit together given their time spent in the industry. This game has been development for a number of years, and yet it was like every few weeks we were being handed a brand new, amateur rFactor mod with experimental tires. I just don’t understand how all of this money, time, and legacy can result in such questionable tire behavior.

At 80% attack, it was okay. But the moment you started to push, it’s like you could physically feel the tire model calculations generating absurd oddities.

Now given my extensive time spent on iRacing in the past, I’m not opposed to sitting down and learning the nuances of a crazy tire model, but the biggest problem that arose from this situation is how GT Sport calculated force feedback, and then sent those effects through the steering wheel. GT Sport does not let you completely disable force feedback effects, resulting in a situation where even at the lowest settings, you are still subjected to what Polyphony thinks a race car steering wheel does at competition speeds. Long story short, their assumptions are incorrect.

The virtual steering rack has been designed to convey what’s happening at not just the front tires, but the rear tires as well, meaning the team are awkwardly trying to convey wheel spin from a rear wheel drive car, through the steering rack, which is something that does not happen in real life. I was like a fish out of water taking my virtual Corvette C7.R to the Nordschleife, as anytime I tried to power out of a corner and get up on the outside rear tire, the force feedback would try to shimmy the steering wheel out of my hand, showering me with canned effects that were counter-intuitive to the driving situation at hand.

Here you have a professional developer with what’s probably the biggest budget in sim racing, believing wheel spin at the ass end of the car generates hand-of-god forces through the steering wheel on corner exit. It’s insane, and it’s the biggest reason as to why I dropped the beta of Gran Turismo Sport. Polyphony are genuinely clueless on this front, with the entire force feedback model being loaded with intrusive canned effects at all ends of the handling spectrum. It’s just… Dumb…

And that’s a sentiment that summarizes the Gran Turismo Sport beta – and possibly the full game itself – in a nutshell. Helping turn the subgenre of racing simulators into a household name which now adorns race car windshield banners across the globe, it’s incredible that a prestigious team like Polyphony Digital, with their endless resources available to create a top-flight modern simulator, have instead come across as profoundly amateurish and unprepared for their jump into the world of eSports.

Unaware of what’s transpiring within the sim racing ecosystem, blissfully ignorant of already established trends and player bases, they have gone out and built a structured online environment for a crowd who largely aren’t interested in such a thing. Gran Turismo Sport is fun for those who finish on the podium, but for those looking for that all-encompassing world of car culture, the beta was an exercise in frustration, constantly belittling casual players for their driving mistakes, and forcing them to play only when they were allowed to. And with races so woefully short, and the competition unable to hold a candle to the elite fields on home computers, waiting around all day for the nine chaotic sprint races per night isn’t something a lot of people want to do. iRacing worked because it took direct aim at the diehards and built something precisely for them. Gran Turismo Sport built something for the iRacing crowd, and then targeted it at an audience expecting the next Gran Turismo.

See a problem? Polyphony didn’t, but everyone else sure as hell does.

They also didn’t do a good job of building their own version of iRacing, if the beta is anything to go by. Track design is woefully inadequate and doesn’t provide exciting races, but rather enormous wreckfests thanks to fictional circuits loaded with an abundance of concrete walls within close proximity to the racing surface. iRacing works because it makes use of solely real world circuits, professional and amateur motorsports facilities that were obviously designed with safety, excitement, and door-to-door racing in mind. Gran Turismo Sport’s trial facilities are clearly designed to be artistic masturbation with a racing circuit thrown somewhere in the foreground. We get it Polyphony, you make pretty games, but there’s a cluster of cars blocking the track, and no Tokyo sky scrapers will offset the mess in front of me that’s no fault but your own.

It’s frustrating, because we’ve been told by marketing propaganda and mainstream websites that Gran Turismo is the pinnacle of modern driving simulators, and one of Sony’s flagship pieces of software to persuade you into buying whatever model of PlayStation is currently being sold on store shelves. Unfortunately, Gran Turismo’s driving model is simply not convincing in the slightest, and the drastic changes between tire iterations in the beta make it hard to believe Polyphony even understand what the fuck they’re doing. If DiRT 4 by Codemasters confused the shit out you with questionable off-road physics, Gran Turismo Sport has somehow managed to bring that same experience to tarmac circuit racing. For an indie team, many would be able to look past this, but we’re talking about Polyphony here. It’s not simcade by any means – the general speeds, feel of mass, and shifting points are correct – but the tires are flat out nonsensical. How they’ve gotten to that point despite all the resources available, I have no fucking idea.

Overall, the Gran Turismo Sport closed beta was a disappointment, and I am not looking forward to the final product this fall. The online competition was lackluster, the driving physics were not satisfying, the track design was poor, races were too short, and vehicles were incredibly unbalanced. For a team the size of Polyphony to shit out something so underwhelming, it’s clear their best days are behind them, and Gran Turismo does not deserve the widespread recognition it currently possesses.

 

What are Polyphony Doing? GT Sport Beta 1.05

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.

I’d Rather Play DriveClub than Gran Turismo Sport

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.

An Evening with the Beta of Gran Turismo Sport

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.