Gran Turismo is the driving simulator. It says so itself. And Gran Turismo Sport is a wonderful simulation of driving. It’s gorgeous to look at, there is a multitude of tracks and lots and lots of cars. There are brilliant tutorials on how to drive - perhaps better than ever before seen - and the urge to do what’s on offer is palpable. Driving in this game is delightful. Racing is superb - the AI is not just rubber-banding ramped up anymore. It all seems great on the surface. But, that’s the problem. This game is all about what’s visible at the forefront with no actual substance behind it. There are a lot of cars but mainly variants of race-spec vehicles as opposed to an opportunity to build your garage up with your favourite classics from any given marque. The single-player content present is fun and varied but limited and over fairly quickly. There’s no single-player championship, which is criminal. All of this and you can do nothing but set up and complete a single arcade race when not connected to the internet.
Gran Turismo Sport is in truth designed from the ground up as an online multiplayer game, to give Polyphony Digital due credit. The way you’re meant to play it is to work your way through the driving tutorials and learn how to drive, race and rally, properly and well. From there you can dip in and out of the single-player missions but spend the bulk of your time in online races and competitions. If you go online you can normally find a race starting in the next five to twenty minutes. When you enter you’ll be waiting in the lobby at first before the qualifying session begins (unless it’s closer to the start time in which case you begin in the remainder of whatever qualifying period remains). Set the best time you can and eventually the game moves you onto a warm-up lap and then the race proper where your grid placement is dependent on how fast a time you set.
Online racing itself can be really invigorating. If you are matched appropriately against similarly skilled folk then you can have a good battle against the others. Matchmaking is based on two factors - driving skill and sportsmanship. The latter is incredibly important according to the game. So much so that before you can go online and race fellow competitors you must watch two videos explaining what sportsmanship is, how it fits into racing and what it means in terms of Gran Turismo Sport. It’s clearly important to Polyphony and their partners in this new age of online driving simulation, the FIA - who plan to ratify the Gran Turismo Online Championship at the next World Motorsport Council meeting. Inherently we can all understand why sportsmanship is important generally, in this game, and given the context of the above. However, it still feels rather patronising when you are forced to watch videos which tell you fundamentally very little before you can actually play an online game, online. Even worse is that it ultimately doesn’t mean much. When told to toe the racing line as it were and under no circumstances hit another car even if it means impacting your own position and performance, or get penalised should you do something unsportsmanlike, it is all undermined when in every online race others seemingly do these bad things and don’t get penalised. Now, I’ll admit I’m going to be unconsciously biased and think that I didn’t do anything wrong some of the time and those other people did, but it is abundantly clear in multiple examples that you do get penalised when hit by someone else; that you do get punished for your bad or incompetent behaviour; and that others seemingly escape with no such problem. When this happens the whole concept in-game is diminished.
The sportsmanship rating you have will change the more you play, as will your driver rating. This is progression as you’d expect. The problem is that if the system managing this progression is unfair your rating will not change appropriately. At entry-level online races you will be up against a variety of people. Some will be great drivers and won’t impact you at all. Others will be unsportsmanlike and stop you racing or crash into you so they get better positions. If this isn’t managed properly, you can lose out. You then have the incompetent drivers who don’t mean to hit you or smash into you but do because they forget to brake, or do so too late, or oversteer into a spin. Until you get away from the bottom the system doesn’t work. Even if it is fair and everything works properly you still have to deal with those who can’t drive taking you out. It can be a slow process getting up the ranks into races with better groups. It’s imperfect and perhaps no alternative would work better but given the focus on sportsmanship ahead of racing it’s a shame that it can cause such teething problems for anyone’s fledgling career.
In addition to regular one-off online races you can enter championships. A wonderful idea and great to have them but they’re irregular, involved and focused. What that means is that you need to plan far ahead including what time you’ll be racing in a competition that may be a month or more away. It requires intense commitment, as any Gran Turismo game has in the past, but with this iteration allied to specific dates and times. For many this is easy to plan and work around but for others it belies the point of games or this historic driving simulator series. Things happen all the time to everybody regardless and all the planning in the world doesn’t stop things coming up. In itself this is not a criticism, merely an observation about the game which will determine for many whether they get hold of a copy. When married to the absence, largely, of a single-player game, it does become a problem, however.
The presentation of the game is really well done, providing a luxury feel to proceedings reverent to the supercars you’ll be wanting to play about with. Everything is laid out well with lots of information, speed of navigation and nice pings and other sounds when you do things. You can look at your garage, the brand shops (eye up another car), your account - where you can see details of all the things you’ve done so far towards varied in-game achievements like driving a certain number of miles, drifting a set distance or even as simple as logging in multiple times. These achievements give you mileage points which can be converted into goodies like new helmets, upgrades or even cars. You earn mileage points also by playing the game alongside the credits - effectively money - and experience points. All of these metrics enable you to progress in whichever way you want, be it changing your avatar, buying that much-coveted vehicle or lovingly upgrading and changing the beast in your garage. Being a proper driving simulator you can control every aspect of your vehicle’s settings should you want to, but it’s equally fine leaving it alone and using it as the manufacturer intended. It’s good that this isn’t forced upon you as whilst for many hours can be spent tuning that car to get the best lap time on the Nurburgring, others just want to drive the pretty Ferrari and enjoy that feeling.
There are forty-eight lessons which are intended to teach you how to drive and how to race (or drift in the final few tutorials). These can vary from something quick and simple like moving from A to B below the target time, to completing a race without crashing or touching anyone and finishing in a specific position or higher. What’s fantastic about each of these is that aside from finishing the lesson and achieving the bronze, silver or gold target, the game explains what to do and how to do it - and crucially why this is useful as you embark on a racing career. It does this by text and by narrated video. It’s brilliant. Most people will have heard of terms like the racing line, or know that braking before a corner, turning into it and then accelerating out is the right thing to do. What this helps everyone do is understand why and link it to the actual challenge of racing. It is massively in-depth and honestly truly educational. It’s revelatory stuff for a computer game and perhaps the best thing about this title in totality. Once you’ve finished these (or before if you so choose) you have single-player missions which involve various challenges from driving a certain speed to finishing a race in a certain position or something else creative and varied from level to level. Throughout the lessons and missions you are rewarded periodically with gifted cars and otherwise that’s it for anything you can do alone, aside from time trials and so on should you be inclined.
Gran Turismo Sport is at once both absolutely brilliant and downright frustrating. It’s the best driving simulator on the PlayStation 4. It looks wonderful and it’s presented superbly. It teaches you all you need to know about driving and racing and it does so in a fun and memorable way. But it doesn’t have the car collection curation fun of old, with comparatively few cars compared to previous series’ entries. It lacks a meaty single-player experience and the online world is not going to work for everyone. Most disappointingly of all it’s basically an always-online game which is just never a good thing even if pretty much everyone does have an internet connection. It feels like another Prologue version with the full game to come later on either as a separate title or significant DLC. Unless you’re desperate for Gran Turismo on your current console, or licking your lips at the thought of regular online racing against randoms or your friends then it’s probably best to keep plugging away at the fabulous Driveclub, or your other driving game of choice.