IGN Review of Gran Turismo
It's been a long time in the coming, but Gran Turismo for the PSP is finally here, not so coincidentally launching on the same day as the PSPgo. The numbers are great, particularly for a PSP title, with it featuring some 800 cars, 35 tracks and 60 track variations (meaning forward and reverse on most of the tracks), and all while running at 60fps.Click the image above to watch our video review.
I'm a huge, huge fan of the Gran Turismo franchise, so it pains me immeasurably to say that this is a greatly disappointing release. See those bullet points I listed above, what with the 800 cars and all? That's pretty much all you're getting with the game - cars and tracks. There's no proper career mode. There isn't a reason (or even ability) to buy a car and gradually upgrade it to compete in bigger and better events. It's just racing, and largely without a good reason for doing so, especially when you consider that the experience had to be boiled down to the PSP's hardware and control abilities.
Now, before I get into the negative stuff, let me first hit on the core of the experience, which is obviously the racing. In large part, this feels a whole lot like Gran Turismo 4, which is certainly a good thing in many respects, though if you've been playing GT5 Prologue or have been kicking the tires on games like Need for Speed Shift or Grid, it'll feel a little subdued in comparison. Still, this is the Gran Turismo driving experience at its core - realistic and smooth while being simultaneously rewarding and punishing.
The analog controls from the consoles, particularly for the acceleration and brakes, have been nicely transferred over to the PSP. In many cases, were you to slam on the gas in any of the console releases, you'd get a taste of excessive amounts of wheel spin and fishtailing, while slamming your foot (or finger, as it were) down on the brakes at the wrong time could give you similar results. In both of these cases, Gran Turismo subtly compensates for this and gives you just enough assistance to keep the digital inputs from ruining your race. It's a rather transparent difference in that I had to actually sit back and think about how it compares to the console variants, which I think is great.
The AI hasn't really seen much of an improvement in that it'll generally stick to its racing lines and goes about its business almost as if you aren't there. It will avoid you, which wasn't always the case in past releases, so the computer drivers do seem to have made improvements from the PlayStation 2 titles, though it's not a huge departure from what we've seen in the past. Do note that you can only race against three other cars at a time, which is somewhat disappointing, but also not unheard of on the PSP.
For me, and a lot of other Gran Turismo fans, the fantastic driving is coupled with starting out at the bottom, slowly tweaking and upgrading your starter car as you compete in event after event, and gradually buying new rides to take on bigger and better challenges. And then eventually, after lots of hard work, you'll get a car that can crack the 200mph barrier and you'll feel like you've accomplished something great.
Gran Turismo on the PSP contains none of this, and by and large, that's the entire problem.
There are two main single-player modes, Driver Challenges and the simply-titled Single Player. The latter is essentially just a quick race option, allowing you to either take on a standard race, time trial or drift challenge on any of the game's tracks (they're all unlocked from the start). These are all one-off events - winning them won't really get you much more than cash, though you can increase your driver rank from a D to S ranking on each track, which is basically a fancy way of saying that you can race against better AI on that course (and earn more loot while you're at it).
Other than not being able to race certain cars on dirt or snow tracks, there are no limits here. You can race whatever car you want on whatever track you want, and you'll always race against three CPU drivers. As I said, you can increase your level on each track, which can then go to net you better competition and more cash, but that's all that's good for. You don't unlock new cars (at least that I ever found) or anything of the like.
The drift option is fun for what it is (it's basically the same thing found in GT5 Prologue), and you get cash for whatever points you earn. But, there aren't rankings or anything that you'll try to beat. The same goes for the time trials - when you first go to a track, the times are empty and you're the first one to set the bar. Are there really no pre-set records to go after? That seems rather silly to me.
The Driver Challenge is the other half of the single-player experience, and it does offer goals to achieve. Unfortunately, the mode is essentially just an elongated set of license tests with no reason to beat them other than to simply do it (and earn cash). Unlike the console games, there are no events that require certain licenses, so they don't act as a prerequisite. That's fine, some folks will be happy about this. But with a total of 102 events, you might think that there's a prize at the end of the tunnel should you beat them all. Nope. I completed 100% of them and received nada. No movie, no car, nothing. Granted, I didn't get gold in every event, though even when I did get all golds in a grouped set of challenges I still didn't get anything to show for it.
So then, the entire game is about winning cash and buying cars. From a PSP gaming perspective, this makes some sense in that the idea is to sit down to a race or two, buy a couple cars with your winnings and then come back later for more. With 800 vehicles to collect, that could easily tickle the collector bone in GT fans. But, the collection process has a couple huge issues.
Firstly, unless you click on a vehicle to look at its stats, you have no idea if you already own it or not. So, if you choose to view Toyota's vehicles and there are a dozen cars on the screen, you can't just glance at everything on sale and tell what you have and don't have. No, you need to click on an individual car, look at a stat that tells you how many of that model that you have, back out, choose the next car and then repeat. I really don't understand why there isn't a green checkmark or something next to rides that you already have.
The second issue, which is actually not quite as debilitating (but still annoying), is that the game runs on a calendar system and on each day you can only buy vehicles from four manufacturers. Every two days these four choices change to offer up new cars to pick from. So, one day you might have Honda, Toyota, Mugen and Daihatsu, whereas two days later you might be able to pick from Ford, Lamborghini, RUF and Mitsubishi. Note that you have no idea what manufacturers will be available when, so you can't say, "Oh, Ferrari will be available in two days." It could be 100 days for all you know. Also, even if a manufacturer is available on a day, you will only have access to a limited number of its vehicles at any given time. By my count, you can purchase about a dozen at a time at most, though you might also only be able to choose from one or two cars. So when Lamborghini or Ferrari does eventually show up, don't count on being able to totally stock up as your selection may be very limited.
Now, while your car collecting may end in madness, Gran Turismo on the PSP does offer two (theoretically) nice options for having your garage go the extra mile. Firstly, you can trade cars with other players over an Ad-Hoc connection. Some cars can be shared (a.k.a. copied, so you'll still have one) while others can be traded (which means you'd have to give it up to get something else). The shared functionality (where cars are copied) works in one giant process, where the game will compare your garages, figure out which cars your buddy needs and give them all to him at once.
Secondly, the game will allow you to transfer your garage to Gran Turismo 5 on the PlayStation 3 once it's out. Obviously I can't really test this yet as GT5 is unfortunately not out yet, but it sounds like it'll be a painless transfer. I have my own personal feelings about this in that I think it'll essentially break your GT5 experience (I don't want to start my game with the 250+mph Bugatti Veyron I recently purchased), but the option is there for those who want to take advantage of it.
In terms of competitive play, Gran Turismo also lets you race against up to three of your friends at a time over an Ad-Hoc connection. You have three options - one is a straight-up race with whatever you have, one gives less-skilled players a head start, and a third puts those same players in better cars while more skillful drivers will be in slower vehicles. All three modes work well enough, though they're all one-shot races. In other words, there aren't any tournament or multi-race options here. But, you do win money that goes straight into your bank account, which is nice.
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