Friday, October 9, 2009

Gran Turismo (PSP) review

Announced in 2004 as Gran Turismo 4 Mobile, Gran Turismo was initially pegged as launch title for the new PSP. A couple of years and three PSP revisions later, Polyphony Digital has finally shipped the game early this month. Is it worth the wait? Well read on.

To be honest with you I have never been a huge fan of Gran Turismo series. I am more of an arcade racer, preferring something like OutRun or MotorStorm, than a full driving simulator. Gran Turismo for PSP is still a driving simulator, but has elements that makes it such an arcade-fan pleaser. For one the career mode has been scrapped. Many has moaned about the lack of career mode, but as a portable pick-me-up title it makes so much sense to allow gamers to pick up the game and do a quick lap or two, rather than spend an entire bus journey fiddling around with the suspension, tyre pressure and what-nots.

The gameplay has been simplified. There are no upgrades, no career/campaign mode - just quick race, challenges and drifting. Cars are bought using credits, that are earned in quick races. To purchase a new car, the player has to wait for the appropriate manufacturer dealer to appear on the day. It isn't random, though it appears so at first. A small number of dealer appears every other day with a small selection of car models for sale. Miss it and you will have to wait for the cycle to repeat itself - which can be a frustrating experience. Fortunately credits are easy to obtain and you can always spend a half an hour or so on the test course farming a million credits. Tuning is available in a simplified form, which includes aerodynamics and customising the tyres. Controls are dead simple, d-pad and analog pad for steering and the rest can be customised to suit each player's need.

Car handling varies greatly among all the vehicles, as they should. A.I. opponents are a hit and miss, most will tend to stick to the racing line though some will attempt to use your vehicle's slip stream to gain advantage. The leaning curve of the game obviously depends, and with practice, is easy to get with grips with though mastering each and every vehicle would be quite a chore. A.I. opponents are selected based on your vehicle or choice as well as tyre selections. Bizarrely the game is truly inconsistent in this area - at times selecting vehicles that are dog easy and at other times truly competitive. Slip streaming opponents is crucial to winning most races, but this isn't something unique to Gran Turismo. As usual driving aids can be turn on or off.

Visually, Gran Turismo is beautiful, though not nearly as stunning as MotorStorm: Arctic Edge or WipEout Pulse. The graphics, which could have been better but at the expense of frame rate, is pretty darn close to Gran Turismo 4, though with obvious downgrades in a couple of areas. The screenshots here may look bland, but they do look good in motion. Cars reflect and shadows are where they should be. Four camera modes exists - chase view, roof view, cockpit (yes, it does exist) and bumper. There is one downside - only four vehicles per race. Even the more hectic MotorStorm: Arctic Edge managed eight!

There are 830 cars in Gran Turismo. I have yet to see a tenth of them, but those of which I have seen are beautifully modelled, and are very close to the real thing. Supposedly players will be able to transfer their car collection to Gran Turismo 5 when it gets released next year - we will see. There is nothing wrong with the design of the 35 tracks, but I do wish for a bit more detail. They just look bare when you compare it to MotorStorm: Arctic Edge, and also suffer greatly from aliasing. This is more apparent with the cockpit view as well as during the replay scenes. I also did not care much for the cardboard spectators. So yeah, I do think that Polyphony Digital should have paid the same amount of attention to detail in creating the environment as they did with the cars.

The sound effects, something I do not normally care about, are pretty good. Cars often sound completely different depending on tyre selection, camera viewpoints, as well in different locations (like tunnels). The soundtrack however isn't to my taste, so it was fortunate that I was able to turn them off. This is something I tend to do anyway with most games, with its The Fast and the Furious-like soundtrack (I blame EA for the trend). Whatever, you will be pleased to know you can customise the soundtrack to your liking by way of installing music on the Memory Stick, but only after completing a couple of challenges first.

So all in all, a lovely game with great polished production values throughout. It isn't perfect though. Track detail could have been better, and the number of cars (lack of) per race is just disappointing. People keen on a career mode and upgrades will be disappointed, though I personally believe that the removal of the features is for the better considering this is a portable game. It also appears to suffer from slight graphical glitch where pixelated white dots appears randomly on the tracks. Not the end of the world, but it can be annoying.

The lack of online (infrastructure) is also a bummer, though hardly surprising considering that the majority of PSP games do not take advantage of infrastructure mode anyway. As a flagship PSP title however, there is almost no excuse not to have infrastructure. Owners with a PS3 console can play online via Adhoc Party, but not everyone has the luxury to do so. As for those content with Adhoc, players can trade/share cars with each other as well as racing each other (no game sharing).

The PSP version of Gran Turismo may be stripped down, but it is still a game worth considering particularly if you enjoy the simulation racing part of a Gran Turismo game, but dislike the hassle of maintaining a virtual garage, adjusting suspension and other such nonsense that some of us just do not have the time for. If you are expecting a portable Gran Turismo game with some features tailored for short sessions of quick gaming, you will get it here. Just don't foolishly expect the full console experience.

Gran Turismo for PSP is out now, available from Amazon UK and

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