Genre: Sport Developer: Polyphony Digital Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Classification: G Release Date: 1st Oct 2009 Platforms:PSP
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A few years ago, yours truly got into a debate with a game publisher about a review score given to a PSP racing game. The main point of contention was loading time. Just about everything you did between races necessitated 30 seconds or more of waiting, which crippled the game's worth in my eyes as a “on-the-go” handheld proposition.
In the end it was obvious when it comes to PSP games, people have differing expectations of what is acceptable. The PSP version of Gran Turismo is definitely a case in point here. Critics have torn Polyphony Digital a new one for not featuring a career mode. At first it seems unbelievable, but it's true. In GT PSP you will not be able to steadily work your way through those stages so beloved of GT fans – progressing from driving around glorified shopping trolleys to decal-laden supercars.
Instead, Polyphony opted to carve up the game into bite-sized portions. You get your license-style driving challenges, ad-hoc wireless multiplayer, time trial, single race and drift trial modes. And that's it. It's bizarrely un-Gran Turismolike in its lack of direction.
Whether you will (or already have) plunked down your dollars will revolve around the omission of career mode from this game. If you're not fussed, it's well worth the spend. If you have concerns, well read on as we break down what you get.
Driver's Challenges This is the only place where there is real directional structure in the game. Just like the beloved license tests of old, you're given increasingly difficult tests of your driving skill. You'll start out having to accelerate in a straight line and bring the car to a stop within a marked area. Then you'll progress onto cornering, overtaking and increasingly advanced maneuvering challenges.
The game tweaks the difficulty of these tests by throwing out increasingly powerful cars as you proceed. So your initial “brake in the marked area” test will commence with a crappy car with a large shaded area, then the next will be with a slightly less crappy car and a small area, and so on.
The main determining factor in these tests is the time taken to complete them. Assuming you don't fail, winning times are banded into Gold, Silver and Bronze. And this is where the first oil slick hits the normally peerless GT tarmac. Long time Gran Turismo players will attest to the brilliant balance Polyphony applies to these tests. More advanced tests in past GT games always begin with you looking at the time needed for gold and saying “no way”. But as you repeat the challenge and start shaving off tenths of a second, it inches ever closer until you realise you just spent 20 minutes driving around a couple of linked corners.
The impression you normally get is awe at how Polyphony's balance team could judge so perfectly the times on such challenges to ensure you do keep coming back. It's not so tight in GT PSP. Even at advanced levels you'll occasionally be able to screw up and get bronze – sometimes even silver. I found myself scoring gold on a few first runs of challenges, something which never happens on the larger siblings.
Whether it's a concession to the PSP controls, a nod to the more casual player, or just not enough time spent in testing, there's definitely more latitude given to players on the PSP version. Which in turn means you'll spend less time on the tests, devaluing them overall. Especially seeing as they are no longer the gatekeeper to the game's content.
The big issue Gran Turismo turned gamers into alchemists: forever seeking to turn bronze and silver into gold. Some truly brilliant cars were unlockable only if you ranked gold across each license tier. And of course each license tier qualified you for new races and challenges.
GT PSP likely deliberately avoided calling their challenges “license tests” because there's no career mode to work through with them. In essence, the challenges become the key part of the single player game. Because once you have mastered them, all that's left to do is play time trial, drift trial, and single player races. All the mastery of cornering, overtaking and emergency moves you have accomplished pretty much is left in the air for you to decide what to do with. Sure, it's all gravy – you're still going to employ those skills in the available modes – but there's no feeling of a greater objective for you to build towards.
It's apparent Polyphony views building up your garage from a 800+ car selection, backed by a superior driving model is enough of a hook to keep you coming back. We're not quite so sure.
What you do get There's no denying the slices of GT you do get are attractive when they are there. The signature heft and “feel” of GT – the way Polyphony seems to imbue your cars with enough different handling to make it worth your while to unlock more – is here, believe it or not. That's a big part of the GT magic. Even using the PSP controls isn't as nightmarish as it may seem. To put it another way, after one lap of play you won't be thinking about them, which is about as instinctive as you can ask for on the Sony handheld.
The engine too does a terrific job. Rather than try for pixel perfect trackside scenery and a crappy frame rate, Polyphony opted to shoot for 60 frames per second. The car detail is acceptable, as is the track motion. About the only time you'll notice some pretty bland backdrops is when the car is stationary, and if it is – you're doing something wrong. We did encounter the odd skipped polygon but considering the speed the game is running at we're inclined to give it a pass.
The big sacrifice to give you those extra frames has not just been track detail – it's been the cars on track. Four is your limit, something even rival games on the PSP have bettered. But then – you don't get the driving model or signature GT handling. Again – we're inclined to give it a pass as the main time you'll really notice the lack of vehicles is on your replays, which look every bit as good as you'd hope.
Wireless - not online - multiplayer is one of the areas Polyphony has spent some time on. The four player limit still applies, but at least you can use the CPU to make up the numbers here - having AI drivers fill in any gaps. Further, hosts can confer 'loser boost' ability to crappier drivers, thus allowing them to keep up. Provision also exists to penalise the bane of Gran Turismo games past - crash happy drivers. These are functions which would extend well into online – except you can't play online.
What you don't get What we can't let slide however is the off-track means the game employs to keep you playing. With time trial and drift trial not having online leaderboard support, it comes down to single race to supply the longevity. Building up your garage comes down to racing the same tracks over and over. Why? Because the cars you can buy in-game come from the manufacturers – only a handful of car makers' “shops” are made available each day. Race a few races and a day will turn over and perhaps the manufacturer you have been waiting for will show up. Or perhaps they won't. It's out of your control and is a pretty random, non-Polyphony way to manage car acquisition. Not the kind of tactic you would expect from a developer who was confident about their game's lifespan.
What's also missing: the part upgrades that made past GT games such a joy. Who didn't love creating a 1000hp Skyline and sending it torqueing up straights sideways at 200+KPH? Instead you can switch out tyres, play with camber and gearing – but forget about bolting on that stage III turbo or dropping in the super-duper exhaust – they aren't there.
Further, no car damage modelling in GT PSP means the same tactics players have used in past GT games once again comes to the fore. Sure, nobody really wants to be the cheap “pile into leading car on the final corner for victory” villain, but if the race is on the line you'll find yourself doing it. Why? Because you can. Unlike the multiplayer mode, there's no penalty for playing smash'em up derby in single player. Except for perhaps a small bruise on your racing conscience.
Final lap Our problem is where Polyphony Digital has focused their content here. 800 cars and 35+ tracks(which can be played in reverse) is super generous and no small feat to cram into a PSP. We'd trade half of them for a career mode – even if it was a cut-down version of past GT games – so we'd feel like picking the game up for a quick race was actually progressing something more than our track and car count.
We can't accept the pick-and-up-and-play nature of PSP gaming as an excuse to omit career mode. If you have the time to play a time trial, drift trial or single race – you've got the time to do the same in career mode. As a design decision it bewilders us, and downgrades the value of the game a lot more than only having four cars on track or no online mode.
Technically, GT PSP is remarkable – right up there as a stellar engineering feat as God of War on PSP is. However in practical gameplay terms, you'll want to examine what you hope to achieve with your PSP racing before taking the plunge. With no career mode, no bolt-on car upgrades, no online leaderboards – the question we fear players might be asking after an hour or so is “why bother?”.