Gran Turismo was a great franchise. When it was released in 1998, to a fanfare of hype never before seen for a driving game, it was a genuine revelation, combining the best graphics ever seen in a motorsport title with a car roster and driving model of unparalleled detail and accuracy.
As consoles and driving games have moved on, though, Gran Turismo has lost its way, retaining the photorealistic graphics and precise handling but also gaining several new challengers, such as the Forza, DiRT and GRID franchises.
Amid these superb new driving games, there’s been hardly any action from the Gran Turismo camp, with the new PSP version the first full release in the series since 2005’s GT4. And, as a PSP launch game gone awry that’s been living on borrowed time since the handheld’s 2005 debut, this game has a lot to live up to.
Boot up GT PSP and it’s clear, though, that you’re in safe hands. The traditionally lavish opening movie is in full flow, showing several million pounds’ worth of supercars bombing round familiar circuits, and the statistics make for tantalising reading: 800 of the world’s finest motors and thirty-five familiar circuits to race them around.
As you’d expect with Gran Turismo, each of those 800 cars has been painstakingly recreated, looking superb and feeling fantastic. The tracks seem to have been modelled with similar care, too. They look good and, for experienced GT players, will prove instantly memorable. We certainly found that, despite not playing them for years, the unique layouts and nuances of Grand Valley Speedway, the Autumn Ring and Deep Forest Raceway were still ingrained in muscle memory.
The driving model is in top condition, too, having been ported from the PS2’s Gran Turismo 4 for the game’s PSP debut. Each car feels unique, with its own particular design – encompassing its engine, chassis, weight distribution, suspension and more – resulting in a varied experience for each vehicle.
As usual, it’s on the track where Gran Turismo truly excels, looking and feeling fantastic and better than any other ‘serious’ driving game on the PSP by some distance.
While Polyphony Digital has obviously spent plenty of time cramming one of the world’s most sophisticated driving models onto the game’s 1.8GB UMD, the same attention hasn’t been lavished onto the game’s single-player mode.
For players used to the familiar career mode of old, where you’d begin with a small budget, buy a second-hand banger and progress through the game’s rigid structure of tournaments, leagues and events, GT PSP’s minimalist approach will come as a shock. That’s because this title’s single-player mode is simply a matter of picking a track and a car, choosing whether you’d like to have a time trial or a race, and then hitting the tarmac.
Win that race and, depending on your level of ability, you’ll unlock further difficulty levels on this same ad-hoc event. Progress through these and you’ll win more money as they become more difficult.
There are several dozen driving challenges included here too. They’re just like the license tests of old expect that there are more of them and, while they are a nice distraction, they can’t make up for the lack of focus elsewhere.
While the freedom to earn money and buy any car you’d like is a tantalising prospect, in reality it’s no match for the structured career mode of old. Consequently, GT PSP’s single player game quickly degenerates into the type of grind typically seen in the worst Eastern MMO titles as you churn through races with little purpose other than the accumulation of nice motors.
The single player mode might lack any sort of direction, but Gran Turismo‘s focus on providing a fantastic driving experience means that it’s still a hugely rewarding and entertaining title. And, as well as being the best ‘proper’ racer on PSP, a welcome addition to the Gran Turismo canon. Only the poor single player mode prevents GT from being the ultimate portable racer.
Gran Turismo for PSP is out now.