Gamer: Gran Turismo for PSP

By Seyth Miersma

September 15, 2009

We would imagine that by now, to tell our readers that the staff of Winding Road are huge fans of the Gran Turismo series of driving simulators would be roughly akin to telling them that water is wet—pretty obvious. That doesn’t make us at all unique, as millions of gamers with a jones for fast metal have known since the initial GT launched on the PlayStation One back in 1997. The Real Driving Simulator hit a resonant chord in that first year, and has continued to set the bar very high in each of its subsequent instantiations.

With that as our backdrop, you can imagine our excitement at being among the members of the media approved by Sony to take the latest version of the GT franchise, Gran Turismo for PSP, for a full test drive. GT PSP is the first ever version of the game to be made available for Sony’s PlayStation Portable, and like every other GT game, has traveled a long (some might say torturous) path from inception to public offering. The take-along version of GT was actually intended to be one of the early flagship games for the PSP—originally announced at the E3 conference all the way back in 2004. Creators Polyphony Digital are well known for stringing along GT fans with a heartbreaking announcement/delay/announcement/delay production cadence, but after five years of waiting GT PSP will be offered for sale on October 1st of this year. Having now played the full version of the game for a few days we feel that release date to be firm, but the question remains, is the final product worth the long wait?

Kicking The Tires

The sheer numbers involved with GT are mind-blowing enough to get even the most wait-jaded gamer pretty excited about this one. In fine GT fashion, this game delivers massive numbers of cars (800-plus), tracks (35-plus with most able to be driven both directions), and modes of play. But the hallmark of the series has always been the true-to-life driving dynamics of the vehicles on offer, not merely the great choice, and that accuracy has not be left off the PSP version.

While the tracks for GT PSP are taken from the earlier GT4 and Tourist Trophy games by Polyphony, the physics engine that runs it is derived from the much more sophisticated GT5 Prologue for PlayStation 3. Engine and driveline configuration, power, tires, suspension settings, aero, and much more, all drastically affect the handling characteristics of each vehicle on offer. As has been the case with every GT game, these dynamics don’t completely reflect the actual experience of driving the cars (something that is practically impossible to pull off without a full-scale, and massively expensive immersion type simulator), but they are superbly calibrated for consistency within the game world. Mid-engined supercars are twitchy and super responsive at the limit, powerful rear-drivers offer oversteer on tap, and front engine, front drivers show distinct understeer when pushed through corners. The delicacy and detail in the game physics is both astonishing and kind of intimidating for the novice GT player, as one is forced to really learn the idiosyncrasies of each vehicle before they can master it. Anyone schooled in the franchise will be able to pick these up with greater speed, but there are no gimmies here, GT PSP requires real dedication to excel at.

Graphics are pretty cutting edge for a PSP title, with the 60 frames per second running rate nice performance for the handheld. We experienced a few problems while driving the tracks that are heavily shadowed (Deep Forrest is a notable), where portions simply become too dark to see very well.

Solo Driving

Of course, the best way to master the subtler points of the GT universe has always been through liberal use of the “license test” modes, which are collectively called “Driving Challenge” for PSP. Starting with driving basics, and moving through the more complicated lessons of cornering, overtaking, and car control; the driving challenge lives up to its name without being so frustrating as to turn-off less skillful players. Most challenges are awarded gold, silver, and bronze trophies, with bronze level being fairly easy to blow through if you’re only interested in advancing the game. Silver and gold will offer considerably more of a challenge, and a much higher degree of that “wanting to throw the damned thing against the wall” feeling that inveterate gamers know well. Fair warning.

The single player mode, meat and potatoes of the game for loner types, offers a rich framework of racing for all skill levels and interests. Time trials, single races, and drift trials are all available in said mode, with each offering different ways to exploit and test your ever-expanding stable of cars. Each mode allows you to select the type of race (number of laps, level of competition), as well your car, and adjusts the competition based on the ride you select. Additionally, the computer AI will evolve with you as a driver, offering up stiffer competition, as you prove proficient with particular cars, and particular tracks. It’s a simple system (we’d prefer larger fields than the four car races offer), that allows for a challenging race environment, and doesn’t punish those people who enjoy driving the slightly slower/older/less powerful cars on offer. Your thing is driving the wheels off of a Honda Insight? GT has got a race for you.

Car Collecting

Collecting massive numbers of automobiles has always been a side pleasure of the series, so with 800 on offer here, you’ll have a great time trying to purchase them all. You begin the game with one car (we got a Mini Cooper) in your garage, and 100,000 credits with which to buy your way into other vehicles. GT for PSP shakes up the traditional dealership formula a bit though, as it doesn’t offer access to all of the manufacturers, all of the time. Instead, every two game “days” a new selection of four automakers is made available in the Dealerships section. Further, some of the automakers with a larger presence in the game will have a different lineup for sale each time they appear. This randomization may frustrate some, but it certainly offers incentive to keep playing, and keep checking back in. We’re still saving and waiting for our GT-R, our 22B, and of course the ZR-1 Corvette that graces the cover.

You’ll also have the option of trading for or sharing cars from the garages of your friends—just part of the deep multiplayer functionality that Polyphony has built into the title. Ad Hoc races with friends can total up to ten drivers, and should provide a pretty cool “party” style of gaming.

The Next Chapter

Given super long development time of GT for PSP and the intervening GT5 Prologue for PS3, it’s clear that not a lot of this game will point to the experience of the all-new and complete GT5. (Polyphony doesn’t miss a trick at promoting that upcoming, sure-to-be-a-hit game though, as there is even an unlockable new trailer for GT5 within the game.) That’s alright with us though, as GT PSP is great fun in its own right, and without doubt the best portable driving game we’ve yet played. We’ve no doubt that GT fans will be lining up for this one next month, especially considering the launch will coincide with Sony’s launching of the new PSP Go, a smaller, flash memory-based version of the handheld that will play downloadable games exclusively, instead of the traditional UMD discs. The PSP Go will have GT as one of its first offerings from the PlayStation Store, likely priced at the same $39.99 that the UMD version will command. Gran Turismo’s mighty mite is well worth that price, we say, and certainly a welcome new resident to the franchise that we’ve loved so much, for so long.