The Real Disappointment Simulator

Gran Turismo finally arrives on the PSP. We almost wish it hadn't.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 10, 2009
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I honestly can't believe I'm about to type this review. To think that we've come so far from the announcement that Polyphony Digital was working on a Gran Turismo game -- even going so far as to make it the first official box art and UMD art -- to seeing the finished product and being left with what feels like a rushed version of the game is... well, it's downright painful. Now I'm not sure what the internal politics were at Sony that warranted the apparent on-hold status of what was originally GT4 Mobile and the re-introduction of the game into the dev pipeline, but I have my suspicions and they have everything to do with the rollout of the PSP go, a system I still to this day lust after despite its $250 price tag.

It's clear, regardless of what happened to the PSP version of Gran Turismo, that Sony needed a killer app to launch their download service, and the more conspiratorially-minded part of me thinks that the powers-that-be at The Big S decided this would be the game that would help put the go in the hands of the most gamers at launch. It likely would have worked, but there's a very, very serious problem with what is being hawked as Gran Turismo for the PSP: it's not Gran Turismo -- at least not in the sense of what we've come to expect from a full, properly-named game in the series.

Let's rewind a bit and explain why I love the series so much in the first place. Yes, I dig the ridiculous attention to detail in the modeling of the vehicles, the relentless pursuit of the replication of how a particular car drives on a particular track with a particular bit of tuning, that's why Polyphony Digital are still the reigning kings of the car sim in my eyes. Thing is, there's another, major component to replicating how all those cars handle on those tracks, and that's the sense of progression.

You can't fully appreciate just how exact those specifications are for all those hundreds of cars until you're forced to lazily amble around a track in one of the starter cars, learning how weight transfers and when to break in a kiddiemobile before you can graduate to the big boys, before you start to learn how a mid-engine car vs. a rear wheel drive vs. a 4 wheel drive car takes that very same course, and the only way to learn that is to have it drummed into your head, making your race it over and over again until you can take the corners in your sleep.

This is one of the core parts of the Gran Turismo experience, and one of the biggest reasons why those that can't stand the game call it out. Things like the license tests, where you're forced to repeat the same stupid corner over and over again until you finally get gold (or, if you're less masochistic, the bronze) is one of the most tedious and frustrating things about a game where you just want to punch the pedal to the floor and power slide around the corner. Except that's not Gran Turismo -- at least not in anything outside of Arcade Mode.

No, Gran Turismo is about drilling apexes and approach speeds and feathering throttle and using a car's weight and propensity to kick out in the back to properly appreciate how each and every car will take a corner differently, and while many -- myself included -- have lamented the brick wall nature to how GT teaches these lessons, when you finally approach that corner in an actual race, you know exactly, instinctually when to brake, when to turn and when to apply gas, and if you're in a beefy RWD car, you'll pay for not adhering to those lessons by spinning out and essentially losing the race.

These things are not absent from Gran Turismo on the PSP. In fact, they're staring you right there in the face as you tear ass down the Forest Hill track, barreling out of the tunnel into a hairpin that will cause uneducated drivers to hit the wall every time. The difference here is that you're never taught the laws of the course as they apply to your given car because you never have to earn that car. There's no sense of progression, no being saddled with a little 54hp POS ride that will amble along and take that corner with a little bit of sliding. No, you can just purchase any car, race it on any track and slam into walls as you see fit.

That in and of itself isn't the real issue, here, though; it's in how the cars in GT PSP are unlocked. Rather than earning cars by completing a series of events in a particular class, you simply race a car you buy from a smattering of manufacturers that are randomized on that particular in-game day. They'll stay for another day, but if you participate in a race, that progresses things a day, meaning you have one race to figure out you want a car from that manufacturer and you have to stay in that one race sub menu, racing and re-racing over and over again until you can grind out the cash to buy the thing... or you let it slip by and hope it shows up again. Oh, the manufacturer might show up, but their selection is randomized too.
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