08/10/2009 at 14:49
How do you talk about Gran Turismo on the PSP, without mentioning the massive delay between when the game was first shown, before the handheld had even launched, and its final arrival which launched alongside the FOURTH hardware incarnation of the machine it was supposed to be a flagship title for? You don't. THIS IS REALLY MASSIVELY INCREDIBLY FUCKING LATE! So, we've got that out of the way.
It does beg the question, was this game worth the wait? Short answer, no. The game is neither the full scale Gran Turismo 4 type experience promised way back when, nor is it as visually detailed as the Playstation 2 games. That said, Polyphony have succeeded in producing a title much better suited to handheld play than its forebears would have been.
Career: to swerve out of control
The game has nothing you would recognise as a career mode, it's more like the arcade mode of previous titles, but with a more robust and interesting variation on the license test system. Under the heading of Driving Challenges are 9 sets of 6 license test style tasks. Once the usual straight-line brake test crap is out of the way you get a broader variety of challenges to meet, and while golds are still tricky to get, nabbing a bronze trophy is much easier than in the games of old, and unlike previous games, you win a decent wad of cash for every successful challenge, which soon bumps your initial 100,000 Credits up to a healthy bank balance. Once you finish the 9 challenges a new set of advanced tasks opens up.
If you just want to race, you'll find yourself up against a very reduced field of 3 AI cars, which tend to bunch together, and to make up for their dimwitted habits it seems rubber-banding has been introduced. They are less cabbage-like once you reach the S-rank, but if you don't balls up spectacularly they're unlikely to threaten you very often. The Single Player mode has a plethora of tracks, some classic Gran Turismo ones, some classic real ones, and a few bloody boring real ones too. The night time tracks are gone, so if you fancied getting your driving thing on at Special Stage Route 11 or Clubman Stage 5, you're shit out of luck. This does show Polyphony have actually thought about the hardware though, dark areas work very badly on hadhelds, which more developers could take note of.
"Laguna?", "No, Senor, I support West Ham!"
The full Nordschleife ring is present, in all of its 12.9 miles of glory, as is Laguna Seca, in case you fancied recreating Jeremy Clarkson's Honda NSX antics. There's really nothing to complain about with the volume of tracks for you to play with, even if there's no real structure to encourage you to use all of them. Alongside racing and time trials, the Drift mode is a great carry over from the PS3 offerings, unfortunately there's no online leaderboards to compare your best scores with, which takes the edge off the achievement of stringing together a beautiful set of consecutive tyre-squealing sideways corners.
I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that.
In fact, disappointingly, there's no online ANYTHING. No online racing, no online lap-times, no online drift leaderboards. Ad-Hoc play is the only use the WLAN switch is put to, so unless the, so far, Japan only update which lets players use a PS3 as an online gateway for Ad-Hoc only titles shows up, your only hope of playing another human being in this game is if they're in the same room as you. With better AI drivers this wouldn't be such a big nut-punch to the game, but it's yet another let down in a long line of let downs on the online front from Polyphony Digital.
UMD read speeds will have presented Polyphony with an issue when deciding on detail levels for the tracks and trackside scenery, and with the small screen size mitigating the worst effects of scaling back the eye-candy, the compromise was worth making, but there's no doubt that if you ignore the ever deliciously crafted cars, there are many PSP racing games that look a good deal better. Even the surface of the tracks is very flat and blurry compared to old launch titles like Burnout Legends. It seems to work though, loading times are pretty good, and there's even the option to install data to the memory stick to speed things up more, although you'll need a massive 856MB free to do it.
Even the stunning cars suffer slightly, not from detail, but from the loss of real reflection mapping. The cars have a basic reflective skin which changes and gleams as the car turns, but unlike Gran Turismo 3 and 4, trackside objects don't reflect off the car's bodywork. Nor do the cars accumulate muck as they drive. It adds to the feeling that visually the game falls between the ambitions of The PS1 and PS2 Gran Turismo games.
The past is a foreign country, they drive things differently there
This is also evident in some of the cars on offer, while there are some very modern stunners, including the Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari Enzo and some Motor Show only concept cars, when you get into the garages you'll find a lot of the more mundane car lines stop around the point where Gran Turismo 4 launched. Cars that have since had major facelifts, or even been replaced with new models, are the end of the line at some of the dealerships. Even some of the more prestigious stuff like the new Jaguars are nowhere to be seen. Here most of all is where we see the results of this game's immense gestation time, and reliance on car models carried over from the last PS2 game.
There's still a huge variety of rolling metal on offer though, and a lot less reliance on supermarket hatchbacks and four-door family K-cars (although there are 8 different Renault Clios on offer). And it's well worth keeping a bulging wallet, as the way the dealerships work could leave you caught short. There are only 4 different dealerships available at a time, and they rotate every 2 game days, with a full cycle of 70 game days before they come around again. Not having the 5,000,000 Credits you need for that F1 car when it's only available for 1 more day can be a pisser. This way does encourage you to keep checking what's new though.
Another feature is the Transfer Garage Data, which will allow you to use all the cars you collect in Gran Turismo 5 when it finally launches, sometimes in 2015, possibly.
Shot off a shivel
Of the graphical compromises, there is a higher purpose. What Kazunori Yamauchi knows is that the best racers must have a frame rate that is high and stable. The feel of this game is every inch Gran Turismo; a lot of which is owed to the slick frame rate. Here at least, the game surpasses its competitors with ease. The smooth refresh never falters, and makes clipping apexes in a well set-up car as joyous as it's ever been. Doing a Gene Hunt and blasting around a tight-course in a red Audi Quattro is highly recommended.
Setting up cars is another area where the game differs from GTs past. If you've played GT HD, or GT5 Prologue, you'll be familiar with the more restricted tuning options available. There are no parts to buy, just options you can tweak, although for some cars the options for adjustment are pretty slim. Basic settings like ride height, camber, spring and damper rate and toe-out/in allow you to dial out twitchy chassis habits, or fit a car better to your own style of driving. Forget about balancing weight distribution, differential settings or brake bias though.
The music is mostly naff, in a bizarre reversal for GT, here the menu music in generally nicer to listen to than the soundtrack tunes, but there is the option to play your own tunes from the memory stick, not that there'd be much room left for music if you chose the huge data install.
This is a very different product than the one we might have expected when the game was first announced all hose years ago, it has the trademark high quality car modeling, the slick frame-rate and the delicious replays; and also has the low-calibre AI, license tests and lack of online play that reflect the less loved aspects of Gran Turismo's past. The lack of quality AI, online play and scenic shortcomings mean this game has many long established rivals on the PSP that offer more engaging gaming. That said, this is still a worthy entry to the GT line, and for anyone who wanted Gran Turismo on a handheld, this IS the Gran Turismo they wanted, just a hell of a lot later than they wanted it.