‘Gran Turismo Sport’ review

‘Gran Turismo Sport’ revels in realistic racing rather than crazy car collections

Gran Turismo Sport is the series' first outing four years. Was it worth the wait?
Gran Turismo Sport is the series' first outing four years. Was it worth the wait?
Gran Turismo Sport is the series' first outing four years. Was it worth the wait?

Highs

  • Some of the best visuals in any game to date
  • Reworked campaign mode actually teaches you how to race
  • esports-focused online mode encourages great racing
  • Some of the best sound design and editing in any game

Lows

  • Always online DRM can be a huge pain if your connection is spotty
  • Lots and lots and lots of missing cars, tracks, and features

Racing games are often defined by automotive idolatry. The vehicles they realize are dreams – the cars most aspire fans to own, but will never be able to afford. With that comes a reverence for the spectacle, the pomp, and the ceremony around driving the most elite and exclusive cars to run through your digital play-tracks. Each game offers a different flavor of that experience, of course, from the celebratory jubilance of Forza Horizon 3, to the muted authenticity of Project CARS. Even within the series, Gran Turismo has drifted across that spectrum. Standouts like the Moon rover in 2013’s Gran Turismo 6 set alongside Gran Turismo 4‘s dignified approach to driving etiquette and vehicle damage prove as much. With Gran Turismo Sport, though, developer Polyphony digital has moved in a radically different direction.

Gran Turismo Sport has been honed and refined with exacting detail, but has trimmed down quite a bit in the process. Gone are dynamic weather elements, almost 90% of the car roster, half the maps, and even a traditional single player campaign. We could talk about what’s been dropped for some time, but for the sake of avoiding the world’s most repetitive review, we’ll just say it’s a lot.

In their stead is a precisely tuned experience that will teach you absolutely everything you need to know about the ins and outs of racing. Though the features that have been cut are sorely missed, the new direction is exciting and refreshing.

Back to Driver’s Ed

The first big change players will note is that there’s no traditional racing progression. Without a proper career mode, you won’t be competing in cups or the Grand Prix to take first. In fact, you won’t be competing at all. Instead, Gran Turismo Sport‘s campaign teaches you everything — and I do mean everything — about how to drive like a pro.

Series veterans can think of this as a vastly expanded “Driver’s School,” a tutorial mode from past GT games. You learn the bare basics — how to accelerate, shift, and turn. Then you’ll train and master manual transmission and technique. Learn how to corner, how to read other racers, and even how to manage tire wear and fuel on longer drives. It’s an exceptional system that does more than ever to actually prepare players for competitive play.

The decision to focus on instructional challanges, it seems, stems from a partnership between developer Polyphony Digital, and the international regulatory body of motorsports the Federation Internationale De L’Automobile, or FIA. That collaboration has yielded an unprecedented degree of authenticity and even qualifies Gran Turismo as official FIA-recognized sport.

Whether your sights are set on a real-world GT podium, or the simple joys of collecting some of your favorite cars, you’ll earn cash by racing. Any race will do, but beginners will probably want to start with the campaign missions. These are exceptionally well-paced and designed, but don’t yield much cash for your time because most “missions” are short. Bigger rewards come with longer, proper races. You’ll earn cash as well as total miles driven — both of which can be exchanged for new cars, upgrades for current ones, as well as various forms of livery both for you and your autos.

Gran Turismo Sport‘s campaign teaches you everything — and I do mean everything — about how to drive like a pro.

All this, combined with steady track unlocks, contribute to a strong sense of progressive mastery. The maps you start with range from the real-world track Suzuka Circuit to a Polyphony original, Dragon Trail, and its rolling hills and crystal lakes. As you learn, tougher and tougher tracks become available to you to play around in, and these often closely match the skills you’ll be learning in the campaign.

While single-player mode runs you through how to race, you’ll still have an array of driving assists to help you and compensate for different skill levels. It’s a smart move, helping people coming in feel welcome and able to learn something regardless of prior experience. Still, some high-level players may feel babied, but you can always jump straight into competitive multiplayer — or at least that’s Polyphony’s hope.

Pole position

Indeed, GT Sport makes plain the fact that it wants to make racing an elite esport. As part of that commitment, any mode remotely related to competitive play requires an internet connection. If you aren’t online, you won’t be able to record any progress in the campaign, save your rewards, and you’ll be restricted to arcade mode, which limits you to one-off races, and split screen multiplayer. This is ridiculous to say the least. Not having access to the majority of the game without a connection — even the in-game photo editor is locked — will be a major point of frustration for many.

During our time with the game, access to servers was spotty, apparently due to maintenance and preparation surrounding launch. We’ve tested a few times since launch and have yet to encounter problems, but we’ll continue to monitor functionality and update accordingly.

gran turismo sport peugeot vision gr3 01

Fortunately, Gran Turismo Sport‘s competitive options are robust enough to compensate for this, to a degree. The eponymous “Sport” mode features a new trio of races each day. Every 20 minutes, a new race will start, and the system rotates through the featured roster. All you need do is sign up at any point before the cut-off, and you’ll get put through some qualifiers, so you can be placed with others at your rough skill level.

The system feels a bit more formal than traditional matchmaking. The races are static — they start every twenty minutes — and the game runs with whoever’s around. This means there’s always something to do and others to square off against, and gives the whole experience a more refined feel.

Even better, Sport mode will analyze your driving etiquette — how often you hit other players, for instance — and assign you a sportsmanship score accordingly. This also serves as another check for matchmaking, ensuring that you’re not paired up with assholes unless you too, are a jerk.

It’s been seen before, most notably in iRacing, but its implementation here is both more natural and more holistic. Sport mode is founded on bringing fair, competitive motorsports to the digital world, and it has been tweaked to near perfection.

The system isn’t fool proof, though. Even the slightest tap will affect both drivers’ records, regardless of who was genuinely at fault. Though it isn’t perfect, the system constitutes a valiant effort to curtail shoddy behavior, and forced us to pay more attention when trying to pass up the competition.

Simply Beautiful

Racing simulators are, generally speaking, among the most visually impressive games around. Plenty of them have been used as their respective systems’ graphical standard-bearer. Gran Turismo, as a franchise, has been used as a visual showcase on PlayStation hardware for generations. Even with that pedigree, Gran Turismo Sport defies expectation, delivering what may be (for now) the most technically gorgeous bit of software we’ve ever played.

Even compared to Forza 7, the genre’s current gold standard, Gran Turismo Sport more than impresses. With exceptional attention to detail, every inch of all 160-some-odd cars on offer look stunning. Nothing quite matches the gentle roll of neon across a glossy-black roadster or the crisp glare when a brand-new auto catches the sunlight just so.

There’s even a special mode, dubbed “Scapes,” which puts the game’s exceptional rendering engine to work placing your own cars in custom shots of real-world locations. There are hundreds of locations to choose from, all but guaranteeing you the ability to recreate just about any press or promotional shot for a car you’ve seen — only with your own touch-ups. You can pick just about any option you can imagine from wheel turn and vehicle speed to lighting and exposure settings.

It’s enough to inspire material lust for these machines, and it pairs well with the detached air of prestige that surrounds Gran Turismo Sport. Each manufacturer featured in the game has a digital museum, of sorts, where you can look through some of the company’s greatest achievements and inventions, set alongside a broader timeline of world history for added context. This helps frame many of these cars in their most flattering light – machines perfected through decades of research, development, engineering, and experience.

Sport takes its fidelity even further, though, with the best sound design in a game we have ever heard. Full surround gets plenty of support, and thanks to some innovative recording techniques, you’ll hear basically the exact same sounds in your living room as you would on the road in one of this monsters. It seems like a small touch, but it’s one that, with the right audio gear, sounds so far beyond anything else around that it’s magically captivating all on its own. You’ll come to develop a much closer relationship with your favored car and the specific ticks and whirs and pops it makes. You’ll hear the chassis rattle a bit as it struggled to manage the forces you’re placing it under.

That level of detail is, ostensibly, the reasoning behind the game’s slashed car roster. To a degree it makes sense. Grant Turismo Sport is focused, and picks the right set of cars for the upscale, competitive racing it wants to foster. With that in mind, it doesn’t feel like any one thing is missing.

Grant Turismo Sport is focused, and picks the right set of cars for the upscale, competitive racing it wants to foster

Due to close timing and console exclusivity, Gran Turismo Sport will no doubt draw plenty of comparisons to Forza 7, but the two approach the whole of driving from such opposing angles that they’re almost incomparable. If Forza 7 is a game about packing in as much as possible, Gran Turismo Sport is defined by what it leaves out. Sport is lean and direct. It’s built from the ground up to train you for competition, with plenty of nods to the history and spirit of racing.

Whether ludicrously detailed approach to realism and authenticity will be worth it for you very much depends on the kind of racing experience you want to have, but if you’re eager to get serious about competitive driving, there’s no better introduction.

Our Take

Gran Turismo Sport is a finely tuned machine. It is a technical masterpiece and a showcase for the astonishing power of modern gaming hardware. It’s also a lot leaner than its previous iteration, with almost 90% of the cars cut. What’s here, though, has been honed to be best-in-class. It is gorgeous, innovative, and refreshing, even in spite of its online-focused design.

Is there a better alternative?

Forza and Gran Turismo are very much two sides of the same coin. Choosing a single game will come down to what you want from your racing experience. Gran Turismo Sport is far more focused on eSports and competition. Forza has a much more robust single player mode, as well as hundreds more cars and tracks.

If you don’t know what you want, though, and have an Xbox One, Forza Motorsport 7, may be the safer bet. It has more cars, more modes, and more opportunities to grab your attention.

How long will it last?

The driving challenges will take quite some time, especially given that later stages can run for quite a while, but a good estimate would be 15-20 hours of solo play before you’re “ready” to jump online. From there, you can play against others for as long as you like.

Should you buy it?

Buy it if you want a competitive racer that’s willing to hold your hand while you take your time honing your skills. Don’t buy it if you’re more into building massive collections of your favorite cars, or if you only ever playing by yourself. If that’s your preferred style, grab Forza 7 instead. 

We played Gran Turismo Sport on a PlayStation 4 using a digital code for the retail version of the game provided by the publisher.

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