Car Porn At Its Finest, On-The-Go
Then, earlier this year, it suddenly made an appearance again. The reincarnation of GT Portable, now simply titled Gran Turismo, was said to feature over 800 cars and 35 tracks. It finally saw a release at the start of October this year, and being a long-time fan of the franchise, I decided to download the game from the PlayStation Store and pass judgement on this long-awaited title. Rather than focusing on all this "was it worth the wait?" business, I figured I'd throw the delays to the wind and attempt to review Gran Turismo purely on its own merit. This has proven to be a little harder than I thought it would be, given the private grudge I held over its apparent non-existence for quite some time. After spending some time with the game, though, my grudge has all but disappeared. Here's why.
The first thing GT aficionados will pick up on is the lack of any kind of Career mode, a staple of the series since its inception over ten years ago. This will no doubt divide the game's potential userbase, as many of them probably won't see the point in pouring their time into a game like this and not having some kind of percentage to show for it. For the rest, myself included, the abandonment of the Career concept will make a lot of sense. What it all boils down to for me is that Gran Turismo is a portable experience. People will want to play this on the commute to work, or in the fifteen minute breaks between their college classes. As such, it doesn't need to be a timesink, and any attempt to have turned it into such would have been daft on the part of Polyphony. Instead of shoehorning in hundreds of pre-determined races and attaching arbitrary percentages to them, the game simply gives you access to all the tracks right from the off and lets you set the race parameters including the course, the length of the race, and whether or not the driving line is on. This approach makes Gran Turismo very easy to pick up and play even when time isn't on your side.
If you're concerned about a lack of content, then don't worry. There's more than enough stuff here to make up for the missing Career mode. As promised, there are well over 800 games and a wide array of tracks on offer here. You can opt to take part in single races, time trials, or drift trials, and these will earn you the Credits you'll need to head over to the Car Dealerships and expand on your automotive collection. Rather than give you access to all the cars from the outset, Gran Turismo only offers you access to four manufacturers at any one time. These will change every two game days, so you're encouraged to check the Dealerships regularly to see what's in stock. While I like this approach, there is fault to be found with it if you're coming into Gran Turismo expecting to pick up your favourite motor ASAP. The focus is placed much more on car collecting than on racing prowess here, and in my opinion that's a good thing. It's certainly a change from the stagnant Career mode formula which, to be honest, was only ever a means of facilitating the fantasies of car hoarders anyway.
Aesthetically, the game certainly upholds the reputation of the series. Graphically it's up there with God of War: Chains of Olympus and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII as one of the handheld's most beautiful titles. The car models are beautiful, despite their limited polygon count, and the tracks are breathtaking for a handheld game. There are a few instances where it's possible to see the seams joining parts of tracks together, but for the most part these are barely noticeable. It's also worth mentioning that the game runs at an impressively smooth frame rate. Audio is more of a mixed bag, with the cars sounding great, but everything else being a little disappointing. Contrary to other games in the series, Gran Turismo on PSP doesn't feature licensed music in its soundtrack. Instead it's replaced by lyricless electro-rock, which gets very tedious very fast. There's also an incredibly annoying voice-over which starts and finishes every race, which unfortunately it's not possible to turn off without also cancelling out the car noises.
My main qualms with the game are ones that longtime fans of the series will no doubt be able to overlook, largely because they've been there for the last ten years. Opponent AI continues to be drastically sub-par, especially after games like Forza Motorsport and ToCA Race Driver 3 have shown us that intelligent AI in a racing sim can be done. There's also the lack of vehicle damage, which doesn't bother me but will doubtless irritate others. More of an issue is the reduction of cars on-track from an already low six to a measly four, meaning that races are even less hotly contested than on its console counterparts. The control feels quite imprecise at times, akin to the first two Gran Turismo games on PS1, although I suspect that's down to the digital nature of the PSP's face buttons. Gamers who can look past all this, though, will find a surprisingly solid racer concealed underneath it.
Gran Turismo on the PSP is geared towards a specific kind of gamer. Specifically, the kind who likes lots and lots of cars. A look at the game's TV ad campaign in the UK is enough to confirm that. Amassing a garage the size of an airport car park is the primary focus of Gran Turismo's first portable outing, so those who approach it with a car-collecting mindset are likely to get a lot more out of it than those who go into it expecting outstanding depth. What it does do well it translate the essence of the Gran Turismo experience to a portable setting, making it possible for fans of the series to play a Gran Turismo game where they don't have to sacrifice their lives in the process. For me personally, that's its biggest selling point.