When Gran Turismo, previously known as Gran Turismo Mobile, was first unveiled for the PSP, many gasped at such a tantalisingly mammoth prospect. As time went on however, the legitimacy of the project became increasingly uncertain, until now, a full half a decade since its initial announcement before the PSP was even born, it has finally been released from Polyphony’s scrupulous hands.
So then, considering fans have been pining over this release for such a long time, is Gran Turismo worth the wait, or is it too little too late?
On first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking you were playing Gran Turismo 4 with all the bells and whistles in the palm of your hands. Like its burly brother, Gran Turismo features an absurdly extensive list of cars (around 800) at your disposal, although this still includes a few too many identical Nissan Skylines.
What is significant, however, is the debut of Ferrari and Lamborghini; the top tier of supercar manufacturers, which have been sorely missing and requested throughout Gran Turismo’s lengthy reign. Porsche still remains disappointingly absent, but the additional inclusion of Bugatti more than makes up for this, as it means the almighty Bugatti Veyron is finally available.
As you would expect from a Gran Turismo game, each car is rendered with stunning visual clarity, despite the hardware limitations of the PSP, resulting in a near perfect impersonation of Gran Turismo 4 that runs at a solid 60 frames per second.
That’s not to say it’s immaculate, however, as a few technical hiccups remain; backdrops often look poorly detailed and the scenery can have some nasty glitchy habits. Nevertheless, Gran Turismo is indisputably a technical marvel for the PSP in terms of aesthetics and sheer scale, making it an ambitious and comparable beast to its console counterparts.
Except that it isn’t. The illusion comes to a spluttering end upon the realisation of a glaring omission that will scald and baffle Gran Turismo purists: there is no career mode whatsoever.
Unlike almost every Gran Turismo game of the past, the infamous, RPG-esque Gran Turismo mode has been scrapped in favour of a simplistic structure, which is more akin to a simple arcade mode. Every track is unlocked from the start, meaning you can dive straight into a single race, time trial or drift trial, but the lack of any sense of progression or accomplishment makes the experience somewhat subdued and hollow. It’s ideal for the casual handheld audience in need of a quick race on a laborious bus journey, but Gran Turismo pundits expecting the full exhaustive experience that the series is renowned for will be scorned.
To counter this, the game adopts a decidedly Pokemon approach by restricting progression to a ‘collect them all’ system, as the basis of the game is to, essentially, build a collection of desirable cars and race them. You start off with a minuscule amount of credits to buy a sub-par car, win some races to earn more credits, and then buy some more cars. Repeat to fade.
Of course, obsessive car collecting has always been one of the main appeals of the series, but without the structure of the signature Gran Turismo career mode it ultimately feels too disjointed. This is made even more apparent by the fact that you can’t tune any of your purchased cars, which diminishes the series staple of gradually building the ultimate race machine from a low budget hatchback, whilst working your way through a rising tier of races.
The emphasis on car collecting is also hampered by the game’s sloppy dealership execution, which never wants you to own the cars you have been lusting after. Available car manufacturers arise on a questionable time-based system, with only four available at any given time before they get swapped every couple of days.
While this does add some much needed mileage to hardened collectors who must own the full raft of expensive cars, it is an undeniably frustrating lottery, as you can spend hours saving up your credits to buy that Bugatti Veyron only to find it isn’t available – consequently, you have no idea whatsoever when a specific manufacturer will materialise.
Fortunately, despite these setbacks, Gran Turismo handles remarkably well out on the track, with a robust handling model that feels surprisingly comfortable on the PSP, despite a lack of analogue control. Even with the d-pad, there is a benevolent sense of subtlety allowing you to differentiate between each vehicle’s distinctive handling, and the difficulty can be ramped up to professional level should you desire.
Sadly, the audio leaves a lot to be desired, as the engines are woefully underwhelming. Also, inevitably due to the PSP’s hardware limitations, each race comprises of a mere four cars on-screen at once, making for a desolate experience.
To add some bulk to this lightweight package, Gran Turismo includes a set of driving challenges designed to test your skills and patience to the limit. In reality, however, these act as a glorified set of the loathsome license tests from the past, complete with riveting tasks such as stopping your car at set distances. There are at least goals to achieve for once, but their only real use is for accumulating vast amounts of credits and, unlike before, they aren’t mandatory, either.
The game’s habit of rewarding you with generous amounts of virtual money can also be exploited through multiplayer, which is restricted to local ad-hoc. Online playability is an avenue left unexplored until Gran Turismo 5 eventually storms out of the showroom, but the available multiplayer at least serves its purpose here.
Up to four players can compete against each other, and there is a small array of options to play with, such as catch-up, but the real perk is the ability to trade cars. You can transfer your prized collection of cars to another PSP wirelessly, but it isn’t quite as hassle-free as you might expect, because not every car can be transferred – some can be directly shared, whereas others need to be traded at the sacrifice of one of your cars.
All in all, Gran Turismo simply isn’t as satisfying to play on a handheld. As a driving experience, it does deliver in small doses, and the visual facet is indeed impressive for the PSP, but without a solid structure you are left with a stripped down game that feels dated and unfinished. I’m sorry Polyphony, but your loyally patient fans deserved far more.
The car models are sublime and comparable to Gran Turismo 4 at times. The scenery often doesn't match this high standard, however.
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It certainly handles like a Gran Turismo game, but a severe lack of substance weighs it down considerably.
Car engines often sound tinny, and the menus are littered with uninspired trademark jazzy ambience.
There are plenty of cars to collect and the driving challenges are numerous, but it all becomes repetitive and pointless over time.
Gran Turismo is fun to take out for a test drive, but for the long haul it lacks the depth that players have come to expect.