Games Hands On: Gran Turismo Sport is actually way more enjoyable than I expected

Hot off the heels of a hands on with Forza Motorsport 7, the most visible racing series in recent memory, I went into my preview session with Gran Turismo Sport wondering if the elder statesman of racing games could make an impression given its effusive competition. It did, and what’s more, I realised I’d missed GT a little.

In the two hours or so I got to spend with Gran Turismo Sport the overriding impression I was left with was one of fascination. It is extremely Japanese, which is to say that it is all-business. The seriousness with which it takes the responsibility of being its platform’s premiere racing simulation stands in stark contrast to Forza‘s seemingly endless personality.

I was never shunted by the driver AI, never targeted, boxed out or in any way made to feel as though I was under any kind of heavy positional pressure and yet I was still challenged. It was hard to get into first place and it was hard to stay there. This, if anything, should be an indicator of how long its been since I’ve played a Gran Turismo title and how often I find myself in Forza‘s clutches. Where Forza pushes the idea that every race is a white-knuckled battle to finish in a display of predictable American exceptionalism, GT Sport has a meditative quality to it that I like. Your mind can’t wander, you have to maintain your focus, but you’re not sweating bullets the entire time either. I appreciate that.  I’ll stop harping on the GT/Forza comparison in a moment, it’s been on my mind, but let me leave it with this: the closest comparison I can find for the differences between GT and Forza is PES and FIFA. Two games that are ostensibly about the same thing, and yet which couldn’t be more different in their individual approach.

Our session with GT Sport was conducted in the kind of specialised bucket-seat-with-screen set ups that are common at PR events for racing games and the lounge rooms of racing sim fans with perhaps too much enthusiasm for the genre. This allowed the assembled press to see just how closely GT Sport simulates actual driving with a wheel and pedals but also kept us from playing the game with a controller, which will be the way that 99% of players (ourselves included) will actually interact with the game. Even with the wheel, I did fall back into the rhythms of old after a few minutes — I spent hundreds of hours on Gran Turismo 3 during my ill-advised car boy phase and it took a moment for those muscles to start working again.

The demo we played felt fairly close to what the finished product will boast — there were lots of cars from every era and class to choose from and real world tracks, enough to prod the part of the brain that loves collecting things.

GT Sport also boasts support for PlayStation VR, allowing you to put yourself into the cockpit of any of the game’s cars on any of the game’s tracks. I tried this mode earlier in the year at E3 and it didn’t seem that much had changed since then. Driving in VR is strange. If it doesn’t immediately set off a wave of nausea in your stomach then you might find it to be a bit of a curiosity. As with real driving, you spend the vast majority of your time looking at the road, your eyes occasionally darting to the speed dial or your rear view mirrors. When I’m hauling at 300km/h down the straight on Mt. Panorama, I don’t exactly have time to look around and take in the low resolution VR scenery, you know?

And it is quite low res. The prettiness of the demo we had available to us was diminished somewhat in VR — you don’t get the HDR lighting or the detail in the car interiors and exteriors unless you’re right up close. What you do get is a pleasantly expanded field of view that makes going back to the TV a bit harder but I feel like I need more than that to recommend the VR mode. For the hardcore simulation die hards, VR will be the last step in their total immersion set up. For everyone else, it’ll be a novel bolt-on but not a mode with any staying power.

When racing on a TV, the game features the kind of beautiful visuals fans expect from a Gran Turismo title. It’s helped along by the fact that, if your TV can support it, every PS4 from launch models to the PS4 Pro now supports HDR lighting which gives all the lighting and weather effects in the game a lovely creamy look. For those with a PS4 Pro and a 4K-ready TV, you’ll be even better served by the higher resolution.

For fans, the wait for Gran Turismo Sport has been a long one, made longer by seeing happy Xbox-owning racing fans graced with a new Forza title every couple of years. It knows what you want — a straight-down-the-line, no-nonsense racing simulator and it aims to deliver. We look forward to spending more time on the game for review later this month.

Gran Turismo Sport releases Wednesday, October 18 2017 exclusively on PlayStation 4.