Games Review: Gran Turismo Sport (PS4, 2017): A great racing sim, but fails to take first place

Gran Turismo Sport is one of the most interesting racing titles I’ve played in years. This is for many different reasons, some good, and some surprisingly bad. While it has its rough edges, rest assured this is most definitely a great game with a ton of things to love — but dated and bland ideas rear their ugly heads at such inappropriate times, it’s kind of astounding.

Gran Turismo Sport is the long awaited return to the racing simulator franchise from developer Polyphony Digital, marking the series’ first appearance on the PlayStation 4. Gran Turismo has etched itself in PlayStation history as the true pioneer of racing simulators and for all intents and purposes, it’s still demonstrating that here. When GT Sport is at its best there’s lots to love, especially for a car enthusiast like myself.

Firstly, the game truly looks gorgeous, with accurate and detailed car models and beautiful weather effects. The suns gleams off vehicle paintwork with such playfulness and photorealism, it’s hard to take your eyes off it. The sunset leaves a subtle glaze over the track, and as you power through each corner, there’s no doubt that the moment to moment visuals make you feel truly consumed by the experience. However, it’s not all perfect.

While the cars and tracks are top notch, everything else feels a little bland. Similar to Project Cars 2, the environments surrounding the track feel off, and to be quite honest, a little last gen. It’s not terrible, but when what’s in front of you looks as good as it does, things off to the side and distance show a stark downgrade in quality. Of course it’s not something that gets in the way of the experience, but does hold it back a touch.

While the majority of the game looks astounding, I’m so glad to say that it controls even better. While something like Project Cars 2 really nails simulation, there’s something about Gran Turismo Sport that strikes the perfect balance between realism and fun. Cars feel weighty and responsive, and while driving like a hoon is not encouraged there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. It’s most definitely not the way Gran Turismo Sport wants you to drive.

As I say, balance of sim and fun. It’s a simulator at heart, but cars feel accessible enough in such a way that invites newcomers while keeping fans of the series happy. That’s not to say it feels like an arcade game, but it doesn’t feel as punishing to control as something like Project Cars 2, which is a ‘Pro or Bust’ experience. There’s much more room to wiggle, and here that room translates to fun. I feel as if the “Sport” in Gran Turismo Sport makes up for this boosted sense of intuitive control.

There is a difference between cars, and things like size, weight, engine power, brakes, all contribute to the track experience, and offer a range of customisable options to suit difficulty and experience. Want to play a punishingly realistic simulator? Crank the difficulty up and you will notice the difference. But as previously mentioned, a big draw is that accessibility that manages to draw more casual fans in, instead of scaring them away.

Gran Turismo Sport offers an array of ways to race, but at a cost. Be aware that the brunt of competitive racing is done online. In today’s age, that might not seem like so much of a flaw, but this game is a truly online-centric experience. Saves are only functional when connected to the servers, and modes are severely limited when you’re not online. There are single player modes such as the arcade mode which includes single races, customised to your liking, which is standard with almost every racing game. The campaign is also single player, but I find this to be misleading. The campaign mode does not offer a progression system with various races to complete. It’s basically driving school.

This mode separates itself into three sections; driving school, mission challenge and circuit experience. While these are inventive ways to get you racing like a pro, they’re basically glorified tutorials, as the mode sees you completing small challenges that involve basic manoeuvres. But these can be especially frustrating, as if you have OCD like myself, you’ll find yourself completing challenges at a ridiculously fast rate to unlock that gold trophy, and when gold, silver and bronze are separated by a mere half a second, you’ll find that getting that gold for each activity can be a real choir. After completing the campaign, you’ll want to take your newly learned skills online, because that’s where the real fun is. Thankfully this is the brunt of the experience, and when everything comes together, it’s a blast to compete amongst other online players.

Being a simulator, Gran Turismo Sport encourages clean driving, and after watching a few videos on racing etiquette and sportsmanship, you’ll enter each race expected to race accordingly, as you are punished if you fail to do so. Racing aggressively may be your style of play, but here it’s simply not condoned. Driving like a maniac will get you penalised, but a huge issue I had here was intention. If you do the damage, it makes sense that you are penalised. But I found myself getting penalised for being hit by others, even when I had no control over the situation. It seems like a blatant error, and one I hope Polyphony Digital will address in coming patches.

While the art of racing is arguably as fun as it’s ever been in a Gran Turismo title, it’s dampened by the lack of variety. With 175 cars to choose from, you would think you’re spoilt for choice, but Xbox One competitor Forza Motorsport 7 has over 700. That’s right, 700. In comparison, it leaves the experience feeling a little thin. The tracks are nice though, and with 17 tracks, I was pleased with the variety of each. However, with the lack of dynamic weather, I feel like Gran Turismo Sport is simply behind the 8 ball in comparison to its competition. There are weather effects in the game, but upon choosing a track to race on, you have to select the weather conditions as well, in which the weather does not change in game. It feels a little undercooked especially when Project Cars 2 and Forza 7 handled dynamic weather effects so brilliantly.

Gran Turismo Sport tries to shake up the variety by offering you an array of cars by completing different modes and races, but once again feels undercooked as customisation is thin. When a simulator limits you to the choosing only the colour of your car, there’s much more left to be desired. However, within these 175 cars are concept cars for each manufacturer, and these look and control particularly awesome, almost to an unfair degree.

Overall, Gran Turismo Sport succeeds in its core to deliver a console exclusive racing sim. But its exterior feels a little too thin in comparison to its competition and modern racing games as we have come to know them. While it totally succeeds in the way it looks and most importantly, plays, I was left wanting more from my time with it, wishing for more cars to experiment with, and a single player campaign that allowed me to simply race, free of any online connectivity. While it’s accessible enough to attract newcomers, I don’t see hardcore racing’s fans flocking to this title when a better simulator like Project Cars 2 exists. It manages to pull the right strings for me personally, but this is not necessarily the best driving simulator out there.

Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Amazing visuals, superb control.
Lowlights: Lack of variety, imposing online experience.
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Available: Now

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.