The long awaited (and I mean long, nearly over 5 years!) PSP version of the Sony exclusive Racing Simulator is finally here. I’ve played it, and am sorry to say it’s a big disappointment. It just isn’t the way GT is supposed to be. Sony has been promising this for as long as the PSP has been out, since 2005, and if they’ve finally managed to cobble this poor excuse together after their other “high priority” stuff, then this ain’t good enough.
Enough whinging, here’s my review, proper style:
Gran Turismo PSP (GTPSP) bears the burdens of being the series’ first foray into the portable realm, and of having been announced (and subsequently delayed), for five years. Despite the long wait, gamers will probably be willing to forgive GTPSP for its tardiness given the game’s impeccable record as “The Real Driving Simulator.” Whether or not the long wait has paid off for this mobile version though, is debatable.
GTPSP certainly feels like a Gran Turismo game; the cars’ handling and the HUD are distinctly GT, and all the original tracks are intact — players familiar with the franchise will automatically feel right at home. This installment’s ability to almost completely reproduce the physics and gameplay of the core Gran Turismo series is its greatest achievement; racing feels nearly identical to its console counterparts. GTPSP also manages the difficult feat of making each car feel unique; you can instinctively feel the difference between a front-wheel drive hatchback and a rear-wheel drive sports car.
The game controls very well with the analogue nub, although the default decision to use Up and Down on the D-pad for gearchanges is annoying, as it forces you to abandon steering the car in order to shift, which resulted in me crashing a few times! Fortunately, you can remap the controls yourself, so make sure to switch shifting to the shoulder buttons as soon as you turn the game on. Another annoying quibble is the need to manually adjust the options for each of the individual Driving Challenges; the game simply ignores your general preferences and forces you to switch from automatic to manual for every race.
While GTPSP certainly lands more on the simulation side of the racing genre, it’s not quite as brutal as previous entries. The physics are still real-life accurate and require finesse, but as long as you’re able to keep your car on the track, you’ll win more often than not. The initial racing challenges are a breeze, and opponents don’t get legitimately difficult until you rank up to Class-A on a track (more on this later). The biggest annoyance for me was GTPSP doesn’t allow for vehicle upgrading; instead it opts for “quick tunes,” a mini tuning screen that allows basic suspension adjustment for street cars, and full weight and aero adjustments for race cars. This disappoints me, as being a die-hard player of GT ever since the first game, tuning is a big hobby of mine, even in real life. Being able to tune my virtual Impreza in line with my girlfriend’s real one is a real excitement, which GTPSP derived me of.
GTPSP also carries on the proud but annoying/unrealistic series tradition of refusing to allow race damage or visual modifications to the cars.
Strangely, GTPSP throws a stupid amount of money at you right from the get-go — allowing you to purchase whatever vehicle you like. Almost. For some reason, GTPSP only lets the player access to five car manufacturers at any given time — with the manufacturers changing every few in-game days. Even when a manufacturer you want eventually shows up, the cars offered for sale are also randomly determined. This essentially means that your car selection is at the mercy of random chance, and God help you if you want a specific make and model. GTPSP seems to be teasing the player by handing out cash willy-nilly and then denying the player the ability to buy what they want with it. The abundance of cash also negates any sense of progress, as the traditional scheme of working your way up from a snail (Citroen 2CV, for a laugh!) to a supercar is replaced by letting you buy a Le Mans race car after only an hour or two of play.
In what is probably the game’s biggest downfall, the single player race mode does away with the traditional career and race series format in favour of just letting you pick a course and go for it. The player picks a race mode, car, and course, the game then matches you with some appropriate opponents, and off you go. As you complete races on each course multiple times, your driver ranking goes up for that course, which increases your opponent’s A.I. and the difficulty. Speaking of A.I., GTPSP also seems to feature the same classically dunderheaded drivers that follow a fixed line regardless of anything. If a highway straight to hell opens up in the middle of the course, I imagine every single one of these dunces would dive straight in before thinking to manouevre from their line. While asking for a major A.I. overhaul from a portable offshoot of the franchise is unfair, it’s honestly still boring to feel like you’re racing a group of dumbass clones while games like DiRT 2 and Forza Motorsport attempt to give some sort of character to your rivals.
The Driving Challenge section resembles the License Tests from previous GT titles, though instead of licenses (as noted earlier, there are no prerequisites for racing on any of the tracks.), the player is rewarded with cash. In fact the player is rewarded with so much cash, that you’ll easily have a million credits after an hour or two (and then that supercar you wanted will never appear!). The Driving Challenge is the closest the game gets to a traditional racing mode though, through setting goals and ranking the player’s performance in navigating difficult portions of the courses. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is ad-hoc only, with online interaction limited to swapping and trading cars with other players.
GTPSP is not a bad game by any means; it’s a great fit for the PSP and offers a genuine Gran Turismo racing experience on the go, but it’s constantly hindered by its boggling lack of structure. More than anything, GTPSP lacks a sense of direction; there are hundreds of cars to buy and tracks to race on, but there’s little motivation to do either; you don’t get much reward for winning. All the cars and courses are unlocked from the beginning, and your only prize is gazing at how many ranked races you’ve won in your driver profile (which is tucked far away in a submenu). For GT fans, the vast car/course selection and peerless gameplay will certainly be enough of a motivator to play, but to the more casual racer, there’s not a whole lot to be had here. GTPSP plays and looks like a GT game, but it feels like a greatest hits album: undeniably quality, but devoid of the essential uniqueness that defined the originals.