Gran Turismo Sport hands-on: Content vs quality

Chris Stead 31 July 2017 NEWS


We've just returned from an extensive hands-on session with Gran Turismo Sport at Polyphony Digital’s Tokyo headquarters.

Flinging an Audi R18 TDI around Nürburgring in Gran Turismo Sport is one of the most intense and enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The sheer speed at which the PlayStation 4 Pro delivers the content in Polyphony’s long-gestating, seventh entry in the series, is truly a wonder to behold. The quality on offer is breathtaking, and when it’s displayed at 4K and 60fps, it feels like you’re hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life.

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It’s challenging but in the most rewarding of ways. The precision in each car’s physics is not only matched by the detail in the road surface with its shifts in structure and camber but also in their visualisation. Despite the speed at which the R18 travels and the pace at which the environment and corners were coming to meet me, I was able to react on instinct effectively. Choose a slower vehicle than the R18 or a more straightforward circuit, the visceral onslaught scales back accordingly, but it remains buttery smooth.

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It’s a testament to Polyphony Digital’s hard work that the game’s insane level of detail helps it reach beyond its virtual confines. Such is the quality of Polyphony Digital’s work on Gran Turismo Sport, that the application of what I’ve learned from two decades of real-world driving transferred to the experience honestly and truly.

For example, I wasn’t reliant on a gaudy driving line or lurid visual markers in Gran Turismo Sport to nail the apex of a corner. You could just tell where to turn because it’s rendered so realistically and the feel of a car accelerating, braking and rolling through the turn is so intuitive to understand. This is only one small element of the game, but it’s in these small elements that the quality and effort put into the design pays off. And when you add all these small elements together, the racing just feels great.

Admittedly, I played using the brilliant Thrustmaster T-GT Steering Wheel, which is an experience beyond the means of most PS4 owners, but the core gameplay is undeniable. Even the audio (previously a weak point for the Gran Turismo series) is terrific in Gran Turismo Sport, further submerging you into the driver’s seat.


Yamauchi’s dedication

During a tour of Polyphony Digital’s studio, CEO and producer Kazunori Yamauchi took me from desk to desk, talking through how individual staff members work working on Gran Turismo Sport. Each polishing the minutiae like the game’s existence depend on it, even if most would consider it superfluous. At one point, we came across a young lady working on a Ferris Wheel, its intricate steel work meant it was quite a complex asset. He zoomed right into a small steel beam and where it joined another, one of maybe a hundred across the whole object. Sure enough, there were six individual bolts holding the two beams together.

It’s important, Kazunori Yamauchi said at the time, not because you can see it when you are driving past at 300km/h. But what if at a certain time of day with your car is at just the right angle that you would expect the sunlight to glint off one of those bolts? That matters to Yamauchi; that’s quality. So a staff member painstakingly adds each bolt. And to be fair, that’s why Gran Turismo’s fans are loyal to the point where they will put up with long delays (often years) for his games. Quality.

Later on, at another desk, Yamauchi zoomed in on the model of a car, right up on the wheel. And sure enough, there was perfectly legible text close to the rim identifying the model details and recommended PSI.

“It takes six months to do one car,” he revealed in that moment.

But there is a cost to quality

Kazunori Yamauchi’s dedication to quality in the Gran Turismo series leaves not only fans but publisher Sony and its consoles, waiting years for a new entry. But at least when they arrive, there’s traditionally been many years of content inside to enjoy. However, in preparing Gran Turismo Sport for the new 4K era, the effort required to redo each asset in the game to get the desired quality level at that resolution has been intense. And as a result, there has been a huge downsize in content.


Where the previous entry, 2013’s Gran Turismo 6, had 1197 cars and 100 circuits (as well as a track editor), Gran Turismo Sport offers just the 150 cars and 27 circuits. With a four-year gap between titles, it’s the one question mark that hangs over the title. How will fans respond? Would they take more tracks or cars over having the fine-print painstakingly etched into the wheel rubber?

In many ways, Gran Turismo is a victim of its previous extravagance and fans’ expectations are high. It doesn’t help that Gran Turismo Sport (releasing on October 18 exclusively on PlayStation 4) will be beaten to shelves to the tune of a full month by rival Project Cars 2. It boasts 182 tracks and 43 circuits (with 121 layouts).

The quality versus content debate could be all the talk when Gran Turismo Sport releases, but I personally lean towards the former. We’re not short for great racing games at the moment, and Gran Turismo sets a standard that’s about more than just the numbers of cars and tracks. It’s about getting that look and feel so authentic that it immerses the player like no other racer.

Plus, there’s still years of play ahead of eager fans. This is mostly thanks to the Sport Mode. It’s the gateway to eSports glory as you and 22 other players jump online together - the next evolution of the GT Academy concept. For those who want to get serious, and even get an official FIA racing license, progressing up the global rankings will be addictive. The matchmaking system looks at speed Driver Rating) and etiquette (Sportsmanship Rating) when forming groups, and also scales car performance to keep races even.

The Photo Mode is ludicrous, too. Kind of like having Photoshop on a console. A massive range of pre-set scenes all across the globe (over 1000 shots) are joined by an extensive toolset to create a serious time-sink. There’s also a robust livery editor.

We’ll be talking a lot more about Gran Turismo Sport in the coming weeks and I will go further with my hands-on analysis of the experience in virtual reality, as well as share some quotes from my chat with Kazunori Yamauchi. So stay tuned. And rest assured; while Gran Turismo Sport’s content may have slimmed down, the gameplay has never been better.

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