For any fan of the long running Gran Turismo series, patience is a virtue both on and off the race track. Formerly announced simultaneously with the PSP console at E3 2004, Gran Turismo PSP has almost become the Chinese Democracy of the gaming world, with five and a half years separating this hype-fuelled demonstration to the day the sacred blue and red letters lined screens worldwide. It seems somewhat peculiar then, that such a prestigious, long anticipated title should feel like it were thrown together in mere months.
Gran Turismo PSP has undergone a somewhat tragic development. The early days in which we were promised this to be an original launch title for Sony’s debut handheld, saw technical problems and was slowly cast on a backburner as Polyphony braced themselves for the much delayed release of Gran Turismo 4. Due to being in development simultaneously with the PS2 classic, the game had originally been dubbed ‘Gran Turismo 4: Mobile’ (a far cry from the final product). No sooner had the dust settled over GT4 cases worldwide than Sony was ready to unveil its brand new home console, the PS3. As one of Sony’s closest and most profitable assets, a next generation Gran Turismo would be unveiled to the world, once again relegating the PSP’s project to the sidelines.
“The disappointment of entering single player mode, to be presented with a handful of basic options is crushing.”The key thing to remember when booting up for the first time is that this is Gran Turismo Lite; a functional piece of software with the purpose of finally shaking the monkey off their backs. The disappointment of entering single player mode, ready to nurture that battered old Nissan Skyline into becoming a revolution in automobiles, to be presented with a handful of basic options is crushing. Gone are the days of the Gran Turismo mode we have grown to love, hate and respect, replaced by what can only be described as the arcade mode with a twist. The only essence of the experience we all grew up loving is accumulation of prize money to be put solely towards purchasing new cars. No upgrades, no wheel shop, not even the car wash makes this cut.
Taking to the track however, feels refreshingly familiar. Although only four cars feature per race, Polyphony has successfully overcome the concerns of translating their incredibly sensitive mechanics to a lesser machine; the nostalgic use of ‘x’ for acceleration and ‘square’ for braking will become second nature once again after just a handful of laps. The analogue nub and directional pad can both be used for steering and there are pros and cons to each, and it will ultimately come down to personal preference as to which you’ll use. The sensitive physics from GT4 have been synchronised into this version seamlessly, so any master of the last release will feel comfortable immediately. If you for some reason bypassed the last PS2 title, then it may be wise to take a look at the driving challenges (essentially the license school; there’s no need for licenses but the mode remains a perfect introduction), or reconstruct the humiliation of those first few driving lessons with your dad. There’s also the option for a virtual racing line, complete with suggested braking points.
Many features typical of Gran Turismo are present throughout for better or worse. Perhaps the most embarrassing is the A.I. of your fellow ‘racers’ whom coast around each track like a herd of Sunday afternoon drivers, acting as little other than pace cars. The option to use these cars as moving barriers returns too; unfortunately the developers did not follow suit from Rockstar, who trialled a much requested feature in their PSP releases (in Grand Theft Auto’s case, multiplayer). It seems we will have to wait for Gran Turismo 5 to see if the series can execute car damage proportionally to the rest of the gameplay’s realism.
The lack of a percentage completion statistic means the only way to ‘complete’ the game is to collect every single one of the 800+ cars, which when a single 50 lap race win only nets 150,000 credits, feels somewhat of a lost cause. Even a derivation of the open ended nature of home console releases would have given a greater sense of purpose. As it stands, it would be fairer to draw comparisons to the Prologue and Concept iterations than any other. There is clear potential here for an ultimate racing experience on the PSP, yet the lack of these basic features reduces the lifespan significantly from a simple lack of purpose to play.
“Gran Turismo raises the bar for the quality of game for the entire console”It’s a shame that this potential has not been fully realised, because for the most part Gran Turismo raises the bar for the quality of game for the entire console, a standard which has long been due. The game typically looks as polished and presentable as expected, with as many polygons crammed into each car, each track as possible without the PSP’s processor burning out. Thanks to the PSP’s bright high resolution screen everything is as sharp as possible, and draws comparison to the detail of GT3, no mean feat for a portable console; the only technical issue of note comes in the form of minor screen tearing whilst in close pursuit of a car.
Despite the best intentions of the original concept we saw all those years ago at E3 2004, it was a somewhat wise decision not to run with the name Gran Turismo 4: Mobile, as this is a far cry from the sublime depth that GT4 gave. This is not a ‘game’ as we have come to expect, it can only be described as a ‘Best of Gran Turismo: Driving Simulator’. Being able to hit the streets of New York, take a cruise around Trial Mountain before thrashing a Ferrari around Suzuka at any time means that Polyphony have kept both their promise and reputation with Gran Turismo PSP, but little more. The lack of any classic game mode will likely deflate many a player’s determination to persevere over an extended time period, which means this is one for the purists. Even in light of all all its shortcomings it’s all so easy to fall in love again.
Not quite Chinese Democracy then.