Ars reviews Gran Turismo PSP: portable racing grows up
Do you remember when Gran Turismo was originally promised to the PSP audience? The Electronic Entertainment Expo, 2004. Five years ago, in other words, and right alongside the announcement of the system itself. There were rumors, speculation, a few screenshots here and there, and then all of a sudden the game was back on everyone's radar, shown in playable form at E3 2009, and slated to be released alongside the all-digital PSP Go on October 1.
In a twisted way, Gran Turismo is still supposed to be launched at the same time as new hardware, just not the model we were expecting.
|Publisher||Sony Computer Entertainment|
After all that time it was intensely surreal to actually play the game at E3. It was right there, in Sony's booth, with very little fanfare when you walked the showroom floor. You could just pick it up and play it. It was almost anticlimactic, and when a Sony representative asked if I had any questions about the game I politely sent her away. I didn't have questions, I just wanted to bask in the game's suddenly concrete existence. Now the final, finished game has been in our possession for a little less than a week, meaning we've had the time to explore what a portable version of Polyphony Digital's bread and butter looks and plays like.
The PlayStation Portable is going digital, with every game released after October coming as a digital download as well as a physical, UMD-based release. We downloaded the game, and the 900MB+ file took around an hour to pull down off Sony's servers, with the install lasting about 15 minutes. Sure, you can run to the store in that time, but you can't argue with the zippy load times once the game is all set on your memory card. And as a bonus, you can't ever trade it in or loan it to a friend! Or, you can just buy the UMD (we promise to leave the editorializing on digital distribution for another day).
Our first response to playing Gran Turismo on the PSP was to wonder what we waited so long for; it's initially somewhat disappointing. The more you play, though—and this is a game that will suck time out of your life in a very efficient manner—you begin to see just how how many changes and adjustments were made to the experience to make it work on a portable system. It's not a hacked-down version of the game; it's simply designed so you can run a race in a few minutes, grab some cash, and buy a car while you're waiting in line at the DMV.
What the game offers
By the numbers: 800 real-world cars, with the ability to share and trade vehicles using the PSP's ad-hoc wireless mode, 35 tracks with 70 variations—plus, the game runs at a smooth-as-butter 60 frames per second. Oh, and it looks beautiful. This is quite the package for a portable release.
The way the game is played has been changed for portables, however. All the tracks are unlocked from the jump, meaning you can get right into the game with your 100,000 credits to buy a car or two and start racing around each track, in either race mode, drift mode, or time trials. That's it. You pick your track, you pick your car, and you pick your mode. Then you race.
There are also 102 challenges for you to use to perfect your skills, and these are a great way to learn the ins and outs of the controls as well as build your bank roll to buy new cars. Every virtual day there will be new dealers and cars available in the dealership, so collecting every vehicle you want is going to take some time, especially with vehicles that run in the millions of credits.
There are no difficulty levels; the game dynamically adjusts the ability of the AI cars based on your performance racing. If you do well, expect some stiff competition. If it takes you a while to feel comfortable in the game, expect the AI to back off somewhat. It seems like it took an hour or two before the game had me dialed in, but after that it always seemed to offer a nice challenge. In Drift Mode and Time Trials you don't have to worry about the AI; you're simply competing against your own scores and skills.
As you move up in rank, exploring the tracks and cars and completing the challenges, you'll be constantly gaining credits. Part of the fun is building a collection of cars to race with, and each vehicle is lovingly recreated in the game. The physics aren't nearly as impressive as we've seen in past Gran Turismo games, and of course I'm not equipped to tell you if these cars act like they do in real life, but I can say that it feels great. Car nuts will find much to discuss and argue about as they tune their cars and try to beat their own times.
The game does suffer somewhat from the system it's on, however. You'll only be racing against three other cars, which can make things feel a little empty at times. The cockpit view is little more than a black filter put over the screen in the basic shape of a windshield. Still, you'll unlock the ability to listen to your own music while racing, and what the game does well makes up for the few necessary compromises. There were moments where I was playing where I had to remind myself that this wasn't a replay; this is how good the actual gameplay looks. It's enough to get you excited about the power of the PlayStation Portable all over again.
This almost feels like a relaunch of the PSP; the graphics and features are a major step up from anything else we've seen on the system. But that was, of course, the point of releasing this game alongside the PSP Go.
It's easy to see this cup as half empty, however. The scarcity of modes is a bummer, as is the lack of infrastructure for online play. This simply isn't as robust of an experience as the console Gran Turismo releases.
The game, however, remains its own reward. Some will become bored with simply racing and tuning and racing and drifting, only to unlock cars or beat their own time, but others will get lost in the experience of trying out cars and mastering racing. This keeps nearly everything that made the actual act of driving so pleasurable from its big brothers, even if it sacrifices some of the modes and options.
For forty bucks, you can have Gran Turismo on the road. You can race against your friends on car trips, or simply while away the time completing your car collection. Mastering the game and seeing all the cars would take hundreds of hours, but I wouldn't be shocked if some people put that much time into the game.
The Gran Turismo series has a reputation for being unapproachable, but you can still have a good time without diving into the tuning aspects of the game, and turning on the driving line will give you a good sense of the game; I played with it on for the first hour or so before I was comfortable making my own racing lines.
To put it very simply: this is the best portable racing game you can buy at the moment. At times it feels almost like a magic trick; Polyphony has done some amazing things with the hardware. It's very real, however, and in a few weeks it will be here. Save some money in the ol' gaming budget, whether you buy a PSP Go or not, you'll want to pick this game up.
- Absolutely stunning, 60FPS graphics
- The ability to listen to your own music will playing
- Wide variety of tracks and cars
- Detailed information and history of cars
- Races are simple to set up, can be finished in minutes, although longer tracks are available
- Strong multiplayer, with the ability to both share and trade cars with your friends
- Zippy loading times when installed to memory stick, UMD release includes the install option
- No online infrastructure mode
- Cockpit view is just the black shape of the windshield
- Only four cars in races, in both single and multiplayer
- A small selection of cars available to buy at the dealership, making it hard to browse all the available vehicles
- No damage to the cars
- AI can feel rather artificial and sterile
- Finding your saved replays is a pain in the ass, because there is no way to simply browse what you've saved; they're arranged by track
- People who traded in their PSP systems sheepishly buying another unit to play this