Gran Turismo Sport review: virtual gentlemen's racing club

GT Sport is not much of a game but rather a nice-looking driving simulator

Watching the six-minute long introductory video for the Gran Turismo Sport puts you through mixed feelings. In the beginning, there's the excitement, of course. A game that we have awaited for some time, and now is here, for us! Two minutes in, and you’re still hooked, as the video takes you to past eras of motorsport. Midway through, you’re probably already aching to press Skip and get it on and play, although images of rain-soaked circuits and night runs are fantastic. Boredom is a plausible risk that keeps on building with every passed second now. Boredom AND excitement, if that’s even possible. After the clip is gone, you’re bombarded with an overwhelmingly crowded screen, full of icons.

The lesson learned here — or, better said, the one you're reminded of — is that you’ll have to give it time, rushing in will not get you anywhere any quicker. Gran Turismo Sport is not about doing fast laps on a circuit, is about doing clean laps on the track. That’s what it was always about, and the Sport is faithful to its heritage. Things have changed, though; some for the better, some for the worse. For example, let’s talk cars.

The (very few) cars

A die-hard Gran Turismo fan will probably feel like playing an incompletely title when playing Sport. The previous title, Gran Turismo 6, counted no less than 1,247 entries in its car list — of which 43 were Skylines, in all fairness. But even though the cars offer wasn’t constituted of unique models, there was still plenty to choose from. 

The Sport’s car list has been heavily trimmed (by about 87% compared to the GT6), and some of the 33 manufacturers featured here are severely underrepresented. For example, Mini has only one car, the Clubman Vision Gran Turismo. Mercedes-Benz offers just two real-life vehicles (along with the AMG Vision GT): the SLS AMG, which is the predecessor of the brand’s actual super sports car, and the AMG A45. Lamborghini’s got only Huracan and Veneno. You get the point. 

Of course, all of them are rendered perfect, and of course, their character is accurately represented in the game, but the massive gap between what you were used to getting, and what you now get may leave you with a feeling of emptiness. This can — and most probably will — be fixed through various packs you will get in exchange of money, naturally. An approach we’re used to, to be fair, only not in a Gran Turismo game. 

But this is not the only change, although it’s  the most unfortunate of all. The other thing that has all the potential to be a major downside, as proven during the open Beta version available before the official launch, is the Internet connection dependability factor.

On-line is life, and that's a bit scary, isn't it?

Basically, almost everything you do in Gran Turismo Sport is registered by the game’s server. If the server is down, or your Internet connection gets lost for some reason, all you can access is Arcade Mode, where you can play against AI, a human opponent (through split-screen gaming) or challenge yourself in Time Trial, or Drift Trial. Any other tab is out of your reach, including your garage, or the Photo Editor feature. Moreover, if that happens when you’re playing the game, you won’t be able to even save your progress, as this feature is also server-dependant. Of course, you might never lose touch with the Gran Turismo severs, but one unfortunate event is enough to leave you scarred for a long time. 

If by reading all the thing above you didn’t get discouraged, then you must be a driving simulation game fan, and the Gran Turismo Sport is the best thing you can get nowadays. So let's get down to its real perks.

Teaching's what Gran Turismo is all about, and the AI is here to help 

Entering the game is like stepping into a virtual driving school. Of course, you can get into a car, lend a track directly, and start lapping, but you’ll have to do that alone. Even for entering the on-line lobby — where you won’t risk your rep, no matter how badly you behave — you’ll have to watch two videos about the “driving etiquette.” There, you are explained, in a polite manner, how not to be an asshole and ruin everyone’s fun.

The Gran Turismo Sport evolves entirely around the idea of sportsmanship. Being good on a track does not imply boasting the best lap times but doing that without interfering with other players’ progress. And the lobby is the online sandbox in which to rehearse that, before getting (more) serious. The other on-line feature, the Sport mode, is where the grown-ups are heading. Here, you gain (or lose) reputation depending on how good (or bad) you are at driving fast, and clean. 

In case you jumped into the on-line lobby, you’re either very talented at driving, or bored by the game by now. As I said, nothing should be rushed here. Sign up for the Campaign’s Driving School, and you’ll realize just how little you know (or, at best, how much better you can be) regarding driving on the track. And, if you really want to get better at this, try to fetch the disco globes, and frustrate yourself to the point of rage quitting. On the bright side, nothing can be more rewarding than seeing the Driving School missions panel full with disco globes — yes, you’ve read that right on the first time; for whatever reason, disco is the new gold in Gran Turismo Sport. 

No, you’re not ready for the big thing yet. Finish the Driving School and get to the Mission Challenges, a series of race scenarios involving overtakes and crossing the finish line within the given time. You think that’s easy? Try clean overtakes then. A short mention here: the AI is brilliantly represented. The cars that surround you are having a competition between themselves as well, so it’s not just a fast-moving convoy you’ll have to overtake until the race is over. Everyone in a race has the same goal as you, and they’ll try to achieve it. It can get intimidating at points, not because you fear getting rear-ended by an overzealous AI opponent but because having one breathing down your neck is frightening like that.

After you’ve mastered these two, start learning circuits, turn by turn, in the Circuit Experience section. Here, you’re given a set of missions in which you have to cover a segment (and, finally, a full lap) of the circuit in a given amount of time. To succeed, you have to know what to do with the car first (a thing you’ve learned up until here) and also learn the apexes. 

Just like in real life, you have no shortcut to success. You’ll just have to put in hours after hours of gameplay, and this is how you’ll get better and better at it. Following the 10,000-hour theory repeatedly mentioned in Malcolm Gradwell’s Outliers book, if you play GT Sport for four hours a day, after seven years, you’d have mastered the game. At least you’ll enjoy every second of that time because the gameplay is a peach. 

Although completely lacking the drama factor, the GT Sport mesmerizes you with its physics engine: the cars feel properly weighted, and the handling is nothing but exquisite, even on the ‘pad. You don’t have a helmet camera that shakes at high speeds, or the feeling that the machine you’re in wants to intimidate you with its constant, loud noise. And you don't lose the grip in a straight line although your vehicle has the biggest spoiler on the planet — yes, Project CARS 2, I’m looking at you now. Here, you’ll understand how fast you were actually going the moment you’re stomping on the brakes and realize you’re still approaching the barriers at an unhealthy fast pace. Otherwise, it’s a constant apex hunt, corner after corner, with less to no distracting elements. It’s brilliant!

The graphics, the sounds, the physics, the feeling 

When not lapping around tracks, you can take amazing photos: a car’s rendering is perfect in GT Sport. The mirror effect is so good that the background used for the image editor are real pictures, and putting a car there does not make it look like it’s out of place. In the Garage, you can customize your car but in good ‘ol Gran Turismo tradition: you can change a car’s wheels, stick a livery on its body, and paint it in whichever color you want. You can also create your own decal outside the game and upload it — our DriveMag livery is in the works, and I can't be more excited!  

The whole game keeps close to its legacy. The menu music is lounge-like (and not all of it its piano music this time) and the way the cursor hovers over the buttons, and even the sound it makes when pressing those buttons give you the idea of a progressed Gran Turismo 6. That may not be what a new customer wants, but it’s something a die-hard fan of the series will appreciate.

Truth be told, Gran Turismo Sport isn’t a game for everyone. It’s not as eye-candy as its rivals Forza Motorsport, or Project CARS 2. It’s far less dramatic than the two, and even its hardcore fans hardly accept its downsides (i.e., lack of cars, server dependability), so for those new to the series it might just be a deal breaker. For the rest, though, it’s the driving simulator they’ve been dreaming about.

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