Stripped down, rebuilt.
Gran Turismo Sport is a very well-crafted online racing destination. It’s serious, sensible, structured, and – unlike Sony’s previous first-party racing game, DriveClub – it’s been reliable since launch. It’s also supremely good-looking, well-presented, and handles great. However, the hard pivot to an online-focused racing sim has seen it lose a slab of its single-player mode, it lacks meaningful weather effects, and its garage and track selection is startlingly stingy next to the competition.
While the spotlight has shifted to online racing, I still started my GT Sport journey in the solo Campaign Mode. Here, that’s a series of license trials, racing scenarios, endurance tests, and hot lap challenges. It wasn’t long until I got the bug for compulsively restarting and retrying them, aiming for gold or bust and besting my friends’ times. It’s a pretty fractured assortment of activities, but they’re fun and technical and it’s a mode I’m genuinely enjoying.
[Campaign Mode is] a pretty fractured assortment of activities, but they’re fun and technical.
Is it a replacement for a championship-based, single-player racing career mode, à la Project CARS 2? No, and nor does it fill the void left by the absence of the usual full-fat GT Mode. However, it is very different to what everyone else is doing right now. To be fair, in a year where racing gamers are more spoiled for choice than ever, different isn’t really a dirty word.
The eclectic nature of Campaign Mode quickly educated me in the nuances of GT Sport’s handling model, and overall it’s good stuff. You can’t really hustle and wrestle the cars through corners quite like you can in Project CARS 2 and Assetto Corsa, but it’s certainly a shade more severe than Forza. Weight transfer is especially pronounced in road cars where gentle steering input and measured braking is rewarded. Race cars permit more aggression, being much stiffer and capable of hugging the track surface more tenaciously, but only up to the limit of grip. Things aren’t perfect when you break traction as the grip still kind of drops off a cliff.
It’s solid on a pad or a wheel, though. Pad setup offers several straightforward options regarding your steering, throttle, and braking inputs, and GT Sport feels quite at home with a controller. I haven’t found myself at a disadvantage using a controller to chase the gold time limits on some of the trickier tests. Smooth, flowing directional changes are possible so, with a little finesse, you shouldn’t find yourself jerking around the track and causing bedlam online.
On wheels I’m also happy; the force feedback is perhaps slightly heavy by default on both our G29 and the new Thrustmaster T-GT, but knocked down a notch or two I quite like the feel (it’s just a little more sedate than last month’s Project CARS 2). The T-GT, which was developed in conjunction with GT Sport itself, is capable of some pretty amazing feedback witchcraft (delivering a wide spread of faint feedback cues simultaneously) but it does cost a kidney and change.
The cars sound vastly better than previous GT games, too. It’s not class-leading (that title is probably shared by Project CARS 2 and RaceRoom Racing Experience) but it’s so much more nuanced, with exhaust crackle layered over drivetrain whine and various transmission noises. It’s such a step-up for the series, which has always lagged behind in the audio department. In fact, besides the well-honed online environment I don’t think there’s anything in GT Sport that has seen a more drastic improvement than the sound.
That PvP online environment, or Sport Mode as its dubbed, is where developer Polyphony Digital has gambled all its chips. The good news is that it has indeed created a sturdy online racing venue. Sport Mode is spread across a trio of rotating daily races – it’s generally one every 20 minutes, rotating hourly – as well as scheduled championships (though those are yet to begin, with the first one scheduled for November 3).
In terms of the daily events, all you need to do is sign up for the race, spend the remaining time qualifying, and GT Sport will seed you into an event against a full grid of human opponents. It’s simple stuff, but the scheduled nature of it has meant I’m almost always racing in full lobbies against 20+ other people. When the event is on a suitable track I’ve had some decent, fair races so far, only occasionally marred by lapped players trying to cannon into me like pissed-off Sebastian Vettels. That’s an issue GT Sport attempts to solve with its “Sportsmanship Rating” – which is listed beside your PSN ID for all racers to see – and should eventually see me placed out of reach of these dangerous hooligan players. More or less a direct lift of iRacing’s safety rating, GT Sport’s Sportsmanship Rating rewards clean sectors, fair overtakes, and respectful racing. Crash into others and it will sink. All this happens on-screen in real-time so there’s a very obvious and instant punishment for messing up and making contact.
The system is less than perfect – both drivers in a collision are penalised regardless of who is at fault, for instance – but my rating is still improving after every race overall. Well, except for any events on the tiny, chaotic Northern Isle Speedway; it’s a (very) short oval that has turned into an absolute melee every time I’ve tried it, despite the best efforts of everyone involved. It can be lapped in around 13 seconds in a GT3 car, and starting at the front of the grid I’ve found myself lapping backmarkers after the first lap. It’s just a mess of spinning, crashing, ghosted cars. It’s been hell on my Sportsmanship Rating because it’s impossible not to have multiple people hit you on such a tiny course.
Arcade Mode is the only part of GT Sport that works offline.
All of that requires an internet connection; if you don’t want to or can’t race online, Arcade Mode is all that’s left. This is where the impressive PlayStation VR functionality sits too – it’s limited to one-on-one battles against the AI, but with a wheel, it’s a terrific entry-level advertisement for just how immersive VR can be. Importantly, the view is very stable and far superior to DriveClub VR, which simulated head tilting and seemed determined to summon up a breakfast barf. Track resolution takes a walloping at distance, but close up things look very nice. I particularly like how the HUD is holographically integrated into the cabin, and little touches like how my in-game driver would slightly drop a shoulder to cater for me leaning to one side in real life didn’t go unnoticed.
To reiterate, Arcade Mode is the only part of GT Sport that works offline – you can’t do driving tests, buy cars, take pictures in the eye-catching photo mode, or even save progress unless you’re connected to the PSN. If you can’t connect regularly, you probably shouldn’t be even considering GT Sport.
GT Sport has just a quarter of the tracks of its two big rivals this year.
But if you’re happy to commit to remaining online, my advice is to try Sport mode. I’m absolutely not an esports guy and I’ve warmed to it nonetheless. I think what I’m enjoying most about the online racing is the anticipation and excitement that comes from committing myself to a scheduled block of organised qualifying and racing. But, other than cultivating my Sportsmanship Rating and Driver Rating (a second metric tracking your speed and success, basically), I do wonder if there’s enough content in Sport Mode to give it stamina. Right now, it’s just a trio of random races set to rotate through a handful of car classes and a pretty narrow buffet of circuits, although they haven’t changed for a number of days. I don’t know that I’ll want to race the same track several times a day for several days in a row.
The lack of content is a real drag. With only 17 total locations and 40 tracks (including reverse tracks), GT Sport has just a quarter of the tracks of its two big rivals this year, which means déjà vu set in pretty fast. Sadly, there are only six real-world tracks in GT Sport (although Polyphony has spread them out across the globe, so North America, South America, Germany, the UK, Japan, and Australia are each represented with one track each).
These real-world tracks (Willow Springs, Interlagos, Nürburgring, Brands Hatch, Suzuka, and Bathurst) are the best in GT Sport’s catalog. With no dynamic weather or lighting they don’t feel alive in the same way as the tracks do in F1 2016, Project CARS 2, or even Forza Motorsport 7 – particularly the way the tracks in those three racers become saturated and dry up – but they do boast small, quaint touches like properly animated flag marshals. And the pre-baked time-of-day options look good, too.
The remaining 11 fictional locations vary significantly in quality. Dragon Trail has some fun sections and an amazing backdrop; it feels unrealistically wide at times but the extra space helps facilitate slightly cleaner racing. The Tokyo freeway track is at the other end of the spectrum; it looks truly convincing as a stretch of real public road, but it’s super narrow and not particularly conducive to clean racing. It’s strange Polyphony didn’t tap into its past and resurrect series staples like Grand Valley, or Autumn Ring, or Seattle.
Three rally tracks are included (six if you count the reverse layouts), but they feel like relics compared to the much better off road and rallycross experiences in Dirt 4 and Project CARS 2. Here in GT Sport it’s still a bit like driving on ice; like I’m skating across the surface.
The car list is disappointing, too, especially as the 160-car figure becomes much less impressive under scrutiny. Most of the 33 represented manufacturers have a single model included two to five times, each pre-prepared for several of GT Sport’s racing classes. Sure, they’re technically different cars – with their own aero parts and performance characteristics – but they certainly don’t do much for variety. The worst offenders are the pretend “road-legal” homologated versions of GT Sport’s race cars.
The car list is disappointing, too, especially as the 160-car figure becomes much less impressive under scrutiny.
Then there are the Vision GT fantasy models – there are about 30 of those – which, to me, often feel like the automotive equivalent of those weird couture fashion shows where all the models are wearing bath mats, bin bags, and bits of fruit and straw: Too over the top. I know a lot of people like this sort of wild and futuristic stuff, but personally I’ve got no attachment to these things, especially in lieu of real racing cars. They look completely incongruous pitted against normal, modern LMP1 cars, too.
Their presence only serves to highlight big holes in the lineup. I mean, where’s the retro stuff? The vintage open-wheelers or classic prototypes? Group A, Group C, Group 5, or GT1? GT Sport’s main competitors this year have all these classes, and more. Hell, its own intro movie is dedicated to gazing back at these past icons and yet, with one exception, the oldest car in GT Sport is from 2009. That exception is a lone 1987 Quattro, which sticks out like a polar bear at a penguin bar mitzvah as the single retro ride in the whole collection. The retort here is usually something about quality over quantity but, even though the level of detail in GT Sport’s vehicles is astonishing, it’s not as if the cars the competition is producing are sketched in crayon.
Polyphony has added a good livery editor to create authentic-looking race cars, but the traditional part-replacement system has been ditched for a more superficial upgrade bar. This feels like a particularly strange shift for GT to make after 20 years but, considering online racing is the key focus here and Sport Mode applies Balance of Performance to all cars participating anyway, the old upgrade system would have been largely undermined.
Still, I suspect it’s going to be hard for some people to reconcile these sorts of changes with GT Sport’s more idiosyncratic indulgences. Like, we couldn’t get a single returning original GT track, but we did get a special showroom for a watch manufacturer. Yes, it harms no-one, and I know TAG has a firm association with motor racing, but it’s a weird thing to prioritise when, say, player flag icons are still determined by the nationality of one’s PSN account and not one’s actual nationality. Same goes for the oddball slideshow that allows us to sync up key moments in car culture with a real scattergun spray of world events, like the election of Stalin and the release of Björk’s first solo album.