Talk about waiting a long time to finally see a game released. It's been five years since the launch of the PSP, and Gran Turismo is finally on the verge of being launched on the handheld. Fans will remember this particular carrot being dangled in front of our faces when the PSP launched in 2004, so it's been a long wait. That might be part of the reason why I found this to be a particularly bittersweet release, and while the game is absolutely packed to the brim with content, including over 800 cars to choose from, it's not quite what I was hoping for when I had heard that Gran Turismo was coming to the PSP. Polyphony Digital still does some amazing stuff with this hardware, but at the same time, it isn't as fleshed-out as I expected it to be. Although it was developed with a mobile audience in mind, Gran Turismo's lack of a real career mode really tanked my interest as the hours went on.
It's no great secret that Gran Turismo doesn't have a career mode, but I still find its omission to be disheartening. I enjoyed Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on PS3 but wasn't quite grabbed by it, and I got the same feeling from this PSP title. There's certainly a full game here, and there's a lot to check out, with 35 tracks to choose from, reverse versions of tracks and four different difficulties to unlock. At the same time, the lack of a guided tour through the game, and any real goal outside of collecting all the vehicles over time, hinders my enjoyment. I imagine there will be fans who will get over this and be able to enjoy the pure racing aspect of the title — which is quite good — but it's not a hurdle that I could overcome.
The game is great, the controls are solid on the PSP, and they're pretty traditional in scope so fans will immediately be familiar with the style, controls and physics. The cars control as you'd suspect; there's a great deal of fine-tuning that gearheads can do, but the game is easily accessible for the more casual fans of the series. If you've never jumped into a Gran Turismo title before, keep in mind that the game incorporates some serious car handling physics so there isn't a very arcade feel to the controls. If you overcompensate on your steering, you'll often pay the price and run smack dab into a wall. There are a few different car views to acquaint you with the way the game feels, and there's an option to turn on or off a driving line (it defaults to on), which is seriously helpful in getting a handle on the way cars perform in-game.
In addition to the standard race modes, Gran Turismo also features Time Trial and Drift mode, which is making a return from Gran Turismo 4. Drift mode is pretty challenging and isn't something you'll want to attempt with every car in the game; it's also something I'd suggest checking out once you've become more acquainted with the way each of your vehicles handles. There are plenty of cars to buy in-game, and while you start off with just one, there are a number of dealerships that can be visited to buy more. The in-game credits are earned by winning races, and while you'll start off with a default amount, a lot of the fancier vehicles will cost quite a bit of cash, so you'll need to race often to afford the top cars. The dealerships are handled a little oddly in that Gran Turismo only offers up four dealerships for each day within the game. Granted, you don't have to wait a physical day to access another dealer, but limiting the dealers seems odd and out of place, almost as if the developer were trying to create an artificial reason for players to keep the game and play more often. I'd rather get the urge to play more often because the game is great instead of some artificial reason, so I found this to be a slight annoyance.
Visually, the game is absolutely impressive, holding up quite well to its PS2 counterparts. There's a lot of detail to the car work, and watching replays will have you wondering how Polyphony Digital pushed this much power out of the handheld. I haven't seen visuals pumped out of the PSP from any other developer (aside from Square Enix, perhaps) that comes close to how smooth Gran Turismo looks, and it's well worth checking out for the "Wow" factor alone. The music and soundtrack are solid and are in line with the series' standard vibe. While I'd consider this game to be more of a spin-off than a traditionally numbered title, the presentation value is still top-notch and worth checking out for any company that's releasing a racing title in the next year for the PSP. Polyphony Digital has set such a high bar for visuals on the handheld that it's going to be difficult for others to top.
It's a shame that I was let down by the lack of career mode because I genuinely enjoyed every other aspect of Gran Turismo. If you enjoyed license runs, they're present, but you can avoid them if you want, which is good news for those of us who found them to be an annoyance. The gradual progression in difficulty of the unlocked tracks is a good incentive to race the same tracks over and over again, so when you unlock the C, B and A classes, you'll continue to be challenged. Also, the whole aspect of collecting an impressive garage of cars is going to appeal to quite a number of folks, and the ability to trade cars with other players locally is sure to draw in some people. It would have been a little more interesting to have some type of Infrastructure support in the game, and it'll be interesting to see how the implementation between the PS3 and Gran Turismo 5 works out.
Altogether, Gran Turismo for the PSP is a solid game, and it's exceptionally well presented on the PSP. Unfortunately, I felt that the lack of a career progression really hindered my experience. The game doesn't have many technical faults so the Gran Turismo experience is definitely well represented, but I find that if you don't enjoy your time with the game, that doesn't amount to much. Go into this with the knowledge that most of the fun will be in the collection and racing, and you won't be disappointed. Everyone else should wait and see what Sony has in store for Gran Turismo 5, and hopefully, we'll see something interesting there.
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