【GRAN TURISMO SPORT BETA】 OUR FIRST TAKE 

 

For many of us, choosing a game console may come down to a few specific exclusive games, including some don’t even need to be on the horizon. For racing fans (like me), the mere prospect of a new Gran Turismo may be enough warrant buying a Gran Turismo Sport, and while it’s only a sliver of content from the upcoming game, one thing is clear: Gran Turismo is back, for better and for worse.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…

The “sport” in Gran Turismo Sport refers to a new competitive mode that establishes asynchronous competitions among certain groups of players. It’s separate from the usual online multiplayer offerings and is also removed from the career mode. “Sport” mode is the only portion of the game open in the beta, though, and we’ll have to wait a little longer to explore GT as a whole. It was enough, though, to experience the core driving gameplay to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t.

Right away, Sport feels identical to just about any of the previous entrees: the unforgiving adherence to real-world driving characteristics, the meticulously crafted tracks, and the familiar engine/tire screeching sound effects that communicates how we’re performing. You’d be hard pressed to determine if you’re playing a new version or not just from that alone, which is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

Right away, Gran Turismo feels identical to just about any of the previous entree.

On one hand, you have the consistent gameplay that fans of the series have practiced and mastered over the course of the series. The game is, after all, about the ongoing pursuit of shaving down lap times, and you’d be more than a little miffed if all your hours of practice went to waste as soon as a new entry of the series came out. On the other hand, the lack of change has driven some longtime fans away to more varied racing games, including the Microsoft-exclusive Forza series.

That isn’t to say Gran Turismo developer Polyphony Digital has been asleep at the wheel. With new hardware comes an expected graphical overhaul, which makes for particularly stunning cars as well as fantastic lighting effects. In terms of gameplay, it means pristine-looking cars that will never (as far as we can tell, anyway) get more than a scrape and realistically blinding beams of light when, say, entering a corner with a low-hanging sun overhead.

The other substantial gameplay-affecting change is the multifunction display that’s been incorporated in the HUD, which has been stylishly overhauled in general. It still displays the usual information like tire temp, speedometer, tachometer, and shift indicator, but the MFD adds a configurable screen that can access some functions on the fly, and keeps it in the player’s sightline. Its most prominent screen is the course map that displays the most immediate segments of the track, helping players identify the best approach to upcoming turns. This can be switched back and forth to a radar screen, which gives racers some situational awareness when surrounded by other cars without the need to switch views. The MFD can also allow drivers to adjust traction control, shift brake balance, and distribute torque on all-wheel drive cars.

A GAME OF SPORT

For the beta, we were gifted cars that fit three different racing classes: N300, Gr.4, and GR.3. In other words, normal production cars, cars lightly modded for racing (think FIA GT4 spec), and cars with full race modifications.

GRAN TURISMO SPORT BETA

Along with these, three daily races were made available for each class, rotating the tracks and the classes that raced on them over time. Race hours were scheduled during certain times of the day, so most of our time leading up to them were spent driving the courses over and over, then going into the weeds of our car settings, until we set the fastest qualifying time we could muster. This determined where we’d start on the grid during the actual race, but what determined which competitors we’d be matched with was our driver rating and sportsmanship rating.

If you’re the type to cut corners or spend most of a race in the grass, your sportsmanship rating will sink.

These are two new indexes that measure a player’s overall skill level. Ranked from E, D, C, B, A, and S, drivers advance in rank by producing “good results” in races. Vague, for sure, but essentially drive consistently well and your ranking will increase.

The sportsmanship rating does what it sounds: let’s people know if you’re a jerk or not. If you’re the type to cut corners or spend most of a race in the grass, your sportsmanship rating will sink. Collisions with others also affect your rating but incidents bring the score down for both drivers, incentivizing both sides to avoid contact. It’s a good way, theoretically, to encourage folks to race more like they do in the real world and not ping-pong their way up the grid.

In practice, however, the consequences don’t seem to matter to those who drive like schmucks, and our efforts to keep it clean were rewarded with various instances of being bumped, rammed, and shunted off-track. Luckily, a low sportsmanship rating will also hold back your driver rating, no matter how hot your winning streak has been, so those looking to rank high will have to resist punching their way to the finish. At the very least, it’s hopeful that with time, the two ratings will do a decent job of pairing you with drivers who also want to keep it clean.

THE GRAND TOUR

If you’re a fan of Gran Turismo, any entry is a cause to celebrate. Polyphony Digital takes its time with these games, so they’re far from falling prey to an annual release schedule (or any seemingly regular schedule). To that effect, it retains a sense of occasion whenever a new entry comes out, and Gran Turismo Sport is no exception. GT loyalists will be happy to dive in once again, expanding their garages and setting new lap times on new hardware. Players new to the series might be put off by the steep, unforgiving learning curve, but then again, they may become consumed by the desire to pursue lap perfection. No release date has been set, but we’ll be here eagerly awaiting the rest of what Gran Turismo Sport offers when it does.

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